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Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Snowaeris asks: What do you suggest for those of us with very large final papers who are getting writer's block (and procrastinating by reading BEDA Blogs)?

There is an expression, “Hunger is the best sauce.” I have a corollary: “Deadlines are the greatest inspiration.”

No great paper was ever written on a timely schedule. Forget everything the dweebs in the writing center* tell you about outlines and drafts and revisions. Forget about collecting up notes on your computer or carefully organized file cards which you lovingly arrange over the course of several weeks until they achieve a pleasing formation which you then use as the blueprint of the architecture of your prose. It makes me laugh just to write that sentence!

Great final papers are born of adrenaline and stink of desperation. Great final papers are the things you create because you don’t have quite enough time to fake your own death. Let’s go through the typical timeline of a final paper and see how YOU can achieve greatness for yourself!

WEEK ONE: Syllabus is given out. You see that, among many other books, you will be reading I, Wombat and The Hamster’s Tale. Being a dutiful and dedicated student, you immediately go to the bookstore and purchase these books. Someone is going to EARN that café coolatta today!

You are serious about learning!

WEEK THREE: This is the week for reading I, Wombat and The Hamster’s Tale. Because it is still early in the semester and you are in a sporting mood, you read half of I, Wombat and all of The Hamster’s Tale. (Because it is shorter, but amazingly, you forget the ending of the book as soon as you are done . . . and the beginning . . . and a good chunk of the middle. But the important part is that you read it, right? You physically HAD IT IN YOUR HANDS and flipped through it page by page and THAT is what college is all about.)

WEEK FIVE: Final paper questions are assigned, with the idea that you now have many, many weeks to reread, research, and plan for writing. You choose this question, because of the good work you put in during week three: “Compare and contrast the themes of I, Wombat and The Hamster’s Tale. What conclusions to your draw from the differing approaches? (25 pages, 95% of your grade)”

WEEKS 6-11: It’s not 100% clear what exactly goes on in weeks six through eleven. Clearly, at some point you went to the library. You’ve been using a book called “I, Wombat: A Critical View”** as a coaster for about three weeks now. Aside from that, it’s all a haze of Youtube videos and attempts at making grilled cheese sandwiches on your overactive radiator.*** All you know is that time has passed and it’s perhaps time to think about that paper that is now due in two weeks.

It is unclear what has transpired.

WEEK 12: “I’m serious,” you say to everyone around you. “I’m getting ready to go in for the long haul. Once I get all the supplies I need, I’m going to lock myself in and I’m NOT COMING OUT until the paper is DONE! Except to go to class, of course!” You’re going to need a lot, though. Coffee, protein bars, paper, pens, ramen noodles, ginko tea, some of those vitamin waters made from the smartberry . . . Oh, yes. Yours is the room of a SERIOUS SCHOLAR!


MONDAY, MORNING: You can barely move around in your room, you’re so well prepared. You have no money left to buy anything else. You’ve spent it all. But wisely. Wisely. You’re just going to class today, and coming right back and getting to work. Paper’s due on Friday. You can write it in five days. That’s four pages a day.

MONDAY, AFTERNOON: Oh no! HIJACKED! It WAS the first summer-like day of the year, so you really did have to go and get milkshakes and sit in the sun for a little while. That will only help you later. You could probably have skipped those two hours of Mario Kart, but whatever.

MONDAY, EVENING: Well, you have to EAT, too. Paper will be started right after dinner.

MONDAY, 9pm: All right. This is where it BEGINS! This is where the magic happens. You just need to grab your copy of I, Wombat and . . . Where is I, Wombat? Oh no. Moocher from building across campus BORROWED I, Wombat weeks ago. Moocher must be called. Moocher is not picking up. OFF TO LIBRARY.

MONDAY, 10pm: Library all out of copies of I, Wombat. Moocher must be tracked down on foot.

MONDAY, 11:30: Moocher has been spotted! Moocher is sitting on south lawn, blowing bubbles in the dark and playing tambourine. Moocher is not dedicated like you. Bit of a hippie. Doesn’t believe in personal property, that kind of thing.

MONDAY, 11:45: Moocher is happy to see you! Wants to blow bubbles, play tambourine with you. No time for that! You need book. Moocher is sorry. Is not sure where book is. Are you sure you won’t blow some bubbles?

TUESDAY, 1:00am: Okay, Moocher has minor point. Bubbles and tambourine combination surprisingly satisfying. But enough is enough. Maybe book can be found online.

