Finals season is now upon us. For anyone who is taking the majority of their courses this semester in the humanities or the social sciences that means staring down an insurmountable mountain of essays. But fear not, I’m here to help. I’ve been through several finals seasons where all five of my classes required a final research paper, and yet somehow I’ve survived. Whether you’re a first year who’s still adapting to the rigor of college finals season, or an upperclassman who’s just on the struggle bus this semester, these tips are for you. This, my fellow students, is five tips for writing five essays at once.
First: start everything before you finish anything. The soulless void of a blank Google Doc can feel like a debilitating mental block. Before you settle in to put a significant amount of work into any one assignment, put a tiny bit of work into all of them. It can be a light outline, an intro paragraph, a few sentences, or even just a single quote you know you want to include. Anything that takes up space on the page and sparks some ideas. That way whenever you need to start seriously grinding on that paper you already have a little something, and you aren’t starting completely from scratch.
Second: switch projects when you’re stuck. Staring at one essay for eight hours straight is a great way to get burnt out and frustrated. Instead, pick one project to begin with and let yourself stop the second you feel you’re getting tired of it. Take a short break, regroup and pick up again with something different. This is especially important for marathon study days when you’re planning on working for many hours. Switching up what topics you’re thinking about and what sources you’re looking through keeps you fresh. If you find yourself getting writer’s block in one of your essays, switching to a different one may help overcome it. Sometimes all you need is a fresh topic to get focussed again. Building on this idea, write whatever is easy when it feels easy. If you randomly get a good idea for one of your essays don’t hesitate to abandon whatever you were trying to focus on and get that thought down while it is in your head.
Third: balance research time and writing time. For some research papers the amount of time it takes to find the right quotes can equal or even surpass the time you need to spend actually writing. Too much time spent just reading or just writing can get monotonous. Give some variety to the time you spend on work. Alternate research for one project with writing a different one and you’ll avoid getting bored of just one task. This is especially good if you have paper books that you are using for the assignment, as it can give you a break from staring at the computer all day.
Fourth: don’t be afraid of stream of consciousness writing. We all know by now the value of a good paper outline, with perfectly planned quotes and ideas. But don’t let worshiping your outline be the thing that doubles the time it takes you to finish a draft. Don’t be afraid to write exactly what you’re thinking, even if it absolutely sucks. Don’t be afraid to throw a mess of thought spaghetti at the wall and see what sticks. Give yourself a bunch of content to work with, then decide what you hate after. This makes it easier to decide which quotes to include, and can make your transitions sound more organic.
Fifth: be nice to yourself. This is not just good advice for essay writing, it’s also good advice for everything else you do in life. Don’t forget to take breaks when you work for a long time. Drink water. Stretch or go for a little walk. Make yourself a cup of tea or a little snack to go enjoy while you work. Be kind to your mind and body and listen to what they need. Your health is more important than any one assignment.