The 12 Stages of Writing A Final Paper

It’s that time of the quarter again: those final papers that seemed so far away are now suddenly due very soon. As a fourth year English major, you’d think that I would have developed a productive and efficient method for getting these papers done, but unfortunately that is not that case. I have a feeling that the rest of you ladies out there, no matter what your major is, go through some variation of the same kind of agonizing and intensely emotional process of writing a final paper as I do. Therefore, I have done my best to categorize this struggle into definitive stages of madness and used my friend Taylor Swift to visually demonstrate these emotions. So go ahead take a break from that final paper you’re avoiding, you know you want to!  

1. Getting Started:

Your paper is due in maybe two or three weeks, and you need to start thinking about it. First of all, you have to figure out what the heck you want to write about, which is a daunting and time-consuming task in itself. It’s important to choose something that you are interested in in order to make the process less grueling, but with non-major related classes or classes that you just simply hate, this can seem impossible.

Finally, though, you settle on a topic and proudly reward yourself with a few days (or maybe weeks) of procrastination. Hey, that was hard work after all.

2. Making an outline:

Ah, the deadline is about a week away and you force yourself to open a Word document to jot some ideas down. Or, maybe even worse, your professor has required you to turn in a tentative outline, and you were forced to figure out a thesis and paragraph organization. Don’t you just hate that? When you go to start writing it, you realize that all of the B.S. you wrote down in order to turn in the outline on time isn’t actually helpful. It’s time to make a real and effective outline now, which involves research, energy and time.

After several hours, you finally feel like you’ve thought of some good ideas and are even starting to feel confident about the direction that your paper is heading. Time for a Netflix break!

3. Frustration and Doubt:

Your paper is due in two days and you are starting to freak out. Your thesis is pretty solid, but you’d be horrified if your professor caught a glimpse of the rest of what you have so far. You start to question all of your ideas and most of your paragraphs, but decide to keep pushing forward and hope for a breakthrough—perhaps a stroke of genius or divine inspiration is just around the corner.

4. Procrastination:

This one is pretty self-explanatory. We all have our own vices when it comes to procrastinating—Netflix, Tumblr, Facebook, Buzzfeed. Pick your poison. It is an undeniable part of writing a paper, and taking a mental break is usually necessary to prevent a breakdown. You might finish a paragraph and feel good about yourself, so you go online for a few minutes, or more likely, several hours. Oops!

5. Bothering Everyone You Know:

By this point your mom, your roommate, your boyfriend and your best friend are sick of hearing how stressed out you are about this paper. They don’t understand the complexities of medieval literature or social psychology, and have no idea what your argument means, but you’re going to tell them all about it anyway. You can’t help it! Venting to everyone around you is actually very helpful. They might think you’re crazy, but you really don’t care.

6. Junk Food:

At this stage, your main source of motivation is food. You say to yourself, “if I finish two more pages, I’ll go to Slo Do Co,” or “if I order pizza, I will definitely be productive.” These are all thoughts we have as we work on a paper, and acting on these cravings is essential. Don’t fight it.

7. Starbucks and Sweatpants:

It’s crunch time now: this paper is due tomorrow. You stop at Starbucks on your way home (how else are you supposed to function?) and order a venti size of your favorite drink. You put on your most comfortable pair of Victoria’s Secret sweats—perhaps those neon pink ones that never go out in public—and then barricade yourself in your bedroom. Things are getting pretty serious now, there’s no more time to mess around.

8. Staring at the Screen Helplessly:

You’ve got enough caffeine in your system to be up for hours, but you just can’t get started. You stare at the cursor blinking on the page and think about all of the other things that you would rather be doing. Even cleaning your room is appealing at this point.

Fall quarter is the worst: you picture being home for the holidays, drinking hot chocolate, opening presents, it’s all so close! Sometimes though, you just have to go through this period of staring into space and questioning your entire existence before you can keep going. It’s just a part of the process.

9. Up All Night:

You told yourself you wouldn’t wait until the last minute, that you’d be done early or that you’d get to bed at a decent time. Yet before you know it, the sun is rising, the birds are chirping and this paper is due in a few hours whether you can keep your eyes open or not. 

It gets to the point where you’re not even sure what you are writing, but it’s too late to go back now so you’ve just got to go for it and hope for the best!

10. Conclusion:

I don’t know about you, but conclusions are the bane of my existence. You’ve written ten pages of research and analysis and then you get to the end and suddenly you have no brainpower left to think of a way to wrap up this nightmare of a paper.

You don’t want to summarize or repeat yourself, but making grand generalizations seems cliché. Yet somehow conclusions always end up being a combination of these two things. Once you’ve figured it out though, things are looking up—you’re almost free.

11. Proofreading:

This step is a luxury, and it’s never fun. Even if you are finished far enough advance to proofread the paper thoroughly, you’re usually so tired of looking at it that you don’t even care if you’ve spelled your own name correctly.

However, if you find yourself with time to spare, you force yourself to look over the whole thing and read it out loud to catch those awkward sentences or grammar errors. Usually when you go back and reread the entire thing, you realize that it’s not as good as it seemed at 3 am. Yikes. At this stage, you just have to do your best.  

12. Turn It In and Rejoice:

It’s over.

You probably look like a train wreck by this point, but you’ve turned it in. If the paper is due online, you click that submit button excitedly and dance around your room. If you turn it in during class, you practically skip back to your dorm or car with happiness afterwards.

Now you can take a nap, watch some TV and eat something yummy and preferably really unhealthy. After awhile, all of that agony feels like a distant dream and you can move on with your life. Until next quarter that is…but we don’t have to think about that yet. Congratulations, you’ve survived another round of paper writing! Go have fun!

Good luck on those final papers ladies, you can do it!