Written by Anne MA English Literary Studies/Film Studies Pathway student
These deadlines come around fast, don’t they? So, with the industrial action, I find I have more time at home, so being super-organised is more important than ever. The temptation to have a break (as no seminars for a few weeks) is strong, hey, why not ditch the coursework and carry on with the research report/essay/ or whatever needs handing in next?
Well, as tempting as it is, I found a lot more useful information in this week’s reading that will improve my writing no end. After all, good writing depends on good reading…
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 a catastrophe, which happened to me at Xmas. 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 dependants, 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!
It’s about pacing yourself, and realising that when you’re shattered/exhausted, you need to stop. Look after yourself, and your health. Be nice to yourself – you’ve come this far, you’re awesome! Sometimes you just need to remind yourself of just that. Get some sleep. Tomorrow is another day, and aren’t we lucky to see it?