Procrastinator needs to write 9k words in 3 days. Please advise.
August 23, 2013 3:52 PM   Subscribe

So, I made a previous thread about my general tendencies to dither and procrastinate. On some fronts I've made progress since then, but not recently. I've come back from my year abroad placement at college and I have 3 papers to write to make the year count. They're 3k each.

I have a lot of trouble starting papers when they matter for my credit as it is, but for these I literally just need to pass and it has no bearing on my degree classification at my home university. Also, they're kind of in the realm of cultural studies/literature so uh, with all due love for my subject, it's not exactly unheard of to waffle/write these at last minute.

And yet... I'm having trouble committing to actually starting them, even though getting a bare pass is all I need. I am at the point right now where the general idea and argumentative arc for both essays are in my head, and I'm reasonably sure they'll stretch to 9k. My main method of procrastinating is reading/loading up more secondary reading until it oozes out my ears. The only way I'll feel confident in starting is, I know, if I go back to my primary materials.

Previously I've 'handled' these by starting past the deadline and working in a miasma of stress and sleep deprivation until I'm done and gaily desensitised to late penalties. That's not an option now, as I'm going away on holiday for a month on Wednesday morning.

Sorry if this question comes across as kind of precious and/or bratty but if you guys could help me with some working tips to get a sense of momentum going I'd be really grateful. I am going to root through the primary material after posting this thread.

Just useful tips about avoiding burnout, being stern with myself (the 10th time isn't the charm for trying to 'work to music' etc) motivation, nutrition (?), anecdotal encouragement, anything.

Thanks in advance Mefites, it's much appreciated! x

(In an effort to work against these behaviours in future, i'm also working through a copy of Feeling Good and will approach the chapter on Do-Nothing-ism with bated breath. any other advice on that front is also hugely appreciated)
posted by lethologues to Writing & Language (15 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
The papers are 12 pages each, double-spaced, as I make it. Not so terrible. If it were me, I'd a) stop reading now; and (b) make a PowerPoint presentation (or a simple outline in Word) for each one: bullet points, with an explanatory sentence or two for each. Doing it in outline form first means you already have passed one hurdle: you know what the beginning, middle, and end are. (Or do the old stand-by: tell 'em what you're going to tell 'em, then tell 'em, then tell 'em what you told 'em.)

Bullet-points and outline: 1 day.
Expansion of main points and sub-points: another day.
Polish, proof-read, last day.

Do-able. Reward yourself after each milestone with a piece of chocolate or some other treat.

Take a walk each day just to get away from the computer.

Failing that, put the job up on or and be prepared to pay someone to do it for you.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 4:02 PM on August 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

Write them on similar, or best overlapping, topics if you can. Saves time on research, pulling good quotes, and once you get rolling saying something interesting about, for example, character splitting in novel xyz, you might realize you can talk about something similar in epic poem x, just maybe. I once helped a pal write a bunch of papers for a comp lit course in one night, and by staying in the same thematic ballpark we even made it look like she'd been developing the idea through the semester. She passed.
posted by vrakatar at 4:06 PM on August 23, 2013

I sympathize. 3k words a day is about 12 double-spaced pages. That's a lot but it's certainly doable. I think I've done as much myself before, although I don't recommend it.

Try breaking it down. 12 double-spaced pages--that's 25 to 30 paragraphs. Think of the 25 to 30 steps in each argument's arc. Write them down in a word document. Fill each paragraph out to 100-200 word until you finish and you hit 3000 words.

Then do it twice more.

With these big writing projects it can also help to avoid burnout by switching. Maybe don't do one all in one go (unless you reach a state of flow and it just comes out) but write until you hit a roadblock then start filling out the outline steps on one of your other essays.

I like the powerpoint, break, and reward suggestions above; I don't recommend the freelancing option.
posted by col_pogo at 4:06 PM on August 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Speedwriter crossed with the Pomodoro technique has been a boon to me in writing academic essays. Write two or three sprints on Speedwriter, then get up and have a dance break. Repeat till finished. Curiously, I get better grades when banging essays out on Speedwriter than when I sweat and labor.

Doing my thinking during physical exercise, and then sitting down to write immediately after, also seems to produce better results. Trying to think sitting down is a terrible idea.
posted by stuck on an island at 4:06 PM on August 23, 2013 [9 favorites]

I wrote papers exactly like you in college. What helped me was regular, frequent, regimented breaks. I went through more video games writing papers than during my leisure time. Half-hour of writing (not research, not reading, not re-writing the same sentence eight times, but writing), half-hour of video games, or whatever you prefer. Set a timer and stick to it.
posted by griphus at 4:06 PM on August 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Also, do as much work as you possibly can in a stretch. Even if it is 2 AM and you're writing gibberish, if you can keep going, keep going until you're totally drained. Your strength will recover, as well you know, and it's a lot easier to get a decent paper done when you're fresh-headed and editing/rewriting gibberish than it is to work with a blank page.
posted by griphus at 4:09 PM on August 23, 2013

Here is the pomodoro technique. Set a specific task. Set a timer for 25 minutes. Do not stop working until the timer rings. Take a break. Do it again (3 more times) Take a longer break. You can adjust the amount time for writing and breaks but be really serious about staying on task during the work time. That's why a specific goal for each unit is important. (Only writing counts during writing time. I If you need to stop and research, add that to the to do list for the next section and keep writing.)
posted by metahawk at 4:10 PM on August 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

By the way - really taking the break is good, setting at timer to remind yourself to get back to work is better.
posted by metahawk at 4:11 PM on August 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

Go to a coffee shop or somewhere else with NO INTERNET access. Don't take your materials with you, except for a laptop with the bare minimum install (lock other programs down using software if necessary - you can create a new account with parental supervision enabled in most OSes, and get a friend to set the password so you don't know how to change it. Use that account. )

Sit there all day and write. If you get to a point where you need your secondary materials, write " [blah blah blah] " and fill in that gap later. But the aim is to get a full draft that is relatively coherent without having to stop and risk procrastinating with the secondary texts again.

