A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post where I wondered whether giving myself ample time to write an essay would result in better quality of my writing. Instead of my usual scramble to write my papers a few hours before the deadline, I would force myself to pace things out and take my sweet old time with my paper.
Originally, I had planned to allot myself two weeks to writing a paper I had due in my English 169 class about Walt Whitman and William Blake. I would start off slow, just reading the prompt and thinking about it. I would go to my teacher’s assistant or go to one of the class’s two professors to talk about my ideas. I would even meet with one of my fellow Writing Success Program peers to discuss my paper topic and come up with an outline.
Writing the actual paper would be the easy part, once I had a clear thesis in mind and a skeleton for what I wanted to say in my essay. The funniest thing is that I would even have time to revise my paper and give it a nice edit, polishing it into an amazing piece of work. All this work and time would hopefully lead me to an A+ grade.
By now, I’m sure you’re aware that I didn’t really do any of those things.
In upper division English classes, we rarely get formal prompts. It isn’t uncommon for the assignment to be given to us us verbally. In the case of English 169, it was “Write about Blake or Whitman or both authors.” And because I had written about Blake for my first paper, I knew I had to write about Whitman for my second. That was about the extent of the thinking I did about my paper.
In college, it’s easy to live your academic life chasing deadline after deadline, and I am no different. Taking four classes, I put my second paper for English 169 on the backburner, opting to work on the assignments of my sociology, French, and other English classes.
When I finally settled down to work on my second paper on Whitman, it had been several days past the paper’s due date. There were many reasons why I put off doing this paper. In either case, late was late. Because the class’s late penalty entailed what I thought was a meager one third of a letter grade off per day late, I put it off for five days.
That night, I settled down into the darkness of my room, desk clear and keyboard backlit to finally write that thing. What I had planned to do over the course of two weeks, I did in three or four hours, save for consulting with class instructors or other writing counselors.
CCLE. Log in. Sign in. English 169. Paper 2. Due Date: 24 Feb 2017 – 23:59. Submitted: Feb 29, 2018, 6:38 AM.
Not too soon after, my teaching assistant told our class to check Turnitin for our grades. My commentary read, “B-. Kent, it’s a shame I have to make a deduction due to the lateness of your paper. It’s very well written, interesting, and focused. Next time, try to get the paper in on time.” B-, B, B+, A-, A, A+. Five days late, five thirds of letter grade off my score.
Looking back at my old post, I guess I really do work well under pressure. Even when I had every intention of pacing myself with this essay, I just couldn’t do it when faced with the obstacles of daily life. Even when I had an impending deadline, I couldn’t spur myself into finishing on time. When I’m not held accountable to anything but my own will, I can give myself some leeway, and in this case, too much of it.
Even though I didn’t get to go through with my plan, conceived over a month ago, I think I realized that I really do write well under pressure. If my goal were an A+, I achieved it in a perverse way. For me, time isn’t what makes good writing. It is genuine creativity and interest in what you do. Writing the Whitman paper was actually a joy for me when I buckled down and started working on it. Because I did care so much about the topic and put my all into it, I was able to translate my enthusiasm and vision into what would have been a good grade.
From this, I learned that I write best when I care about what I’m writing. And I stress that I only know for certain that this is applicable to me. For anyone else, they may write best when they have weeks to write a paper and for others it is when it’s about a certain subject or language. When it comes to something as personal as writing, there is no right answer and I think that the best writing comes when you care about the topic.