TUESDAY, 3:30am: Book is not online.

TUESDAY, 9:30am: Why did you ever sign up for the 9:30am session of “Important Rocks of Ireland”? What were you thinking? Nevermind. Will have to find copy of I, Wombat after class.

TUESDAY, 11am: Fifteen dollars for a new copy of I, Wombat? The system is corrupt! Back to room to read until 1:30.

TUESDAY, 5pm: Okay, you didn’t read. You had lunch before your next class. Must eat. But you are definitely not going to the dining hall for dinner. You are staying in and reading.

TUESDAY, 7:30pm: It was a relatively quick trip to the dining hall, all things considered. Now reading . . .

TUESDAY, 10:30pm: What the hell IS this book?

TUESDAY, 11:30pm: Feverishly consider other paper options. No, you committed weeks ago. Had to turn in slip of paper saying what your topic was, get approval. Is it too late to change? Examine class documentation minutely.

WEDNESDAY, 2:30am: It is too late to change. Also, turns out roommate HAD copy of I, Wombat. Roommate very smug. Roommate is engineering major. Never has to write a paper. Only has to build functioning robotic arm instead. SLACKER.

WEDNESDAY, 9:00am: Why did you ever sign up for 9am session of “Modern Perspectives on Modernism”? What were you thinking? Trudge, trudge, trudge off to class.

WEDNESDAY, 11am: Trudge, trudge, trudge back to room. You didn’t have enough money for a large latte. Had to get a coffee refill in someone’s borrowed eco-mug. Hope they washed it.

WEDNESDAY: 1pm: The Hamster’s Tale also insane, just slightly less so than I, Wombat. Type two paragraphs of notes that sort of sound like something. Off to “Folktale, Myth, Legend, Parable, and Story: A Cultural Perspective.”

WEDNESDAY, 3pm: Stroke of luck! Friend works at coffee bar in basement of math building. Will hook you up with leftover coffee when they close at 5. Totally worth waiting around for. Will just read in meantime, right outside, in the sun.

WEDNESDAY, 5:30pm: Okay, what is it about reading in the sun that makes you get all sleepy and dazed? Well, that doesn’t matter now, as you are the proud owner of at least two quarts of high-quality, slightly used coffee. You even got about two dozen of those fancy flavored creamers! Now, you are going to ROCK.

WEDNESDAY, 9:30pm: Oh yeah. You’ve been typing for four hours straight now. Eleven pages! Oh yeah. Oh YEAH! Maybe you should read this? No, no. Not yet. Not while you are on a roll! Time for more slightly used coffee and fancy creamer!

THURSDAY, 5:30am: Eighteen pages!!!! Everything is shaking a little bit. Confusion. Darkness. Heartbeat somewhat irregular.

THURSDAY, 9:00am: Must re-read genius work of last night.

THURSDAY, 9:30am: What the @%#^?

What . . . what IS this stuff?

THURSDAY, 12:30pm: Have come to the terrifying conclusion that only perhaps three pages of last night’s frenzy are in any way usable. What happened HERE? LOCK DOOR. WRITE.


THURSDAY, 10pm: Nine pages. NINE PAGES?!?!?!?!

THURSDAY, 11pm: An entire HOUR wasted playing with font size, spacing, calculating the exact time the paper needs to be sent off, and reading all the fine print on the guide sheet. Back to it, NOW, NOW, NOW!!!

FRIDAY, midnight: The day of the paper has now arrived. You are halfway done. It is customary to spend at least a few minutes berating yourself on letting this happen. But this part is boring, in the same way that all graduation speeches are boring. Skip ahead to the frenzy.

4am: Uncontrollable twitching. 12 pages.

8am: Strange euphoria. 14 pages.

10:30am: Stalled at 16 pages. Bang head on desk a few times.

1:30 pm: Could it be that you’re . . . done? Well, it’s 19 and a half pages, and you sort of had to get a little crazy in that last paragraph to get it over the line, but . . . .

1:45pm: Spellcheck. Print. Stare at paper in amazement. Rub it on face.

2:05pm: Step outside into sunshine, with 55 minutes to walk paper over. Most beautiful day you have ever seen. Moocher is on front step with his bubbles. Wants you to blow some with him and do an improvised dance. Why not? Why not, INDEED?

2:35pm: People love your dancing.

