Tuesday, 25 September 2012

All Night Essay Crisis Syndrome

Is there a genuine excuse for your essay crisis ?
    If you leave all your essay work until the last moment, will the result be a disaster? Are you risking the tragic demise of your academic career? Is there a survival strategy?

    First, let's confess that some students work well under pressure. Last minute writers argue that you are less likely to be distracted if you have six hours left to finish, than if you have six days of leisure, sleep and study combined. Also, with less time you are less likely to be bogged down in wider reading, excessive contextualisation, and profound but confusing speculations. Crisis-driven writers maintain a sharp focus that helps them to maintain a clear sense of priorities and relevance in their work.

     While many great works have been the labour of many years of apprenticeship, and multiple arduous revision and drafts, there are admittedly examples of poets and writers who have achieved prodigious success by working in short bursts, under the pressure of a deadline, or simply the need to earn money quickly.

    For the writer who is a genius there is some impressive evidence of writing at high speed:

  • Jack Kerouac composed his novel On the Road in 21 days. It was typed on 120 feet of paper.

  • Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote The Gambler in 26 days

  • British Elizabethan playwright William Shakespeare wrote Hamlet in one night of creative melancholy. 

  • Eighteenth-century writer Dr Johnson wrote The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia (1759) in one week in order to help pay the costs of his mother's funeral. with an intended completion date of January 22

  • Muriel Spark apparently wrote The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie in one month. I say apparently, because I'm writing this blog under pressure and don't have time to check my facts.

    On the other hand, poor contextualisation, narrow reading, and a lack of originality, combined with a shallow understanding of key concepts may leave you with an essay that scores less than C, or 50%. More seriously, running out of time may mean that you fail to re-write and revise your essay. As a result, the language may lack the academic elegance that you are capable of. With careless mistakes, an unclear argument, and a weak structure, your grade may fall below 40%. Fail!

   If you are having an essay or study crisis, why not thinking critically about what led you to this situation. If you have a genuine excuse then shouldn't you be seeking an extended deadline from your tutor. Try to avoid invented excuses. Tutors may, for instance, recall that this is the sixth death of a much-loved grandparent. So it's best to avoid careless funerals and crocodile tears.

   In fact, constant essay crises may be bad for your health. Creative flow is not quite the same as stress, anxiety, and sleep deprivation. While modest amounts of caffeine may help to keep you awake they also harm concentration and may decrease the efficiency of you work. Concentrated sugar filled drinks provide a short term energy boost then dump you in a pit of despair. Another side effect of writing under stress is that yo may mis-read a question. That means that all your efforts have been wasted because you were barking up the wrong tree!

   If you are poorly organised then that's something that you can work on. Remember that it's not actually a genuine excuse to state that you have three essays due on the same day. In most cases, you will have been given the essay or project titles a month before the deadline, so you should have self-planned your workload. And remember that effective and successful essay writing involves many stages

Attending classes
Asking questions
Sharing ideas
Reading texts
Wider reading
Find an argument
Deciding on a structure
An essay plan
A First Draft
A second draft
Final revisions
Checking references, works cited, bibliography, spelling and grammar

Remember that padding out your essay with long quotations is one of the oldest tricks in the book of forgotten failures. Relying on a cut-and-paste from Wikipedia also = FAIL.

The title, perhaps, should read "All night essay crisis sin-drome?"  Do you really have any excuse for leaving your work until the last moment? And did you spot ANY fabrications in this blog?


  1. "Speaking at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), Prof Walker said the results support previous research that found “pulling an all-nighter” – or cramming for exams reduced ability to learn new facts by 40 per cent.

    The reason was due to a shutdown of parts of the brain regions due to sleep deprivation and the filling up of the short term memory that was usually filed and emptied during periods of sleep."


  2. The fabrication rightly questioned by RW was Hamlet.