how I wrote a 13-page essay in 23 hours

The night before your paper is due....

8 p.m. You open up the 2-page essay you have so far on your computer. You need 15 pages by tomorrow, but you decide that 12 pages is probably good enough. You mope around. You decide that it's time to trim your finger and toe nails. Hmm, maybe you can pay those credit card bills, even though they're not due for another week.

9 p.m. Wow, OK. Time to get serious. Let's brainstorm, shall we? Draw little circles that lead to one another but aren't very substantive, really.... You start to summarize the articles that you'll be talking about in the essay. This is a task that should've been completed over a week ago! But nooooo, you had too much stuff to do, like fooling around on the Web and reading fun stuff in The New Yorker magazine.

10 p.m. You play solitaire on the computer, glancing at the clock every five minutes. "This is the last one," you say to yourself at the beginning of each round. At 10:30, you decide that this is getting out of hand. You get a phone call from a friend who's also trying to compose the paper. What luck! You can put off writing for another.... 30 minutes? You give each other encouraging words, prolonging the conversation so you don't have to return to the act of writing. You figure that, by giving yourself an hour for each page (a time-old formula that's only accurate when you're feeling productive), you will be done (hah!) by 8 a.m. tomorrow. That is, if you don't go to bed and don't goof around between now and tomorrow morning.

11 p.m. You start yawning. Uh oh, this is a bad sign. Get up and find some Snapple Lemon Ice Tea to keep yourself awake. Caffeine is your pal. Yes. You stare at the screen, and now you panic a little. You continue to summarize the articles. At 11:50 you decide to take a bath to relax yourself.

12:15 a.m. You get out from the tub, and come back to reality. Ugh. You're actually refreshed, so that's good. Start writing, then.

1 a.m. Ack. You're still at the same place you were when you were complaining to your friend on the phone over 2 hours ago! What have you been doing?

2 a.m. You actually have 3 pages now. Cool! All of the sudden, you realize that you can make your paper longer by doing lots of quoting. What a novel idea....

3 a.m. Looking good. You now have 4 1/2 pages. You use block quotes as well. Your legs are starting to feel a little bit cramped. Your contacts get a little bit foggy. You wash them.

4:15 a.m. Hey, Page Preview says you now have 5 1/2 pages. Let's stop and take a break. What can we do? Let's do an hour-by-hour account of how your essay has been formed, and then maybe we can even post it on the Web later!!! Your legs feel really heavy, like two big blobs of sea lions. Shall we head for bed? Your head screams No No, you must finish one more page. But your back really hurts from sitting in front of the computer straight since 8 p.m. What should you do? At 4:30 a.m., you head back to the essay, and tell yourself that you can go to bed at 5 a.m. for an hour. You're somewhat afraid that if you go to bed you won't wake up until 13 hours later. That would not be good. You keep having to go to the bathroom at least once every hour because of the amount of tea you've been consuming.

5 a.m. 6 pages, no more, no less! Time for bed!

11 a.m. You wake up. Ooops! You're in real trouble now, especially because you promised your professor that you'd turn in your essay today. *sigh* What to do? You brush your teeth and wash your face, then crank up the computer. But first you check your email. Nothing too interesting, so you go back to your essay.

1 p.m. Miraculously, you now have 8 1/2 pages. You find some frozen food in the fridge and gulf it down for lunch. You wonder if your pals from the class have turn in their papers on time.

2 p.m. 9 pages and 2 lines. You're getting tired, again. You pray feverently to be done so you don't have to break the promise you have made to the professor about how "the paper will definitely be handed in on Monday."

3:40 p.m. OK, so the professor has probably left her office by now. Which means if you want to keep your promise, you'll have to hand-deliver the paper to her house. And intrude her privacy. Is this such a good idea? Oh, and we now have 11 pages. Still not done yet, and impending feeling of doom covers the room in which you sit. You think, bitterly, that all of your friends must've turned in their papers. This is the first time in graduate school you are unable to hand in a paper on time, and the second time in your entire school career. You're most unhappy with yourself.

4:15 p.m. You're now done with the bulk of the paper. You just need to add a little section on your personal thoughts about the subject, and write up a conclusion, which is basically a reiteration of your introduction. Oh, yeah, and there's also the Bibliography section too. Can you finish it by 5 p.m.? Can you do it?

5 p.m. Yes! You're done with the paper. Now you'll work on the bibliography. You call your friend to find out which style guide you're supposed to use, and are informed that none of the people in your cohort has handed his/her paper. You feel a little bit better.

6 p.m. You're awfully hungry. You find another frozen chicken pot pie in the fridge, and digest it while reading a recent issue of The New Yorker. Afterwards you continue to work on the bibliography. At 6:30 p.m. you feel ill. Chicken pot pie and icy-cold orange juice don't sit well in your stomach. But you carry on bravely with your work.

7 p.m. You save your 4918-word, 13.5-page essay (that Word Count feature sure comes in handy sometimes) one last time before printing it out. Free at last, free at last, good god almighty you're free at last!!!

The End

5/1/96 Well, this was a true account of how I composed my 13.5-page essay in 23 hours. I added stuff to it as the hours went on, and the end product was what you had just finished reading. *sigh* I hope I'll never have to do that again. All-nighters no longer suit me, for some reason. Of course, I have 3 more papers due within the next two weeks, so let's hope that history does not repeat itself....

5/15/96 As it turned out, history did repeat itself.... I pulled one true all-nighter (the head did not hit the pillow for 37 hours straight), and a half all-nighter (meaning I got 1.5 hours of sleep between 4 and 5:30 a.m.). I didn't learn my lesson (we never do, do we?), and now it's too late. Why? Because the course-work part of my graduate career is over. Those three papers were the last batch before I embark on my M.A. thesis this fall. Tune in from time to time during the next 12 months, and we'll see what we can say about that aspect of my life.