3:01pm: No. No. No. No. No. No. No, you did not just blow the deadline by a minute because you were bubble dancing with the Moocher. THIS IS NOT HOW IT ENDS FOR YOU!

3:02-3:14pm: Running, running, running, running . . . knocking over slow people, crashing through tour groups, running . . .

3:15-3:25pm: After great begging, gnashing of teeth, falling on knees, actual tears, assistant accepts paper. As you leave, you hear him joke that your professor isn’t picking them up until 5 and the 3 o’clock thing was just something he did as a trick to try to get them in a little sooner so he could leave for the weekend. EVERYONE IS SO LAZY!!!!

I hope this helps.

And the winners of the autographed copies of Eternally Yours: The Unauthorized Biography of Robert Pattinson, Savior of Wayward Hamsters by my friend Isabelle Adams are:

From the Ning: Mary Hadac
From Blogger: bluebonnet21

Send in your addresses! More books will be given out later this week!

* I speak as a former dweeb of the writing center.
** This was someone else’s final paper. Final papers breed more final papers! It’s the cycle of life!
*** I wasted half a semester trying to do this. Don’t bother. No matter how crazy the heat may be in your building, you can’t make a good grilled cheese on it.

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OpenID improbablefiction said...

Very helpful.

Oh, since I commented first (or at least since the last check) can I get a book?


2:04 AM  
Anonymous Lynnie said...

my god. just reading that made me feel a little stressed haha

2:41 AM  
Blogger Christina Celeste. said...

Being fourteen and dealing with final papers...

...thank something high and proud that I'm. Not. Alone.

(Looks at copy of Lord Of The Flies. Looks at coffee machine. Slowly looks at marked calendar of due date.)



2:45 AM  
Blogger Catherine said...

You're odd. And I just annihilated some eggplant in the microwave. Oops... Hope you're having a beautiful day.

Just had to add this. My captcha is hogingla. I love it.

2:45 AM  
Anonymous Sarah said...

While the radiator doesn't work you CAN make grilled cheese with an iron. Just don't use steam, trust me on that one.

2:57 AM  
OpenID lilshyfaery said...

Blog, blog, blog... Ooooh, pictures! Blog, blog, blog... WIN BOOK! Yay! Please.

*happy lamp dance*

3:42 AM  
Blogger 10ley said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

3:49 AM  
Blogger 10ley said...

I want to win a book, although I'm not entirely positive that this is where I'm supposed to enter, but oh well. I'm entering here anyways.

Oh and while I was reading this I kept thinking, "Is Maureen Johnson watching me while I write all of my papers? How does she know exactly what I do?!?!?" lol

3:50 AM  
Anonymous ScottGladstone said...

How can you write about me without having met me?
Three years ago I had to turn in a paper for a module I was doing, (I was doing pharmacy, writing papers is not how we roll) and I spent seven of the eight weeks I had to write the paper reading J.D. Salinger books. I got a passing grade thankfully.

As for your blogs being too long, the ideal length is double half the word count.

4:35 AM  
Blogger Terhen said...

Haha, that was disgustingly accurate...
I enjoyed that a lot :P thanks!

4:49 AM  
Blogger Leah said...

Confession: I just read this blog post rather than write my final paper, which is due tomorrow at noon.

It's about Tristan und Isolde.


5:34 AM  
Blogger Sarah said...

I *also* read this blog post rather than write my final paper, which is due tomorrow at 9am!

The blog was 100% accurate - except you missed the part where you hate yourself for the 24 hours before it's due, and SWEAR that you'll never make this mistake again ... and then after you hand it in you totally forget how bad it was and how stressed you were!

*Goes to get more tea*

6:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Head spinning. but it helped! Especially sense i have an impending paper coming up.

Also what's your advice: I like this guy but i hate how he acts around his friends, then again i'm not dating his friends, im not even dating HIM...see me dilemma here?...teach me oh mighty MJ Queen of Sparkles.

6:39 AM  
Blogger delightfully mediocre said...

I work at a university library - I try my best to help these students as much as possible because I remember being there but... I've already been there. And I'm THRILLED I'm done with that. Twice.

(CAPTCHA - Nonsit.)

7:00 AM  
Blogger Kelsey said...

this is exactly how I feel right now...Maureen, you are now officially genius in my book.

7:34 AM  
Anonymous Summer said...

that's how I've written all of my papers since elementary school. I write better under pressure.

8:06 AM  
Blogger Lindsay said...

