Over this Easter break I have had four essays to write, totalling in at 15,000 words, all due on the same monstrous day in April. High word counts and a looming deadline can feel like a death sentence, so I have compiled some thoughts to cling to like life rafts in the storm that is the essay writing process.
- Cut the work up into bite-sized pieces so that you don’t choke
If you try and tackle the essay as one lump of work then you will panic. Make a list of the things you need to do to produce the best essay that you can in the time frame you have and assign a date or window of time for each bullet point on this to do list.
For example: First things first — create or choose question, primary sources and sketch an outline of what your main points and argument will be. Secondly, sniff out and devour secondary sources (N.B. Keep a record of everything you will need for your Works Cited as you go or face the tragedy of finishing your essay in time but having to pull an all-nighter to compile this list properly). Thirdly, make a detailed plan, including the quotes you will use, and so on and so forth.
- Do not skimp on planning
The time you invest in the planning process will save you time in the long run. There is nothing worse, or more likely to induce panic, than getting half way through and realising you are already over the word count, or have gone completely off topic. Once you have a solid plan the terror at the deadline and the word count should fade away. Get this crucial planning stage out of the way as soon as possible so that you can sleep soundly knowing that everything is under control.
- Be the tortoise, not the hare
Set yourself reasonable goals for steady progress each day rather than attempting to rush through the essay in a couple of days. If you aim to write 3,000 words in a sitting then it is probably going to be a very stressful process with iffy results. You know best how long you can really concentrate for. Sit down for that amount of time with your phone off and Facebook closed and devote yourself to the essay, then take a break for a cup of tea and some “death by essay” Snapchat selfies.
- Stay positive
It is quite rare for any student to be thrilled at the prospect of having to put together thousands of words for a grade. Try to pick a topic that genuinely interests you and see the essay as a chance to learn and then show off rather than a dreaded obstacle to overcome. Reward yourself every time you complete your task for the day and remind yourself that you are getting closer and closer to that finish line.
Remember that the date that your essay is due is also the date that your freedom will return to you. Plan some kind of celebration or special “me time”, whether it is going out with friends or binge watching a season on Netflix with some well earned chocolate. In the words of Gandalf the Grey: “This too shall pass.”
Have you ever had thousands of words to write? How did you cope? Let us know in the comments below.
Photo: Keith Williamson / Flickr