Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Writing an Essay: Some Pointers for the Motivationally Challenged.

When faced with a cosmic fuckton of work, I am almost invariably visited by a beast I'm sure you all know well, an imp that taunts me away from responsibility with promises of guitar strumming & Facebook checking & oh I haven't seen this movie in forever & what was that great scene...—

I call him the Procrastination Gremlin, because I imagine one of those creepy water-doused creatures from the movie, like the bastard offspring of bat & gargoyle, perched immovably between my shoulder blades, whispering seductively in my ear—or sometimes even forcing my limbs, zapping my Arm Control Nerve like in that episode of Invader Zim (which was such a great show; I should probably go watch a few episodes, just quickly; they're so short...—).

Anyhow: faced now with the daunting task of fending off this demon, I'm reminded of the many ways I've learned to distract him, at least for a time—& I thought I'd share a few.

( An artistic rendering, hastily rendered. )

1) Designate a Work Song.

Now, this is a particularly tough musical needle to thread—very different, in fact, from Study Music. Study Music's less-than-ambient mellow is built to sustain pleasant rambles through readings—but in order to survive this epic wrestling match with the slippery plastic muse of Required Writing, you need an anthem, a battle cry, a balm of hurt minds separate from sleep, because you've still got so much to do before dawn: you need a Work Song.

In my experience, it should be energetic but not wild, upbeat but not quite cheerful, able to sustain both bouts of deep despair & manic 4 AM dance fits. Over the course of this night, your Work Song will be responsible for buoying you: a beacon for your sleep-drunk navigation, an oasis lurking just beyond the heat waves, the solar plexus punch necessary to eek out those next five pages. It will be played a sickening number of times in the next hours, & each time must feel like a revelation—the cut through inspiration's swollen eyelid that gets you back in the ring, to just... keep... fighting... (Adriannnnn....)

2) Pick a topic that interests—or, preferably, baffles—you.

If you're like me—meaning, you need the cold muzzle of a Time Gun pressed against your spinal column to even think about beginning work—the immediate death sentence of any impending essay is when you start to think of it as perfunctory. If you know exactly what you're going to write, how you're going to write it, all the little trills & turns of phrase to elicit sighs of teacherly appreciation—then it's as good as written, meaning all sense of threat disappears from your brain, & therefore production halts until about 20 minutes before the thing is actually due.

By then, of course, when you go to type out this perfectly-preformed gold brick of an essay, you realize it's like one of those K'nex rollercoaster sets from when you were a kid: split into complex & counter-intuitive pieces that could fit together in endless combinations—& which, despite the seemingly mentally challenged ten-year-old you saw playing with it in the commercial, apparently requires a degree in molecular biology to assemble. This leads to much frustration, a deep sense of existential panic, &, ultimately, a late or profoundly shitty (often, both) paper.

On the other hand, if your topic is inscrutable enough to baffle even you, then it's impossible to disengage without retaining the Time Gun panic—impossible to feel done before you're done. In the best cases, a written description of your own search to figure out what in the hell you could possibly be talking about will seamlessly become something worthy of submission.

3) Make a list, aloud, of all the people who will be disappointed if you don't finish this essay.

If you like & respect your teacher, you certainly have a head start—but even so, that's often not enough for us hardcore Work Avoiders. On any given night, lists may range from "my mother, because she'll be bummed if I flunk out of college," to "President Bartlett, because he called himself 'the education president,'" to "Morrissey, because there's always someone, somewhere, with a big nose, who knows." Personally, I often appeal to the fold-out LP cover of Lou Reed, who watches over the head of my bed with arms crossed decadently beneath his Fuck You snarl. "For you, Lou," I swear, in deepest solemnity, with a doff of my imaginary aviators: "For you."
( Below him: a poster my friend found on the street of Johnny Cash flipping off the photographer—which, of course, can also be emotionally useful in these situations. )

4) Have a large quantity of small, oval snack food.
Every time a sentence gets too frustrating & you need a moment's break, you can mull it over by reaching for a piece of your choice edible, &, because of its ideal shape, you can either savor it in several small, lengthwise bites, giving ample time to mull, or roll it contemplatively against the roof of your mouth. I prefer green grapes, but have also made due with olives, almonds, yogurt-covered raisins, & cough drops. (NOTE: Only use cough drops in dire circumstances. That much menthol turns your mouth into some kind of cold medicine-dry ice hybrid—before it goes awkwardly numb, & you spend the next three hours wondering why you have no throat.)

5) Coffee is your friend.
When all else fails, just drink a lot of it. Actually, scratch that: don't wait until all else fails. You should be revving like the Energizer Bunny on crystal meth from the moment you sit down to write this sucker. If you don't smell like the inside of an overworked espresso machine from minute one, you're probably doomed. On that note, I'd also recommend those juggernaut 2-liter bottles of Diet Mountain Dew: zero calories, ungodly amounts of caffeine, yessiree. (However, if you're like me, you already have a coffee IV drip set to start concurrently with your morning alarm, rendering this point all but moot.)

&, finally, 6) Write an instructional guide, professing Pointers for the Motivationally Challenged.
Because, though this is exactly the kind of lengthy & pointless distraction your Procrastination Gremlin craves, it's secretly honing your intense sense of essay anxiety into a sniper's laser sight, boring into your Common Sense Gland like the light from some cosmic magnifying glass until it reaches a veritable boil, &— ...—

[ Epilogue: Three two-page essays on Independent Film, sprung from impossibly vague prompts, hereby finished at 1:32 PM. 28 minutes to spare, baby: I still got it. ]

Today's Headphone Fodder:
My Work Song these past 24 hours.
The choice isn't necessarily arbitrary: I just finished the 33 1/3 Series book on "Doolittle," which—though, of course, my interest in the album never really lapsed—certainly re-intensified my love for these 15 crackling, surreal tracks. Though it's never necessarily been a favorite ("Hey" & "Monkey Gone to Heaven" always took the cake), "Gouge Away" caught my attention this time through: quite beautiful, actually—but equally rough & surging, violent. The ideal Work Song: plying the edges between melancholy & motivational, throbbing through your bones just fast enough to nudge, insistent, impossible to ignore.
(Also, I'd be lying if I said that dubstep remix of "Where Is My Mind?" didn't make an appearance or six.)

1 comment:

  1. Czech it out: