The Emotions of Writing Your First College Paper

It’s 2 p.m. on a Thursday. You sit back in your chair, ready for your last class of the day. After this, it’s almost Friday and basically the weekend. You can’t wait. Lost in your thoughts over whether you should go out or catch up on Netflix, you don’t even notice the stack of paper being passed around the classroom. That is, until your professor starts talking about an essay due next week?! Horrified, you look down at the prompt in front of you. Since when were we supposed to write an essay this early in the year? You’re at a complete loss until you remember the course syllabus sitting on your desk in the dorm, full of all the dates you forgot to write down in your planner. Fear pulses through your veins as you listen to the professor discuss their expectations for the essay; the emotional roller coaster of writing a paper begins.



What essay? I don’t know what you’re talking about! You develop amnesia and forget all about yesterday’s all-consuming panic. Calm, cool and composed, you are the image of blissful zen. They say you can’t procrastinate in college the same way you did in high school, yet Friday floats by in a reverie of freedom and fun times. No thesis or outlines are to be seen.



Around noon, a nagging feeling starts to develop in the back of your mind as you bite into your spinach wrap. When was I supposed to do that paper? Goosebumps flare up before you even finish the thought. I have to write my first real college essay and I haven’t written an essay in four months and that means- you shrug off the chilling notion with a sip of your lemon-infused water. There’s no need to stress if you write it all on Sunday. You go through the rest of the day with a tight-lipped smile as you try to enjoy your Saturday, but the dark shadow of an upcoming deadline lurks in the back of your mind.



Hello, darkness, my old friend.

After stalling by completing any and all other assignments, the Sunday Scaries  only add to the stress and sadness you feel as you struggle to come up with a thesis for your paper. Should it be over word usage? No. Ethics and enlightenment? Wait, what? Character development? Not deep enough. I’m in COLLEGE now, this paper has to be the absolute BEST thing I’ve ever written. Right? Sigh. It was NEVER this hard in high school. Try as you might, the ideas just don’t come and you’re left staring at a Word document that is as blank as your thoughts. The stationary blinking of the cursor seems to taunt you. Furiously, you flip back through the assigned reading, praying for some divine inspiration - the rough draft is due Tuesday.



It’s been a #ROUGH 24 hours, but you managed to type out an outline that is not completely horrible, and at least write the introductory paragraph in addition to finishing today’s assignments. The circles around your eyes say that you’re exhausted, and right now that’s all you feel, too.



Yeah, yesterday’s progress? Scratch that. You got about two more paragraphs in before you read the draft through and realized it didn’t make any sense. For hours you tried to struggle through and sort things out, but the great thesis you made on Sunday just doesn’t quite go with the evidence you tried to support it with. Panic sets in for real, and you spend the rest of the night trying to pick up the pieces of your essay and make it better. This is also the point where you think, wow, maybe I SHOULD become a coffee person.



You brace yourself as you head into your professor’s office hours, rough draft in hand. You don’t know what emotion to feel anymore. You are lost in the abyss of maybes, what-ifs and what if my professor thinks I’m totally incompetent? Hesitantly, you admit you’re lost and ask where it went wrong.


*One Hour Later*

You emerge from office hours with a new perspective. Your essay has some good ideas, the professor says, you just need to build on that. With their feedback in mind, you sit down to finish writing the essay.

And re-write absolutely everything anyway.



You put the finishing touches on your new paper. It may not be the best thing you have ever written, but it is not the worst either. After an all-nighter of analyzing, editing and refining, you deem the essay worthy of submission, but you still feel nervous as you log in to Canvas. Then, within a few clicks, you press “Submit Assignment.” Relief and exhaustion wash over you in waves. You did it. You turned in your first college paper. Lessons have been learned. Character growth has taken place. Printing out a hard copy to hand in to your Professor, you walk out of the library with a new sense of accomplishment and confidence. After all, you can only get better from here.