Writing a Paper the Night Before It’s Due: Because Sometimes, You Just Have To

Lets face it: we Wesleyan students have a tremendous amount of work. We are all aware that writing is a timely process, one that does not thrive on being squished into brief windows of time before our impeding deadlines. With some course loads, it isn’t unreasonable to find yourself writing two to three papers a week. Sometimes, you wind up writing a paper the night before it is due simply because you spent the other nights writing for a different class. It’s not procrastination: it’s inevitable.

The prospect of setting aside one long, exhausting evening to write (and edit!) a full paper is incredibly daunting. Of course it would be easier – on your sanity, on your sleep schedule, on the paper itself – if you started a few days in advance. Still, it is possible to write a paper the night before it is due without suffering a steep drop in quality. The following are a few tips I’ve picked up from finding myself in this unfortunate situation.

  1. Even if you don’t have time to start writing the paper until the night before it is due, outline it in advance. It’s amazing how much time it can take to sit down and think of a topic. If you’re gearing up for an all-nighter and spend the first two hours coming up with your topic or conducting your research without getting a single word onto paper, you’re only going to be disheartened. Squeeze this step in between studying for that other test or writing that other paper, as it will save you time in the long run.
  2. Find a safe space in which to write. Some people, stressed by the deadline, are spectacularly productive under pressure. (Oh, how I wish I were one of them.) Others, after accepting the fact that they will not be getting much sleep, quickly lapse into procrastination. Try to find a place where you won’t be distracted and if at all possible, do not write in your room: the later the hour gets, the more comfortable that bed of yours will look.
  3. Save time for editing! Resist the urge to finish that last sentence, turn off your computer and immediately crash. Chances are if you are up writing late, your paper will have some errors you would have been able to catch were you more awake. You should either take a break – make some coffee, do some jumping jacks, hang out with your insomniac roommate – or set an early alarm so you can read through your work before you hand it in.
  4. Don’t get bogged down in the details. If you’re working on a section of a paper that doesn’t seem to be coalescing to your liking, learn when to put it aside and move on. With the paper itself due in less than 24 hours, your first responsibility is getting words onto the page. Of course, you do want to make sure you turn in eloquent phrasing instead of drowsy, over-caffeinated scrawl, but the longer you spend fretting over and reorganizing your introductory paragraph, the less chance you have of actually finishing the paper.
  5. Visit the Writing Workshop! We are open to 11:00 PM and specifically trained to help. Resist the urge to write this off as a time waster: if you mention to the tutor that the paper you are working on is due the next day, he or she will specifically target his or her comments with your deadline in mind. If you are writing your paper the night before, you probably do not have a lot of time to mull over the structure or contemplate the veracity of your thesis. So, go ask the tutor on call! He or she should be able to speedily point you in the best direction.
  6. Don’t. Stress. It’s college and what is college without a few sleepless nights? It is important not to lose sight of your goals for the assignment just because you are writing under pressure. Don’t succumb to the attitude of “well, I guess I shouldn’t try too hard since this paper won’t be very good no matter what I do.” That’s not true! Try to stay motivated and stay on task and your writing will be rewarded for it.

1 comment for “Writing a Paper the Night Before It’s Due: Because Sometimes, You Just Have To

  1. April 10, 2011 at 11:35 am

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