By Anne Moore, MA English Literary Studies with Film Studies Pathway
It’s a New Year, it’s a new day, it’s a new term, and I’m feelin’……meh. Has anyone NOT had the hacking cough virus?? It’s been a struggle, and that’s why I’m so glad I stuck to my early Festive rota of writing as much of my essay as I could before Xmas, leaving wiggle room for editing, refining and (just in case) illness!
So, there are several ways to approach writing an essay; in fact, the LSE have some great tips on their website.
My approach is to get as much done upfront as possible: as a mature student, I can’t pull all-nighters close to deadline, which seems to be a popular choice amongst some of the younger students, aided by heart-attack amounts of red bull and coffee! (Seriously, how do you do it?) …
Instead, I aim at around four hours a day steady writing, occasionally re-checking my research notes and making sure in-text citations have the correct page number. Then I just slog at it. I usually write my introduction at around 10-20% of the word count, then I write bullets points of what I hope to discover. This helps me stick to my point in the main body of the essay. It doesn’t matter about spelling and grammar at this stage – no point in correcting stuff which may well end up being deleted in the final draft! So, basically, I cobble it together then refine afterwards. And referencing as I go. Also remember to do that turnitin check!
At least, in this way I have something to submit early on, in case of catastrophe, which happened to me in this case. I was bedridden four days up to deadline, so no, I didn’t write the stellar essay I hoped for, but I did have a finished essay to hand in, proof-read and formatted, checked and refined to a degree.
I have days that I’m sure you can all relate to…you know, where the sentence ‘the cat sat on the mat’ is the brain’s intellectual offering of the day and your head is full of clouds. You feel you cannot read ONE MORE thing and your eyes do that funny flicky from side-to-side thing. I either take a break and close my eyes for 10 mins, go and do something physical, or stop and set a later time in the day (that I have to stick to!) to carry on.
I used to ‘wait for inspiration’ in my undergrad days…that was great when I had 7 months to write 5000 words, (I kid you not), but I found it a shock to have to do the same in 3 weeks….so something had to change. I got far more disciplined, and when I wrote out my timetable for the Xmas break, it actually looked not only do-able, but easily so.
Other things I do to stay organised:
Cooking: I plan a week’s worth of food, make out a menu, and spend a day making meals so that I don’t have to waste time wondering each day what I’m going to eat and then have to do needless shopping trips. As it’s a 40 min round trip walking to the shops where I live, this saves me A LOT of time.
Work: Yes, I have to work to support myself, so I make sure that my reading/writing schedule is lighter on those evenings, and make sure I get early starts on the days I’m not at work. It’s so easy to procrastinate at home, and to get side-tracked. It’s not so bad for me as I have no dependents, but I still have to stay disciplined and not decide that hoovering the lounge is suddenly the most fascinating thing ever!
Delegate: I don’t like to ask anyone to do stuff for me, but since asking my sister (with whom I live) to take up the slack from some household/laundry/shopping chores, I find that I have more time. I have discovered that non-University family members can sometimes find it hard to believe that when you’re staring into space, you are actually working! I have also had to be firm about Do Not Disturb – it’s easy for someone to distract you and lose your train of thought. I shut my office door and have a sign on the handle. Family members can’t be expected to remember that you’re still working on the same thing two hours later!
Socialise: I make time to meet up with a friend, have a night out, and not spend the time worrying or feeling guilty, because I have scheduled it into my calendar. A good night out and having some fun does wonders for creativity!
Different approaches work for different people, but as I’m sure some of you have kids and families, and I’m betting that you were either sick or looking after someone who was during the break, which puts a tremendous strain on coursework, not to mention trying to be festive, not to mention all that cooking and cleaning!
So, the sun is shining on a winter wonderland today, I’m still coughing a bit, but I’m going to enjoy a well-earned rest, no coursework to write, so maybe some light reading up on this new semester work snuggling under a duvet!
I hope you enjoyed the holidays and are raring to go! Onwards and upwards to Easter!