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How to Survive that Last Minute Paper

Procrastinators, rejoice! It’s 10 o’clock the day before your big essay for that class you can’t stand is due. All of a sudden this assignment has turned into yet another last minute paper. You go to your favorite homework spot—whether it be your bed or the library—and you stare at a blank word document waiting for inspiration to hit, yet instead of your brain coming up with awesome points that will impress that stuffy old professor, your mind wanders. I mean, who cares about why Shakespeare is still relevant or what the “real” reason behind WWII was?


Why must professors insist on assigning papers?  Don’t they know they have to grade these things? While the anxiety is understood, it is not helping you finish that paper. The obvious answer would be not to leave it to the last minute, but sometimes, we don’t have a choice (or sometimes we’re just lazy). Hell, I’ve been known to pull an all-nighter myself.  So instead, here are some pieces of advice to help you write that last minute paper:


1. Pick the perfect spot to work.

While you may usually prefer doing homework in your room, this may not be the ideal place for a last minute paper; you will be tempted to fall asleep. Find a place that you associate with productivity and education.  Computer labs, classrooms, and libraries are just some examples of places more suited for writing papers. However, if it isn’t finals week where the library is open 24/7, then pick a room in your living space that you can get a lot of work done in.  If you’re in the dorms, then you can probably use one of the lounges.


2. Make sure you stay awake!

This is pretty obvious, but you will need to find a way to keep yourself up.  My drink of choice is a sugar free Red Bull.  Other ways to help you stay awake would be to let in some cold air.  Being too warm will only put you to sleep.  Furthermore, you will want to stay away from alcohol, no matter how tempting it is to have a glass of wine (or a bottle of vodka).

3. Set an alarm for yourself to wake up in the middle of the night.

If you dare…another option you can try that I have found works for me sometimes, but is a little riskier, is to go to sleep early for a couple of hours and wake up in the middle of the night to write your essay.  Sometimes, even four hours of sleep can get those gears going if you are just….too…tired…

4. Prepare snacks and drinks to have nearby.

I would also recommend having snacks while you write. Any extra way to prepare to not have to leave your seat is the key to success. Sweeter snacks may lead to a crash later on, and obviously aren’t the healthiest option. But they do give you a momentary energy boost, and help make writing papers not seem so awful. I mean, calories equal energy, right?


5. If you can’t work in silence, create a background distraction.

Okay, you’re thinking “Why would I want a distraction when I am trying to write a paper?”  I have no science to prove this; I just know this from my own experience.  I personally cannot concentrate in a silent room.  It’s a little unnerving and I get sleepy. When I am writing a paper, I like to listen to music.

6. Make sure you listen to music that is helping you focus.

I listen to classical music or instrumental music.  The reason why is that while I have background noise, the lack of words allows me to focus on whatever I am reading or writing. Find what works for you.  Avoid music that puts you to sleep.  Some classical music is more upbeat than others.

Tip: Pandora has a great station just for this purpose: Classical music for studying.  It features music from Harry Potter and Pirates of the Caribbean, which is awesome. If you are working out of your dorm, pack a pair of headphones.


7. Really stuck? Browse the internet or library database.

Do your research if you need to get your creative juices flowing! We are lucky enough to have all the information in the world at our fingertips. I am talking about the internet.  If you have writer’s block, a good thing to do is to look at what others have said on the subject.  (Without plagiarizing, of course!) When I have to write a paper that I don’t want to, I find that doing research helps me come up with a thesis and I actually am excited to write the paper.  The words just flow out of me when I have an idea.  So, even if your assignment doesn’t require it, google some things or use our library’s databases.

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8. Make sure you stay comfortable.

Nothing is more of a distraction than if you are too hot or too cold to focus on your work. Are you heading to the library or somewhere far from your dorm? Make sure you stay comfortable and are wearing the proper attire for whatever setting you are going to be working in. Is your library always a bit drafty? Make sure you pack a sweatshirt just in case!

9. Schedule frequent breaks for yourself.

According to recent research, the brain needs frequent, small breaks when completing a lengthy task that requires our full attention. Set a timer on your computer or phone for a 5-10 minute break every 45 minutes to an hour. Get up, take a lap around the library, go to the bathroom, stretch, get a drink of water, browse your social media, call a friend, then GET BACK TO WORK as soon as your break is over.


10. Write with a friend!

Another suggestion would be to find a partner from your class (or four) to write with so that you can bounce ideas and share resources with each other.  I have found that the creative energy is extremely helpful, even if you don’t say anything.

Tip: Avoid partnering with people who do not take their work seriously because they will just be more of a distraction.

11. Ask for an extension.

If you know ahead of time that you may not be able to finish the work for that professor on the due date, then be honest and go your professor and explain the situation.  If you go in ahead of time (like a week or two in advance) they may give you some extra time.  Do not ask them the night before because the response you will get is “Well you had two weeks to do it.” Be polite and professional.  The worst they can say is no.  But, at least you tried.

What are some other tips for our writers to survive that last minute paper? Comment below and share this article with friends!
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Jenny Bront

Jenny Bront is a senior English Major at ESU. She loves literature, writing, and latin dance. Her biggest goal in life is to set the record for craziest cat lady.

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