Top 5 Essay Writing Tips (from a semi-retired PRO-crastinater)
Procrastination no longer brings me joy. Those days of lounging around, knowing I could/should be working but am not… Those days are over (I desperately repeat to myself, hoping it’s true).
Joking aside, I’ve always found it difficult to ‘knuckle down’ and get my head in the game, so to speak. Studying has never come easily to me; and in retrospect, neither has been getting things done on time.
I think it’s something to do with the fact that pressure – mentally, can have stupefying effects. For example, I recently had a conversation with an older friend who, despite being a fully grown adult, admitted: "I woke up this morning really motivated to work… then I thought about all the things I needed to do, felt overwhelmed, rolled over and went back to sleep". It made me laugh because that friend was my dad, talking in the context of gardening. It made me realise that pressure affects everyone, at all levels, and it’s perfectly human.
However, this isn’t helpful when it comes to looming deadlines. With 5 deadlines to hand in this week, I’ve finally come to terms with something. A big part of procrastination (for me) comes from:
1) lack of enthusiasm for the task that needs to be done
2) a lack of self-confidence of knowing where to begin.
Especially with essays. So, while I can’t make you enthusiastic about the task ahead – I can share what I’ve learnt, to hopefully help you feel more confident about where to start.
My Top Five Tips:
Do enough readings to understand your subject. If you feel completely lost, chances are after 5-6 of the recommended readings and your own research online, you will feel much better. It is admittedly time-consuming, but there’s no short way around it. It might feel futile (I’m not getting any words down!!!) but understanding your subject content is imperative to having a smooth essay-writing process. So, don’t feel guilty for taking time out to understand your subject topic. Write notes, bullet point, do whatever it takes to get through the material. But I promise, once you understand your material better, it goes uphill from there.
In previous years you may have skimmed reviews and taken shortcuts: but, it’s final year. Don’t be afraid to cut the shortcuts and put in the work. You’ll feel better for it- trust me. (Plus, I’d rather leave uni knowing a little bit about my subject content than saying I blagged it the whole way through… life skills, you know?) These things take time and I would have benefited from somebody explicitly explaining that to me where common sense failed.
Do not simply make notes on readings ambivalently – but organise them thematically and format your references as you go along. If you have a plan about the themes you want to talk about, doing it this way will save you a lot of extra work and hassle at the end, of having to sift through endless pages of notes. Do not make the same mistake I did. Please.
Plan plan plan. Have a plan. Whether that’s during or after your readings, make a plan. It will help you with tip number two (to organise your readings thematically).
It will also help refocus you when you get lost in a daze through your readings and go off on a tangent. It’s not enough to have the question in front of you: plan your subheading points and this will be a sort of saviour.
Go to your seminar tutor or module convenor. Use their advice. More often than not, there is an issue with structuring – so get help with the structure of your essay. Talk through your ideas (make sure you’ve done some readings first, though. They can’t really help you if you have nothing to go on).
Make internal deadlines and stick to them. I am not very good at this but I am learning it is a life skill that you can carry forward for the future. Work under your own pressure. Most friends I’ve spoken to have admitted it’s only the pressure of the deadline that makes them work. This is perhaps acceptable when you only have 1 or 2 essays – but any more than that, with the added pressure of exams or presentations? No good. Make your own deadlines. (Usually, this helps only once you’ve made a start on the readings and planning. Trying to make internal deadlines before you’ve started at all can feel completely futile and actually demotivating in the end).
There you have it then! My top five tips on how to begin, continue and successfully see through the essay writing process. Everyone has their own methods but I really think these tips would help anyone, regardless of work ethic and style.
If you stick to these things it will help more than you know. There comes, with procrastination, a degree of uncertainty or a lack of self-confidence. And the truth is, it is really difficult! But persevere and stay organised, and you’ll be helping yourself out for miles.
Thanks for reading & hope it’s been enlightening!
Best of luck with the deadlines,