By Sierra Becze
Your paper is due at noon on Tuesday. After waiting until Monday night to write it, you stroll in at 12:01, paper raised high above your head as if you are standing on the Olympic podium, holding the gold medal the your hand. The feeling of triumph empowers you. You can do anything. And as you march into class, you swear the entire class is chanting your name, congratulating you on writing this paper.
Fast forward to a week later and you are sporting a massive bruise on your forehead due to slamming your head on a table. The hand written words OFF TOPIC written in blood-red ink seem to mock you. You haven’t felt this kind of defeat since Jimmy Franklin beat you at a game of tether ball in the fourth grade. Luckily for you, I’ve experienced the dreaded, blood red ink and am here to help.
The first step is admitting you have a problem, and your problem is your paper. You need to drop it like a hot potato. If you find that you are unable to press the ‘delete’ key and part ways with your paper, go look in the mirror. Do you see that bruise on your forehead? The black and blue symbolizing defeat? Yes. Now, you’re ready to rewrite it.
Often, I find students have a hard time restarting a paper. They bring a paper in the UWC, ask me if it’s on topic, and sometimes I have to admit that it isn’t at all. After a few minutes of coaxing and then a few more of grieving, they reluctantly decide to rewrite it and start from scratch. While the idea of rewriting a paper you spent hours on seems horrible, you have to act as if it’s a band aid. You know it’s going to hurt and you know that the injury underneath is going to take time to heal, but you have to rip it off fast, instead of slowly. With a paper, the sooner you admit that you have to start from scratch, the more time you have to actually rewrite it.
Next, try looking at the prompt again but this time with fresh eyes. Often, students come in convinced their professor is wrong and that they have completely answered the prompt. While you may feel that way, at the end of the day, it’s about writing a paper that satisfies your professor’s requirements, not your own. If the professor has written comments on your draft, read them and use them as an aid.
After you have realized your errors, start brainstorming other topics that satisfy the prompt. If you are very unsure on which topic to pick, go into your professor’s office hours and ask him or her. Professors usually welcome students with open arms if they put in the time and effort. When you have found a topic that you like, start creating an outline. If you cannot decide between two or three topics, create an outline for each. By doing this, you are able to figure out which one you can write more on or have better concrete evidence about.
When you are finished with your outline, you are ready to write your paper. If you follow your outline, this process will be fairly easy. And as you enter the last word on that essay and violently slam your finger on the mouse, clicking ‘print’, you have defeated the paper. You are now the reigning champion. The bruise is gone and your confidence is back. Now go write some essays.