Writing for students: when time catches you with your pants down

HTWB Students logo 3Let’s face it. We’ve all had those essays that we’ve just kept putting off and others that we’ve just completely forgotten about until the night before the deadline. It’s all too easy – with a busy schedule of downing snakebites, watching ‘Come Dine With Me’ marathons and doing other clichéd student things that are only really half true, those pesky essays can be easily left to fester.

In a perfect world, this should never happen, but the world isn’t perfect. We have guns and global warming and Huntsman spiders (seriously have you seen those things?!). Because of this (the imperfect world, not the spiders), learning how to write with haste, but maintaining quality, is a useful skill to learn while at uni.

I once wrote an essay in two hours before the deadline and handed it in exactly on time (4pm, not a minute more, not a minute less). Now I’m not proud of the fact that I left an essay to the last minute (I’m not, honest) but I’m pretty proud that with said essay I managed to still secure a 1st.

Now, I need to come clean (a bit). Whilst I wrote the essay in the two hours leading up to the deadline, I had prepared myself a couple of days in advance. What I’m saying is, if you’ve got an essay due in a couple of hours and you haven’t yet found out what the title is or what books it’s based on, even I can’t help you.

Let’s get this out of the way now; a little disclaimer. I am not advising you use the methods I’m about to waffle on about unless you absolutely have no other choice. If you can spend longer on your work and get it done way in advance of the deadline, you bloomin’ well should! It’s not big and it’s not clever to think you’re big and clever, and it adds unnecessary pressure to the process.

And don’t forget, if there’s a ‘proper’ reason why you can’t get the work done, you can always ask for an extension.

If all else fails though, here’s what I’d do (read:did) –

Spend longer planning

As I mentioned, I planned this miracle essay in advance, so if you can, do that too. In the absolute worst case scenario, think about doing the old classic all-nighter, but don’t make a habit of this, it’s very bad for your health (I once spent a day seeing the world with a blue tint after an all-nighter and too much coffee. Look it up, it’s a real side effect!).

As I said before in a previous post, good planning makes a good essay, and it also makes writing the thing a whole lot easier. Spend even longer than you normally would planning this stealth essay and it will make it even easier to write it with, well, stealth.

Remove all distractions

small__4679740934If you’re like me (and if you’ve left an essay to the last minute, then chances are you are) you’ll have the attention span of a… ooh look a piece of candy.

Despite what you might tell yourself, background music of Skrillex and Pendulum won’t help you concentrate. Neither will Netflix, FIFA or that elastic band that you just love fiddling with.

You need to get in the zone and that means no distractions. Tell your housemates to shut up, close the curtains and take a deep breath. Now you’re ready to get started.

Go with the flow

Guess what the most important part of writing an essay is? That’s right; writing it. Alright?

It can be tempting to sit there revising each word as it hits the screen, editing errors and generally stopping and starting to read what you’ve written. Don’t. Seriously, don’t. It may seem counter-intuitive, but you’ve got just let go and get the words out.

If you have more time, it’s not the worst thing in the world to stop and start, but when you’re in a rush, you need to, surprise surprise, rush. You can go over everything at the end (in fact this is a must) but right now, it’s all about quantity.

Get to the word limit, and then go back and do the editing. You’ll be surprised at how much time you’ll have left to do this if you do it that way.

Chunk it up

This might sound like the exact opposite of what I just told you to do, but it’s not. Getting it all out and splitting it up into sections are not mutually exclusive things.

Setting yourself time limits for each section of the essay is essential. Think about where the natural breaks fall and work to those. Let’s say you have two hours to write 1500 words. Split it into four sections of 375 words (seemingly awkward number but actually a perfect amount for one solid flow) and stick to half an hour for each (or less if that time includes editing etc.)

If you hit half an hour and you’re not at the right number of words, make a mental note to subtract time from the next but also, hurry up! Write until your fingers are numb and then write some more (assuming you haven’t paralysed your fingers, in which case you’re stuffed).

Using all these techniques, you should be able to make the essay writing that bit quicker, make that all important deadline and still come out with a half-decent grade.

If you find yourself doing this more than once though, it’s time to re-evaluate your time management skills. Luckily, that’s what I’ll be talking about next week, so join me then so you never have to go through the stress of following this advice ever again.

Jackson Rawlings on HowToWriteBetter.net

Jackson Rawlings

Until next time, I’ve been Jackson. Stay classy, students.


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photo credit: Daniela Vladimirova via photopin cc




  1. As a journalist/feature writer with more years experience than I care to recall, your chunking technique is the way I’ve worked most of my life and it always works.