How to Write a Paper in One Night

Being in college is a chore. It takes a lot of work, carefully planned over the course of a week, or a month, or a quarter to make sure everything gets done with the full attention it deserves….are you laughing yet? No one puts in the time “required” to properly complete their college work. No, rather it’s a rush at the end every week or two to complete a 10 page paper or learn 200 years of ancient Roman history overnight. You all do it, I did it. It’s probably a better training skill than all the random stuff you “learn”, because honestly in real life do you think you’ll have the time to sit and schedule everything that pops into your life ahead of time. Yeah…thought not.

Anyways, for those of you just entering college from the snore inducing boredom and ease of High School, you’re probably incredibly unprepared for the shear amount of work you’ll have to pull out in the last second. I’m not saying it’s easy just because you’ll procrastinate. No, it’s still hard. You really should take the time to do your work properly. You just won’t, and so you need to learn how to procrastinate. It’s a fine art, in which I feel I’ve become something of a Renoir.

First off, make sure you’ve got all your books and notes. If you don’t go to class, which is entirely likely for those of the procrastinating ilk, make sure you get them from a classmate. Also, double check and make sure your professor doesn’t have a website. They’ll usually tell you, but more than once I’ve found a class’s notes sitting in an archive online, especially now that 90% of them put everything they teach you into PowerPoint presentations and then just read it to you for an hour every day (yeah, lazy). It’s usually only an extra 30 seconds out of their day to put the stuff online, and then when they receive twenty plus emails a week asking for the lecture notes, they only have to point you to the website. Well, some are a bit more facetious about their pupils not even bothering to come to class and don’t openly offer said notes. However, for sick students and whatnot, they’ll put them online to save paper and all it takes is a couple of quick Google searches or an email to a sick student and you’ve got your notes. Or…just ask a classmate. But then you’re relying on them actually paying attention.

You should have your books too. If you never bothered buying them because you would just take notes or go to sparknotes, then you’d better go buy them, because BSing your way through a paper is going to take at least some resources. You can’t magically ascertain the information from just being near smarter people. School would be much easier if that were the case.

So, sit down and start reading. Yup, you’re going to be reading a lot the night before your work is due. But, this is better than doing all the assigned reading, because now you’re searching for specific information. Instead of general learning (which would only stick around and clutter up your brain later) you’re doing targeted research. An eighth the time, and none of that pesky remembering it. You should have your topic at least. If not, start surfing message boards and snag one from someone smarter than you. Don’t ever take their work though. The last thing you need is to get kicked out of school for plagiarism. It’s lazy and embarrassing. Steal concepts, but never words. And if you steal a concept from the middle of their work, cite them. Your university will not take kindly to cheating. You’ll be so red taped and black listed, you might as well go and get an application at Jack in the Box, and trust me you don’t want to work in fast food.

You can’t procrastinate now. You’ve done that for three weeks, so I’m sorry (I know it hurts), but in terms of actual physical writing time, you’ll need at least three hours to type your paper, which speaks nothing of writing it. And writing it involves finding quotations and that ever so pesky chore of thinking. Sit down, grab an energy drink and a bag of chips, close your door and put some headphones on. No television, and put your phone on the charger. Now open up the word processor and just start typing.

You probably think you have writer’s block. But, writer’s block is completely unrelated to having absolutely no idea what you’re talking about. You’re stuck with the second one right now, so just keep on reading on your topic and finding bits and pieces to put together.

The thing here that most people don’t realize is that the standard writing process isn’t in effect for you. You’re not drafting, or brainstorming. That’s the stuff you should have done two weeks ago. No, you’re writing your paper, so make sure you’ve got your idea and just start writing and keep writing until you create a thesis somehow.

I usually start as broad as possible, and just start talking about something. If I’m writing about the Hero Quest of Pip in Great Expectations, I start by talking about Greek Mythology and the origin of the classical hero. Working my way down, I’ll talk about the modern hero, then about the alterations made in the industrial age, and how Dickens rewrote archetypes for his comedy, and finally start talking about Pip. By now you should have a general idea about what you want to say. It might be general but you’ll clarify in your next few paragraphs, and then come back and rewrite the first paragraph.

Paragraph one is almost always trash. Especially with this method, because your weary, angered professor after reading 30 of these lovely last minute essays will put a big red X through anything that doesn’t have to do with your paper, and those first few grasping sentences are completely unrelated.
But now you can start stealing from the text. Snag a quote and make a point. Snag another quote and make another point. If your thesis ends up as something incredibly broad and useless like “Pip’s quest from anonymity and worthlessness into a position of wealth and power in London mirrors the classical hero quests, but works through Dickensian views of industrial England” you’re still good. It sounds intelligent and has a lot of promise. Now just find specific quotes and build a narrative. Start at the beginning of his change, talk about his childhood, then go to when he changes, then compare to the Hero quests of old, then show how they’re different.

Almost any paper, if written quickly can boil down to something simple and incredibly easy to write, a compare and contrast paper. You choose a prominent theme from the book you just “read”. Find a source that mirrors or better yet foils this theme and compare the two. Don’t just list how they’re different though. That’s high school stuff right there. You’ll want to write exactly how the outside source changes what you think of your book. It sounds hard but jus think about it. You’ve got Great Expectations. It has a main character who goes on a kind of quest. Now you have a classic archetype of which there are hundreds of sources to draw on. You take a basic outline of this archetype and apply it to Pip’s quest and how he fits it, and when he doesn’t fit it. Now you finish your paper by describing why he doesn’t fit it sometimes. Which gets you back to the Dickensian views part. You’ve just pretty much written a paper that says, Pip’s quest is classic but different because Dickens was writing about a different time in human history. Incredibly simple; you’re not telling anyone anything new, but three things will guarantee a good grade.

1. If you write well at all. You’ve got to be a halfway decent writer, which if you’re in college I’ll assume you are.

2. Professors love outside references. It shows initiative and research and makes it seem like you did extra work (which you didn’t). I’ve written papers overnight without drafts and without ever reading them back to myself and received comments that I must have spent hours working on it. Not quite.

3. Confidence in your assertions. Say everything with absolute certainty, and back it up with a quote. Do this enough and even if you’re wrong, it’ll seem like you’ve made a decent point, which gets you brownie points.

Writing a paper is a tumultuous task but it’s also a scalable task that can be made incredibly quick and easy if you know how. My second to last quarter of college, I wrote three papers in two days; two of them 10 pages, and one 25 pages, and received a 3.8, and two 3.7s. It’s a matter of confidence and above all else an unmitigated fearlessness to be incredibly lazy.