The end is near, and unlike in undergrad, the impending holiday does not signal a joyous respite from school, but instead almost a week that I get to spend buried under books in the hopes of finishing my term papers.
A few weeks ago, I said my goal was to start writing. Admittedly, I did do some writing. I think I have about 18ish pages total of the 60 minimum pages I need before the end of the semester, and truthfully, that isn’t terrible! It’s better than nothing.
Normally, I’d like to be further along than this but the first half of November has been enormously busy and somewhat of an emotional trainwreck for me. The first weekend, my cousin came to visit me; then, the election had me in a tailspin for at least four days; after that, I went to my alma mater for some well-timed art therapy and bonding with some friends; and when I got home, it turned out that my uncle (who lives in Key West) was in town visiting as well…and my dad’s dog (who we’ve had since I was 8) had passed away. Needless to say, it was a miracle that I pretty much all of my work done– but it was mostly good time management, as I’d been working ahead for almost two weeks, knowing that visits would chew up a great deal of my time.
So, this weekend was the first weekend in a while that I got to spend bumming around my apartment in my sweat pants, as I so dearly love to do.
But alas–I fell ill.
I really think the universe is against me sometimes.
When I haven’t been sleeping off whatever vile sickness that’s invaded my poor body, I’ve been writing term papers and reading for class. Compounded with the fact that I’ve eaten nothing but soup for the last four days, yes, this situation is as depressing as it sounds.
Nevertheless, I thought I’d spend a little time in this post discussing some of the tactics I’ve been using to get through these long papers , which is all a part of what I’ve been calling “Project Finish Line”:
- Annotated bibliographies are your friends! Listen, the best thing that ever happened to me was my research seminar professor assigning an annotated bibliography a third of the way into the semester. At the time? Yes, it was frustrating. Yes, I was freaking out because I wasn’t sure about what I was writing about. But annotated bibliographies are honestly a perfect way to think through your argument, how you’re going to support it, and how you’ll organize the paper. If you put a lot of energy into doing a bomb bibliography, you’ll have everything you need to write your paper, then all you’ll have to do is write it.
- Try to write a little every day, but also give in when the mood strikes. Fortunately, I just naturally write like this. I like to write a little something every day, mostly because I don’t want to have to write everything at the last minute, but when I’m feeling an idea, I immediately get to my word document and spin out the entire idea. I always like to start projects with outlines, but I’m not picky about writing from start to finish order. So, if I suddenly know what I’m going to write for 8 pages of section 3 of my paper, hold the phones– I’ll be gone for about 3 hours.
- OUTLINE! Like annotated bibliographies, outlines are your friend. Use whatever type of outline that makes sense to you, but try to get your ideas down on paper, and organize them so you have an idea of where you are trying to go with this paper. I used to be the type to just sit down at a blank word document and go at it until I hit the word limit, but the fact is…it’s a little sloppy. And professors can almost always tell when you do that. Working on an annotated bibliography, then an outline which breaks down the sections, main ideas, and even possible page amounts that you will spend on each idea, will making going to your document so much easier.
- EDIT! Truthfully, I’m still so horrible at this. I go through so many steps to refine my ideas before I even write them down that the suggestion of changing something I’ve written is annoying. Usually, my thought process is, “That was what I was trying to say! Otherwise I wouldn’t have written it like that!” First of all, that’s defensive. Second of all, thinking like that is going to impede you from getting better. Embrace rewrites. Embrace edits. Edits are not a suggestion that you suck at writing. Edits are what make you more articulate to a greater number of people. It’s great that you understood what you write, but will anyone else?
- If your professors will read drafts, GET A DRAFT IN. Almost all of my professors are willing to read drafts, and as a first semester grad student, I’m planning to take advantage of that. Having my professors read drafts in advance will let me know what they’re looking for, while also giving me enough time to change some things to make it better, and potentially get a higher grade. Plus, they’ll know I’m taking this seriously.
So, at the end of the day, my popular culture and power paper is basically writing itself. I just sit down at any given moment and plod through that. When I get bursts of inspiration, I write my literary criticism style Interracialism paper (that’s been coming out in bursts of about 5 pages every time I sit down). And I’ve yet to start my Intro to American Studies paper, but that’s possibly because I’m still a little unsure of where I’m going with it. But that can of course be resolved by having a quick chat with my professor.
Which brings me to my last bit of advice: talk to your professors. Just do it.
With only a few weeks left in the semester (2, really, of classes and then a week for finals, a.k.a. speed writing/editing term papers), I can’t believe I’ve almost made it through my first semester. It seems like just yesterday, I was running around the basement of Swem trying to find the Omohundro Institute. If Project Finish Line is successful, I’ll have three good papers to show for a semester of hard work in just a few weeks.
Until next time,