Wow, that is EXACTLY how I remember college.

8:52 AM  
Anonymous Laura said...

This is definitely what is occuring in my room RIGHT NOW. Except instead of no money for coffee, replace that with four minutes back and forth in the rain to Starbucks. And instead of bubbles, an empty weekend where nothing gets done and the paper due on a Tuesday morning. Other than that, essentially identical. And with a few repeat performances on both Wednesday and Thursday!

8:52 AM  
Blogger Lindsay said...

Except!! You forgot the part where just before you actually start the writing, you spend 3-5 hours on AIM complaining to all your friends about the horrid paper you have to write, and how generally woe-ridden your poor pitiful college life is.

8:53 AM  
Anonymous AllyB said...

The big difference from your story and what happens with me is that in your story you actually finished(:

Random Question: do you like spring thunder(and rain)storms?

8:58 AM  
OpenID fadedbluejeans said...

Ooooh, scary. It's like you've been looking in my bedroom window. This is how I've always written my assignments.

My hyper organised friend has gone, in the space of two and a half years, from berating me for it to typing up my scrawled notes for one paper while I write a second one due the day before that one. And then writing my details on my cover sheet for me while I wrestle with the printer.

5:22 PM  
Blogger Margaret said...

As someone who just turned in 40 pages worth of 4 papers between 10 am Friday and 10 am Monday, I just want to say...

*dozes off*

Huh? What? Papers? Class?


MJ, since you've explained to us lowly college students how to write a term paper, what about final exams? Yes? Please?

7:19 PM  
Blogger waffleshouse said...

This is basically my schedule for writing papers, the funny thing is that I have acutually gotten better grades on papers like this. I believe it is the mix adreline and coffee plus I am a night owl so I think best at night.

10:57 PM  
Blogger Anna Claire said...

Thanks for validating my entire four years as an English major. I feel like you rewound my life to the college years, took sociological notes and posted them here.

One of my greatest college achievements was writing a 32-page paper in one night. It got an A minus. And yes, I'm so proud I still tell people about it even though I graduated four years ago.

11:57 PM  
Blogger Nadia Murti said...

I am never going to college after reading that.

12:23 AM  
Blogger Steffanie said...

As a current dweeb of the writing center, I love explaining The Writing Process to students (loud enough for the bosses to hear) and then going home to speed write my own paper that's due the next day. Usually I am worse off than the student I helped earlier, but I justify my procrastination by saying it is for a Lesser (non-English) class and, therefore, doesn’t really matter.

Also, a question: It amuses me when people use "literally" incorrectly. Like, "I literally peed my pants" (that must have been messy) or "I literally died" (!!!). Do you have any word misuse/grammar pet peeves?

7:20 PM  
Anonymous Kaylen said...

My heart is pounding with the stress you just caused me.

I did that the first week of BEDA/VEDA. Only it wasn't 25 pages.

4:06 AM  
Blogger Darci O. said...

We had to write a senior research paper, and it had to be 6 pages (not as intense as 25, but just the same) I literally wrote it the day it was due and I got a high B on it. I was expecting to fail. lol.

Terrific description of the procrastination process though.

7:51 PM  
Blogger Icy Roses said...

This is quite possibly the truest thing I've ever read about the college experience.

This is made of win. Especially the pictures.

7:36 AM  
Blogger k.emily said...

ok. story of my life!
i once missed the deadline for turnitin.com, the website that checks for plagiarism, and my teacher wouldnt accept my term paper so i got a 0/100 when i already had an F in the class and i was really counting on that paper to bring my grade up and i ended up having to go to summer school which was a complete waste of time and i still havent gotten a chance to use that paper! grrr!

7:26 PM  
Blogger Rachael said...

Just found this on Twitter while procrastinating working on a paper. MJ, how do you know me so well? Huh?

4:41 AM  
Blogger Evanna said...

Oh, this is how I do most of my school assignments (and homework). Like right now, I'm not making homework when I should either.. (luckily I don't have to write 20 page stuff yet..).

4:53 PM  
Anonymous Gina said...

Is it ironic that I read this every time I have a big paper to do so I stop procrastinating? I have a paper due tonight. Heh. Haven't actually started yet.

Also, you forgot the part where you do all of your dishes, make your bed, vacuum your room, organize your desk, clean out your mini-fridge, take out the garbage, and do the rest of your homework before starting. Or maybe I'm just the only one who does that.

9:20 PM  

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