Do this for three days, and you might have spent $30 or so in coffees, but you'll have three essays.
posted by lollusc at 7:02 PM on August 23, 2013 [3 favorites]

(If you don't have a laptop, take a notebook and write longhand. The weirdness of doing this might be enough to make it not even feel like work at first, which might not trigger your procrastination reflexes.)

And the reason the coffee shop trick works (for me) is that you can tell yourself that you just have to go to the shop. You don't HAVE to work. And then when you are there, after ten minutes of staring at the wall doing nothing, you are bored enough that doing a bit of writing almost seems like a better option.
posted by lollusc at 7:04 PM on August 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

A trick that has worked for me is writing a schedule for the next 30-60 minutes, broken down into 10-15 minute increments, and then doing my best to follow the schedule. An example:
10:00-10:15 summarize jones paper in background section
10:15 -10:25 summarize lee paper in bg section
10:25 - 10:35 expand motivation
10:35 - 10:45 opening paragraph for results

I don't hold myself to the schedule exactly, if I find I can focus on one section for more than the 10 minutes I've allotted then I'll stick with it, but having it means that if I get stuck, I know exactly what I should be working on and for how long. The short increments mean I can't convince myself to waste "just 5 minutes" checking my email again or seeing what's new with the internet because that 5 minutes is half the time I set aside to expand the motivation section.

Another strategy I use is that when I find myself writing fluently, I don't stop until I completely run out of things to say. This means that sometimes I need to leave notes for myself to look up an exact number or citation later, to avoid interrupting myself right then. This is also useful, because then later, when I really can't think of anything new to write, I can go and fill in all the blanks somewhat mechanically and feel like I made some progress without having had any new ideas.

And finally, don't beat yourself up if sometimes none of these strategies work and somehow you realize that instead of writing you just spent 3 hours on tvtropes. Just write a new schedule and try again with the next hour.
posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 7:40 PM on August 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

Please have a mod disable your metafilter account until after your paper is due.

Just write and get off the internet.
posted by hal_c_on at 11:33 PM on August 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

You just have to do it. I have written 13 000 words in 6 days before now, but that's when I was writing up my PhD and it was the last chapter, so I knew all the stuff that had to go in there.

My process:
* Turn off internet. Go somewhere where it is hard to get internet again.
* Write random thoughts into three wordpad documents about stuff to put in - if you already know your general storyline then this is easier but you'll still want to jot down things as you have new ideas. I do one line per thought so that I can group them later.
* Keep three documents open and flick between as things come to you during the following process
* Pick the easiest assignment and pick the paragraph where you're most sure you know what to say. Write that. Draw in any of those other random thoughts you jotted down that fit there.
* Minimal editing at this point. Get the ideas down in a grammatical form.
* Pick the next easiest paragraph. This might be the next one if your last one leads into it (which ideally it should)
* And then the next easiest paragraph. . . .
* When you get stuck, leave that paragraph unfinished (I put a big line of ********* so I know to come back to it) and find another paragraph you know you can start.
* When you need to look things up but they aren't central to your argument, I just put a flag telling me to come back to them (as I worked in a scientific field, I wrote (REF REF))
* Keep going, write the first and last paragraphs last.
* Spend the last day editing, rewriting, polishing and adding in all those sources you missed.

I don't take planned breaks - you can do anything for three days and my anxiety and mental health was best when I was just getting things done. My breaks came from quickly running away from the computer to get a drink or food. I know it sounds strange but I used really needing the toilet to give me the urgency to get stuff down on paper (obviously you can only take this so far . . . ). When I was going out of my mind with boredom I played solitaire on the computer. The key with this is that it's not a very interesting game, and the games are quite short.

The key for me is to make my whole day revolve around work. I'm not allowed to have breakfast until I've written 500 words, I can't shower until 300 more are done, lunch after another 1000 and so on.

When nothing else works I just force myself to stay sitting in my chair. Eventually the blank wall in front of me becomes less appealing than writing.
posted by kadia_a at 1:04 AM on August 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

I am exactly like you. I haven't really overcome these tendencies, but all of the suggestions above are good and have worked for me at various times.

I will now shout at you the thing I need people to shout at me when I do this:




We both know these things are easy to say and hard to do. But that's what you need to do. You need to break this pattern. Don't spend nearly a decade lingering in undergrad and then have a bunch of close scrapes in grad school like I did. Feel free to memail me for all the gory details.
posted by snuffleupagus at 5:16 AM on August 24, 2013 [10 favorites]

If you see this, this means you have stopped writing. Turn off the internet and just write. It does not matter what you write: just write. All you need to do is pass.
posted by wobumingbai at 9:35 AM on August 24, 2013

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