Motivation: Tips for Essay Writing
Happy New Year! I hope you’ve all had a good winter season, and now you’re ready to get back on with your work if you’ve been ignoring it a little too much. Sometimes I would have essay deadlines in January, and when I did my MA, that meant 8,000 words due on one day. This time of year can be tough in terms of finding some motivation, especially after the excitement of Christmas, so I thought I’d compile some tips to get those essays done.
1. Set some targets for daily writing
If your deadline is too close for comfort, setting daily writing targets is a really effective way to get some words onto paper. Hopefully you’ll have made a start, so finishing off a first draft will allow you some time for editing. In my opinion, careful editing and proofreading can transform a good essay into an excellent one, but you need a draft to edit in the first place.
You’ll probably know roughly how many words you’ve been writing in each of your study sessions, so start off with that. Writing more than 500 words a day is a great achievement, but try to make those words actually coherent, otherwise the editing process will be even more tedious. Sometimes an essay can run out of steam towards the end, and it can be tempting to waffle a little bit to meet the word count. Markers will see through this easily, and won’t thank you for it! If you are struggling for what to say, consult your plan, ask for help or simply read your essay through to see if there’s something that you haven’t explained very well.
When writing, make sure you know what you’ve got to cover, then write in a separate document until you reach your chosen word count. After then, give it a quick read and edit out any obvious mistakes, and add it back to your main document to match it up with the rest of your essay. I find this helpful, as handling masses of text can be a bit daunting.
Also, once you’ve hit your target, don’t be afraid to carry on! Sometimes there will be another point you’d like to make, or simply introduce a new paragraph before you finish your session. Spurts of motivation shouldn’t be ignored, and be sure to celebrate these wins when you have them, which leads me onto my next tip.
2. Set up a reward system
Nothing is out of bounds when you’re under pressure, especially if you’re really behind. After hitting my writing targets, I like to practice some self-care, do my nails or watch an episode of my favourite show on Netflix. If you are doing multiple writing sessions a day, choosing an activity which takes around an hour can act as a real mood booster if you feel a bit frazzled.
I will say though, these rewards are not replacements for basic self-care, such as eating and sleeping, and should be taken alongside a healthy lifestyle. Skipping out on meals to reward yourself with a pizza isn’t the method I’m trying to explain, so save the takeaway for when you’ve actually submitted. Drinking lots of energy drinks, staying up all night and preventing yourself from taking time away from your work will lower your motivation even more, so please take care of yourself.
One example I’ll share is directly related to Netflix. I’ll try and start a new show, something that’s pretty easy to watch or has been recommended by a friend. Catching up with one episode after each writing session will motivate me to continue, and also prevent me from wasting a whole day watching TV.
3. Get ready for the day
We’ve all written essays in pyjamas, but it’s really important for motivation that you treat your essay as an important meeting you can’t miss. I didn’t have a desk at home for the entirety of my undergraduate degree, but I still made do with a kitchen table, or at least sat on top of my bed while I wrote. Changing into daytime clothes will help to communicate to your brain the passage of time, and also will give you a chance to relax with a bath or shower.
Eating a solid breakfast is always recommended, but also make sure that you communicate to family that you’re working, if you’re still at home. At university it’s generally easier to regulate your own work patterns, as you’ll only be responsible for your own timetable. Be aware that family members might not understand what you’re working on, but do go ahead and ask for some peace and quiet if you feel that you can.
4. Get in the zone
Getting into a headspace where the words flow and everything makes sense is a great feeling, and that’s when you’ll feel the most productive. It can be hard to motivate yourself to actually sit down and get on with it, which is why it’s important to follow the steps I’ve already covered.
Now you’re set up, it’s time to get focused. Messing around on your phone or checking the news or your emails (guilty) can feel like you’re doing something, but in reality, you’re just avoiding the real work. This procrastination can get really bad the closer to the deadline you are, so prevention is always better than cure.
Eliminating distractions is a topic I’ve covered a few times during my blogs, and I think it’s one of the main hindrances when trying to stay motivated. I’ve loved it in the past, and I redownloaded the Forest app back in December when I was struggling to get things done on my schedule. There are lots of versions of these apps, but Forest has a simple interface, it’s free and I find it pretty useful. Having an app that counts down a specific working period to avoid distractions can be used alongside the Pomodoro method, which combines timed working sessions and breaks to increase productivity. I’ve done a review of this method, and have tweaked the timings a little to suit my needs. Doing both of these has really helped get me back to working at a faster (and more structured) pace, so I’d advise giving it a go.
If you’re really addicted to your social media apps, it’s time to give them up, or at least step back. It’ll be a primary reason why you feel unmotivated, and even though it seems like everyone is addicted, I’ve developed a healthy relationship with social media that reduced my dependence on it after the last Covid-19 lockdown in 2021. I can go hours at a time ignoring my socials, either through turning off notifications or simply ignoring my phone (what a concept nowadays) so it’s time to get your addiction under control. Being on your phone will disrupt the meaningful work that you need to get done, so save time by using the Forest app, or by gradually winding down the time you spend on social media. It’s not that important, and no one will notice if you haven’t been on Instagram for a few hours, honest.
I’d always recommend trying to start essays as early as you can, as in undergraduate study, it’s likely that you’ll have multiple assessments due at the same time. There are always lessons to be learnt, so try and reflect as to why you’re not being your most productive self and apply some new habits the next time you’re writing an essay. The weather in the winter is a big struggle for me, and I wrote a blog last year containing some advice on how to conquer the shorter days. Whilst we can’t do anything about the weather, we can control our dependence on our phones, and work towards a study environment where our distractions are carefully managed.