What to Do When Your Paper Is Due…Tomorrow

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You said you wouldn’t do it. You swore you’d get all of your work done on time and never wait until the last minute to start something important. It’s far too easy to put that paper off until whoops it’s due tomorrow and you have one paragraph done out of ten pages. All is not lost, however. You can and will survive this unfortunate event by keeping a few things in mind.

What kind of paper are you writing?

There are different levels of panic and the difference between them is determined by the type and length of your paper. A ten-page reflection paper on your favorite movie is going to be easier than ten pages on the racial history leading up to Melville’s Benito Cereno.

Recognizing the type of paper you’re writing will help you keep the end goal in mind—to inform your professor of your opinion, to convince him of something or to present a literary analysis that doesn’t read like you just pulled it from nowhere in desperation.

Do you know where you’re going with your paper?

Never underestimate the power of the outline. A bubble map may seem like a silly thing to do, but in reality even a few bullet points can work to keep you on track and ensure that you stick to your thesis while you write.

The most important thing to do when writing in a time crunch is to get as much written as possible first. On the rare (I swear it’s rare) occasion that I procrastinate to this extent, I find a good time to buckle down and write straight through to the end of my paper while glancing at my outline for guidance. What emerges is usually a mess, but at least it’s a step towards a completed paper.

Have you found the perfect writing spot?

The key to getting your paper done and hopefully also grabbing a few hours’ shuteye is to avoid distracting yourself. Do this by finding a spot that will encourage you to get your work done.

You might want to try a new study space like the top floor of the library, or somewhere without Wi-Fi, where the only thing you can do is write. I know I’ll get bored while working so I always buy a huge bag of candy from the school convenience store to snack on when I get fidgety. A ton of sugar in a time of crisis can only help, right?

Are you prepared to go hard?

You’re going to be in a very weird mood while writing your paper the night before it’s due; the combination of panic and the onset of exhaustion may send you spiraling into despair, which will lead to frequent study breaks. You do not have time for this. You’ve already procrastinated enough and now it’s time to get off Tumblr and write that essay.

Your mission is to stay awake and stay on task, so do whatever it takes. Have a 60-second dance party to wake up your body. Work next to a friend who will glare at you in stony silence until you close Facebook. Maybe even go so far as to install an application like SelfControl which will block certain websites for a set period of time. Or use my method and reach for a gummy worm whenever you find your finger twitching towards YouTube. All that matters is that you keep going.

That being said, can you recognize when it’s time to quit?

At some point during the night, you’ll be so tired that writing more will actually lower your grade. It’s time to stop, do one last read-through, end with a strong conclusion (because that’s your last chance to leave your professor with a good impression) and go to sleep.

You have done the best you can do in the time you had left, and it’s time to snuggle up to sweet dreams of never procrastinating again.

A Floridian learning to survive in the tundra that is the Midwest. Sophomore English major at the University of Notre Dame. Goal in life is to be a cross between Jane Goodall and Walt Disney.

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