How to Survive a Writing-heavy Semester

The Rocky-Mathey library, where I wrote most of my papers last spring.

It’s always recommended to balance your course workload appropriately with a good number of paper classes and problem set (p-set) classes. While it’s definitely not ideal, sometimes you just end up taking multiple classes with a demanding reading and writing workload–which means you can also end up with four or five final papers. Some students may actually prefer having only papers and no exams, and vice versa. Exams are a one-and-done deal, whereas final papers allow an indefinite amount of time and access to endless resources–but this can be stressful in its own way. Sometimes, you never know when you’re truly done with a paper, and it can be difficult to allocate time effectively when you’re juggling multiple written assignments. 

Being a prospective English major, I tend to pile my coursework with a lot of reading and writing-heavy classes. Last spring, I took four humanities/social science classes and had four papers due for Dean’s Date. Needless to say, in the beginning I felt overwhelmed by the thought of having to write and polish several papers in what felt like not nearly enough time. As a general rule of thumb, I’ve learned that time management is especially crucial when having to complete multiple Dean’s Date assignments, and that planning ahead on your papers can make your life so much easier. 

Aside from time management, here are some tips so that you can avoid feeling a sense of impending doom by the time Dean’s Date rolls around:

Start early. Know your paper deadlines and set an approximate amount of time to complete each paper. For some humanities/social science classes, the syllabus will include the prompts for the midterm and final papers. This will help you jumpstart and formulate possible essay topics in your head as the semester goes on. If you’re up for it, you could even make use of school breaks in the fall or spring semester to get a head start on this brainstorming process. Having an outline ready, or even having thought through some basic topics and ideas, will be incredibly helpful by the time you start writing your essay. This will also help you get started on collecting and organizing resources for your papers, which will make life during Reading Period even easier for you. 

Stay on top of your readings. Writing-heavy classes will also likely be reading-heavy, and there’s nothing like having to grind out an 8+ page paper at the last minute on a book you haven’t read. Moreover, when you have multiple papers due for Dean’s Date, you’ll feel swamped with just producing papers, let alone have time to do your readings (and doing your readings as you write will most likely lead to a poorly formulated and jumbled up essay). Even if you don’t find the time to cover all the readings for every single class, having some idea of what each of the readings is about and which ones pique your interest will help you decide which ones to focus on in your papers. For an English class, for instance, you could start thinking about which novel, and specifically which themes, motifs, issues, etc., you would want to write a paper on.

Make use of office hours and other resources. If you have some idea of what you want to write about in your papers, you could always approach your professor or preceptor to further develop your ideas and receive more in-depth feedback and guidance in your writing process. Even if you don’t necessarily have any full ideas formed in your head, discussing and asking questions about the readings will help you get started on this brainstorming process. You could also make an appointment at the Writing Center and talk through your ideas with a fellow, or even ask your classmates about which class material they’d be interested in focusing on for their papers. 

Multitasking vs. Monotasking. Some students prefer to power through a single essay at a time, whereas others can alternate between working on different papers. Multitasking when writing can help you avoid burnout and return to an unfinished paper with fresh eyes, or it may just be distracting and disrupt your train of thought. Once you familiarize yourself with what works best for you and helps you stay the most productive, you’ll be able to allocate time appropriately for each essay and create a suitable plan for tackling multiple papers. 

It’s important to keep in mind that papers may not be as clear-cut in their completion as p-sets or lab reports. There’s a complex process of brainstorming, researching, drafting, and lots and lots of editing and proofreading involved in writing and submitting a paper. Signs of panic and rushed writing, therefore, are also especially evident in a paper. If you find yourself in several writing-heavy classes with multiple final papers looming over your head, hopefully these general tips will help you stay on top of your game! 

— Soo Young Yun, Humanities Correspondent