See this as a YouTube video: http://bit.ly/avoidprocrastinationandwrite
1. Start straight away with a mind-map
I used to always put writing essays off until the last minute and it worked ok. But I’ve found that if you start generating ideas on your question as soon as you get the question, even if you don’t start writing until the night before, you have had at least a few weeks for the topic to mull around in your brain, which is great. You’ve also been to class and have heard a few ideas that you think might link to your essay, so it’s really helpful to start immediately. I usually will do a mind map the day I receive an essay, and that’s because the longer you leave it the more likely it is you won’t do it (this is the law of diminishing intent).
In regards to how I mind map, I usually do it in a pretty standard way where I write the question topic in the middle and branch off with different ideas. I think the key to a successful mind map is to let your brain go absolutely wild and to not censor yourself. Write down absolutely everything you can think of, even if you think it’s stupid or not related. That way you’ll fully flex your brain muscle and come up with every possible avenue to explore. And in my experience, I find the ideas that seem the most out there are actually the deepest and best for your essay.
2. Start taking notes
Once you have a few ideas from mind map, if you want you can highlight some of the better ideas you come up with and can start searching those terms. This gives you a place to start. So for example, in the article above I started thinking about how the arguments against 16 year olds being able to vote are sort of similar to the arguments against women being able to vote (which was that they’re not mature enough and can’t think for themselves, etc.). So with that thought in mind, I started Googling ideas related to this topic.
I usually go to Google Scholar to begin with, read through the abstracts and then save anything I think might be related into a folder.
Then, once I have a few things saved, the first thing I do is open a word or Google docs and split the document into subheadings. So for example, for the essay about voting I had one subheading labelled ‘women’s suffrage arguments’. I had another about politics being representative, not about intelligence, which was an idea I came up with in my brainstorm. Then, once you’ve found a few articles that are relevant, I usually write down the title of it and give it a unique colour. Then, if I read something in the article that links to representation, I make a note of it and put it under the relevant subheading in the colour I assign to that article. That’s because usually articles aren’t just about one thing and may have a few pieces of information that will relate to your topic. That way you start forming the basic structure of your essay and you know where all the information is from.
Also, practically, you can keep the information about the reference and its colour at the top of the page. Or, if the article if mainly about one topic, you can colour it and put the information under the relevant subheading, as long as you’ll know where to find it afterwards.
3. Write that shizz (a crappy first draft)
Then, once you have read around 5-10 things, and it’s all listed under subheadings, what you can do is organise the subheadings into a logical order and start writing out a paragraph based on that subheading. And the way I get around writers block, and what I always tell my students is to start by writing a crappy first draft. What I mean by this is just get some words onto paper even if it’s terrible and in a stream-of consciousness rampage. In journalism we often said ‘blank page is the enemy’ and that’s especially true in writing assignments. Once you have some clay to work with you can start moulding, but when you’re staring at a blank screen you’re pretty much feeling terrible and stressed. Plus, although you think you should wait to write something when you really feel like you’re in a good headspace to write, I’ve found that even if you write something you think is bad, it’s usually not far off from the end product you come up with. Also, when you have no pressure to write something good, you overcome that feeling of pressure and anxiety that we often have when writing assignments.
That’s why it’s best to just go for it, write something crap, and then edit the shit out of it later. I usually write at least five drafts for each assignment I do, and that’s because I start by writing an absolute hunk of junk and then spend time moulding it. I usually save other drafts just in case what I write the second time around is worse then my first draft. This helps me overcome that feeling you get when you don’t want to delete a paragraph.
And that’s it! I hope you find this useful. I definitely spent my first few years at university leaving things to the last minute and feeling so stressed about it for weeks, which was not health or productive, and my grades were worse than they could have been. These techniques of mine have been fine-tuned over the years and I find they really work for me, so I hope they also work for you.
Let me know how you find it in the comments. Happy studying!