How Not to Write an Essay

Fact: I HATE HATE HATE HATE HATE HATE HATE HAAAAAAAAAAATE writing essays. Just so we’re clear about this: if I could, I would punch essay writing in its metaphorical face. Sigh alas, this is not possible, and since I’m, you know, an English graduate student, I have to write essays on a regular basis.

My problem stems from the fact that I’m one of those weird perfectionists who can’t seem to get an essay started unless I know EXACTLY what it is I need to write and the BEST way to write it. Essentially this means that I’m constantly thinking about how to write my paper, but actually getting words onto the page is an experience that I like comparing to having teeth pulled without any anaesthetic. Ridiculous, I know. But if nothing else the stress that arises from this self-induced torture has made me acutely aware of my academic writing process, and I can’t help but notice a pattern of stages oddly similar to the 5 stages of grief, as developed by Drs. Kubler-Ross and Kessler. And so, because as we all know I have little to no shame, I have provided below brief glimpses of what I go through when writing an essay (like the one I finished this past Monday). Learn from my mistakes, young grasshoppers; lord knows I haven’t.

STAGE ONE: DENIAL

“Ok, I’ve had two weeks to work on this paper. No worries, I created the perfect essay-writing plan, where I’ve given myself plenty of time to research, develop a thesis, do an outline, and write the damn thing. I’m following the plan perfectly so far; I’ve finished my research and I have a rough thesis. I know that this is where I usually start having problems but THIS time I’ll be different.”

AHAHA I'VE GOT THIS

STAGE TWO: BARGAINING

“Ok, paper due in 48 hours, and I have a sentence written. That’s good, I’m way ahead of the game, everything will start flowing now. Um… Facebook. Haven’t checked Facebook lately… will see what my friends are up to for 10 minutes and then start writing again.”

*26 hours, zero sleep, 18 new websites, 4 new TV shows and 2 so-bad-they’re-good movies starring Freddie Prinze Jr. later*

“FRACK NO TIME LEFT HOW CAN I GET OUT OF THIS I’LL BET IF I DON’T HAVE MY HAND I’LL GET A NOTE EXEMPTING ME FROM WRITING ANYTHING EVER AGAIN NEVER LIKED MY HAND ANYWAY YES THIS IS A BRILLIANT IDEA”

Seriously though, hands are weird.

STAGE THREE: ANGER

“No. NO I WON’T cut off my hand. But I HATE you essay I hate you SO SO MUCH and I hope you DIE and I CAN’T BELIEVE I’M EXPECTED TO DO THIS WHY CAN’T THEY JUST GIVE MY DEGREE INSTEAD OF MAKING ME JUMP THROUGH THESE RIDICULOUS HOOPS I SHOULD START A PROTEST RIGHT NOW BUT I CAN’T BECAUSE I HAVE THIS STUPID PAPER TO WRITE!”

At which point I transform into the God of Hellfire.

STAGE FOUR: DEPRESSION

Me: *Weeping* “Hi Dad? Dad it’s me. Hang on a sec I’m getting snot on my phone I’m putting you on speaker-”

Dad: “Seriously Sarah? Again?”

Me: “But it’s haaaaaaaaaaard and I can’t do it and, and, and-” *starts hiccuping*

Dad: “Sarah, you’re 24-years-old. Get a grip. You can do it, you are great. Now leave me alone.”

Me: “CLEARLY IF YOU LOVED ME YOU’D OFFER TO WRITE THIS FOR ME GAAAAAAAAAAAAH I’M IN A GLASS CAGE OF EMOTION”

Exactly, Ron Burgundy. Exactly.

STAGE FIVE: ACCEPTANCE.

*Wipes snot/drool/cookie crumbs/tears from face*

“Ok. I’ve got 8 hours to finish this thing. Either I start now or it won’t get done and I’ll fail. I am literally vibrating with fear. My brain has gone numb from all the emotion/anxiety. There’s so much pressure and no time left to be a perfectionist… YES. NOW I can write.”

So I do, and it gets done, it always gets done. But the pattern has yet to change, and I’ve still got about a year of more essay-writing to go. Who knows, maybe there’s hope for me yet… but in the meantime, Dad? Don’t change your phone number, with my apologies in advance. Cheers!

Later this week I’ll be posting Natasha’s guide to writing a graduate essay, so stay tuned for that! There’s a method to her madness, proving that not all English grads are completely insane.

About dontpanictrent

DON'T PANIC: A Trent Graduate Student Blog

14 Responses to “How Not to Write an Essay”

  1. Christine Babikian Reply February 1, 2012 at 12:39 pm

    Sarah, you made my day. Ron Burgundy’s “I’m in a glass case of emotion” seems so much more applicable now when applied to graduate studies: weekends spent at Bata, stacks of books to sift through, and endless blank pages that need to be filled. But, looking back at all the words you’ve written, a sense of accomplishment and pride does trickle into the glass case immediately after submission (over 17,000 written words for me this past Decemeber, something for us to be proud of!).

  2. If only essays wrote themselves as easily as blogs. . .

  3. I guess you could hire a writing service to help you out but I would think that you really wouldn’t learn anything from doing that!

  4. omgosh I thought I was the only one!

  5. You’ve accurately described me.

  6. i fucking HATE writing essays!

  7. My stages go as follows: 1. look at assignment 2. look at paper and realize I “don’t” really know what they’re asking (I do but I can’t access the information for some reason) 3. repeat steps 1 and 2 for 2 hours while slowly losing sanity 4. cry because I’m a 16 year old (most teenagers are emotional) and think my world will end 5. have “sudden” understanding of what the assignment is 6. after 10 mental break downs and a heart attack, finally write paper

    PS. I’m only a junior in high school

  8. iamcommentingonthispost Reply March 18, 2014 at 6:44 am

    This is sooo true!! It’s like a super accurate description of me xD

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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  3. Bring on the comments… please? « belikeaduck - April 25, 2012

    [...] sense of humor; the post in which I most freely expressed my said warped sense of humor was “How Not to Write an Essay.” Not going to lie, I feel slightly chuffed by the fact that it’s DON’T [...]

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