How to write an essay

My mission, now I’ve chosen to accept it is to write 2,000 intelligent words on two passages from Romans.  Here’s my advice on how to write an essay:

First, make yourself comfortable

  • food: essay writing adds a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘living hand to mouth’ . Personally I find a large bag of popcorn is the ideal, low-fat, non-filling, non-sticky snack. The only drawback for popcorn is the little bits that get stuck between the computer keys.
  • Drink: no desk can be said to be a ‘working’ desk without having the current mug of ‘whatever’ and at least 3 other half-empty mugs. If it’s a really long essay, all the mugs in the household will slowly gravitate from the kitchen cupboard to my desk.

Secondly, marshal your resources. The essential items are:

  • reading glasses (there are currently 3 on the desk in front of me, one on the desk behind me and one pair on my nose)
  • glue: one LARGE pot. This is for glueing your backside to the chair.  The secret of getting words onto a page is simply sitting in one place for long enough.
  • pens, pencils, highlighters, erasers, paperclips, stapler, hole-punch, A4 notepad and any other gadgetry that appeals to you from your local stationery store. You won’t need any of these but they are handy things to fiddle with given that you are going to sit in that chair for a long time.
  • Books. Ideally you will have a small mountain of these within reach of your desk. The idea is that you read these BEFORE you sit down to write your essay. You need to include at least one quote from each book in order to justify putting that book in your Bibliography. It is generally accepted that reading the books is the preferred method of finding these quotes but occasionally, if you’re desperate, opening a book at random and sticking a pin in a page can produce surprisingly successful results.

Thirdly, remove distractions:

  • remember that  cleaning the oven floor with a toothbrush can suddenly seem more appealing and important than writing your essay.  Solution: remove oven from house (and toothbrushes?)…. or remove self from house.
  • ditto ‘move  the dog’. If you have to write an essay with the dog in the room you need to be prepared for the fact that he will, without fail, come and lay his head on your lap every two hours and look pitifully neglected.  Try asking him for help, it makes him feel included. Just don’t try to teach him how to spell ‘transubstantiation’ – that would count as a distraction.
  • The biggest distraction of all is the machine you are working on: so update facebook, write your blog, twitter your status, reply to your emails, book that train ticket and do your online shopping BEFORE you get started. Once you are on your way, take a deep breath, put your head down and try not to come up for online interactions until the thing is DONE. You can then reward yourself by posting ‘It’s done. I’ve finished. I’ve written it’ . This will annoy the hell out of anyone else who has to write the same essay. Reminding yourself how satisfying this will be  is a great incentive to keep going.

So here goes, I’ve followed all my own advice, updated the blog, booked the train ticket, I might EVEN turn off my mobile phone but oh dear, while writing this post…..

I’ve finished my bag of popcorn!

Disaster… perhaps I’ll just pop out to Tesco’s? Shouldn’t take too long… 

2 thoughts on “How to write an essay

Add yours

  1. I can soooo sympathize, doing the Reader training course.
    My approach is to type up the quotes and the Bibliography as I go along (i.e. read the books) then make the essay fit around all the gems I’ve dug up.
    The hard bit is fitting it all together at the end – like doing a jigsaw puzzle (I hate jigsaw puzzles).
    Will look for the post that says “I’ve finished!”

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