2.3 Staying focused on essay writing

Now that you have seen the type of environment that will help you write your essay, it is time to get more strategic about how to stay on track. Thanks to distractions and just simple human nature, it is easy to quickly lose focus even under the best environments. No one likes deadlines but they are there for a reason or none of us would likely to get certain tasks done.

And, when it comes to the life of a university student with a number of classes, you may find that you have similar deadlines across all your classes so that you have a number of assignments, essays, and tests that all hit at the same time. That means you need to have some strategies in place for now and into the academic year to stay focused on essay writing.

Chapter 2 Pt 2 contents:

2.3 Staying focused on essay writing

2.3.1: Long term strategies

While the easiest strategy is to start with the here and now, in university, it really helps to start with a longer term approach to what you will have to do. In most universities and classes, the instructor will pass out a syllabus with key dates for the larger assignments like essays, presentations, reports and tests. This is a good time to copy these onto a large wall calendar, board, and even calendar with alerts on your phone or computer.

  • Typically, dates on these major assignments fall at regular increments throughout the academic year so that you can fall into a pattern of when specific short essays, long essays, and other writing assignments are due.
  • This may vary slightly by class and subject, but most often, many can fall due within the same week or on the same day even! This can strike fear in the heart of many students - even the most seasoned ones!
  • But, you need to put some strategies around these long-term dates so that time does not get away from you. And, that may mean even including work during extended school holiday breaks to maintain studying, research, reading and writing.
  • By doing so, you will be able to avoid any last-minute panics and rushes to finish work that clearly will not be as well-received as those that had the luxury of more time.

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2.3.2: Short term strategies

At the same time that you are looking ahead to locate those key weeks where you could use the time to get ahead on a particular assignment, you must also consider the present to stay on track as well, including creating a detailed strategy as to how you will approach each essay, writing assignment, and test.

  • Start from the date that the essay is due and work backwards so you can set out the number of days you will need to achieve each of those essay stages mentioned earlier in this book - research, brainstorming, outline, writing, revising and polishing.
  •  And, within this detailed plan, there should also be time for rest and relaxation, other projects, and other responsibilities like a job.
  • What often is forgotten within these times of short-term strategies is actually allotting time for the unexpected wrinkle like requested revisions by the tutor or the inability to access certain information, a computer malfunction, or some other personal crisis that then throws the whole schedule off-course.
  • That means that there should be some room in the schedule to make changes on the fly.
  • However, that does not mean that this 'extra' time should be used to be lazy or become a slacker!

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2.3.3: Decreasing the time constraints

When planning your time to focus on essay writing, like so many activities, it is easy to think on the hour and assign whole hours to certain aspects of the writing experience. Of course, when you are actually doing the essay writing, you might want to do this as the writing flow can easily lend itself to filling that time if you are in a good place and the ideas are coming naturally. However, in other cases, it is best to decrease your time into half-hour increments of essay work.

  • This helps your brain recharge.
  • It actually maximizes your productivity because it is easier to stay focused over a half hour than an hour.
  • Make it into a competition to see how much you can get done in that half hour.
  • Your brain can work in short bursts often producing ideas quickly when it knows that it will be resting soon or being fuelled with some type of snack or diversion.

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2.3.4: Chunking it

Along these lines, work should be divided into manageable chunks that will hold your interest and your abilities. Here are some ideas:

  • Plan to write only a section or a few specific paragraphs under a headline or section of the outline.
  • Do the same with your research and brainstorming sessions as well as your revising and reviewing sessions. Spend too much time on these and you will lose track and might miss some important point in the research or skip over a glaring mistake while proofreading the essay.

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2.3.5: Reaping the rewards

Everyone responds positively to a reward and you will have to give yourself a reward for every essay task completed or where you have stayed focused on your timetable.

  • This reward does not have to be huge - just something like a treat, a quick chin wag with a friend, or a few minutes listening to music.
  • This way, you are mentally connecting a reward to staying on task with your essay as a great motivator to keep going toward the finish line.
  • You can even plan a bigger reward when you do finish like a night out with friends to celebrate a large job done!
  • Maybe it will be an even sweeter reward once you get great marks for it!

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2.4: Looking for feedback and encouragement

Sometimes, when trying to stay focused, it helps to have a team on your side where you can get feedback and encouragement. You are not alone and do not have to feel as you are when you have a tutor not to mention other students who you can turn to for discussion, encouragement, and advice. Having this support system can keep you from getting discouraged, blanking on what to write about, or even falling off-course on your essay timetable. Here's what you can do to leverage this support system:

  • Start with your tutor who can answer questions about the essay assignment, serve as a sounding board for your ideas and how you plan to approach it, be an editor and offer suggestions on making your essay better. You will most likely have to make an appointment or you can also email them or schedule a call. Just make sure you know their preferred form of communication as they are most likely very busy people.
  • When it comes to other students, share your lecture notes and discuss the main issues or concepts that are the basis for your essay. You do not want to all write the same thing and most likely do not have the same perspective, but a lively discussion will stimulate ideas and motivate you to get started or keep going.
  • Provide each other with sources and reference material that was useful. This saves time and keeps you focused on what you need to accomplish.
  • Look to each other as another pair of 'eyes' when you need to review, revise, and polish. Since you most likely looked at your own essay dozens of times, it is easy to become blind to things that need to be changed whereas someone else can spot these immediately.

In Reflection

In summarising the information from this chapter and in reflecting on what you took away from it, think about these main points:

  • How much time did you give yourself to write this essay? Did you feel like it was enough to do a great job?
  • Did the environment you create help you write your essay? Would you change anything for the next essay?
  • Did your short-term and long-term strategies help you succeed? Again, what would you change for the next essay?
  • Did you meet with your tutor or talk with other students about the essay? How did this help you and what would you do differently in the future?
  • What motivated you the most and helped overcome any writer's block you might have experienced?

Up next is a chapter devoted to essay types and how to structure and work on each type of essay. Ready? Let's go!

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