Monday, April 25, 2011

How to plan and write an essay

Essay Plan
Deadline: six weeks (42 days)

Day 1 and 2 Two days of reading really hard, filled with ideas and enthusiasm. It won't be like last time. I'm going to get this one done in plenty of time.
Day 3 One day in the library, finding that all the books I wanted are on loan and therefore borrowing a load of random ones that have 'India' in the title and so must have some relevance to Dalit literature.
Day 4 to 18 Two weeks of self-satisfied chilling out, safe in the knowledge that there are still 5 weeks left. Well, three and a half.
Day 19 and 20 Two self-consciously busy days, spent putting all the books into piles, opening some of them then closing them again, using a lot of post-it notes and in general thinking about anything other than Dalit literature. Books now fully colour-coded and still completely unread.

Day 21 Time for a break. One lovely day in the park, watching boys play football though half-closed eyes.
Day 22 Darn, when I had my break yesterday I completely forgot that today I have a social engagement I can't possibly miss. Engagement party starts at 4, a ridiculous time for a party to start on a weekday. What, it's Saturday? Well, by the time I'm dressed and made-up I have to leave the house straight away. Will make my excuses at 8pm and work all night.
Day 23 That was a very long trip back home from West London on the bus this morning, broken only by an extremely necessary milkshake and fries in McDonalds on the way. I can't possibly work with this hangover. Maybe after a quick nap...
Day 24 The urgency is mounting. One day spent making a rough plan of the essay, and even considering what I might say. Sadly, the urgency has not yet mounted enough for me to read any texts other than the Guardian online, several London cyclist blogs and Twitter.
Day 25 A brainwave: study club! I invite half a dozen friends who are also writing essays over to work. Study club turns into luncheon club. Someone brings a baby who is unsurprisingly rather more interesting than Dalit literature. We break at four for Martinis.
Day 26 Have set aside this week for serious reading. No point getting out of bed or changing out of my pyjamas. This would be a needless distraction. I make a cosy nest with all my books inside my duvet. The books are beginning to feel like old friends. I still have plenty of time so I start at page one of 'From Stigma to Assertion, Untouchability, Identity and Politics in Modern India.' Page two... I suppress a yawn. Page three begins to look blurry. Paaaage foooo... When I wake up there is some dribble on page four and marks from the ink pressed into my cheek.
Day 27  I decide to start from the beginning of 'From Stigma to Assertion, Untouchability, Identity and Politics in Modern India' again.
Day 28 I realise I remember nothing from 'From Stigma to Assertion, Untouchability, Identity and Politics in Modern India' I read it again, this time making notes.
Day 29 I come to the realisation that 'From Stigma to Assertion, Untouchability, Identity and Politics in Modern India' is completely irrelevant to what I'm writing about. It may also be deeply politically dubious.
Day 30 Back to the library to change the books. I discover the library is now closed until the day my essay is due. I have lunch with a friend, then hit Waterstones and Foyles to buy some books. After limited success I also hit TK Maxx and some other classy boutiques. I feel guilty when I get home at 6, so I stay up until 3am actually doing some work. Then I set my alarm for 8am to punish myself for my laziness.
Day 31 and 32 Suddenly think of four really important things that I must blog about this instant. Write 3,000 words on each of them very quickly, stopping only for roll-ups and tuna sandwiches. I'm sitting in my duvet-and-books nest again though, so I'm probably absorbing something.
Day 33 I have theatre tickets, so I knock off early - shortly after breakfast - to reread the play while trying on all my dresses with different lipsticks.
Day 34 This is a good day for working. I write a real, detailed plan, throwing my old one in the bin. Now,instead of reading all the texts first and then coming up with an argument, I use plan B- look for quotes to match an opinionated rant I delivered on the subject last night after three glasses of wine. This plan has never failed me yet.
Day 35, 36, 37 Write furiously, only in nouns and unconjugated verbs. At the end of three days, I find I have 7,000 words of notes, none of it readable to anyone except me. Feeling suddenly depressed and demoralised, I phone my mother, who suggests I should quit university and become a teacher. I cry a little into my wine.
Day 38 When I switch on my laptop, it doesn't come on. A day of panic, trying it again and again, pushing all the buttons and phoning all the techies I know. At 9pm, I try it again and it lights cheerfully up, unaware of the nightmare it has caused me.
Day 39 and 40 During these days I usually embark on a beautiful adventure of discovery, researching a lot of things I never knew before and broadening my arguments to include a complete history of India, a geological survey of the Kerala region, several reams of Postmodern literary theory and a lot of other beautiful knowledge about the universe that fills my heart with joy. I can use none of this, not least because most of it came off Wikipedia.
Day 41 I realise that the paragraph on gender and the paragraph on incest are actually exactly the same paragraph, in almost the same words. I also notice I haven't cited the primary text once in the whole essay. I angrily delete the paragraph in which I used the word 'furthermore' six times. I revise the order of the whole essay, moving the paragraphs around as though I was trying to complete a verbal Rubik's cube. Anything so that the section on the village runs smoothly into the section on Marxism.
Day 42 Hang on, it is day 42! Goodbye.

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