Timeline of a paper (or two)

This past week has been an interesting exercise in what happens when I actually set out to be productive, all day long, every day. (I guess that assumes that normally that’s not the case. Okay, I admit it). I have two papers due at the end of the quarter, both ten to twelve pages. The first, a historiography of consumption and social status in colonial America, is for my historiography class and is an extension of my first five-page paper. The other is an analysis of the history of a hundred-year-old pastry shop in Little Tokyo, for my seminar on Asian American foodways. They’re both technically due next week, one on Wednesday, the other on Monday, but Erik’s flying down tomorrow night and we’re going to drive back up to the Bay Area on Saturday, so I made it my goal to get both papers done before Thursday. Progress so far: it is Wednesday afternoon and I haven’t even finished one. Heh. BUT… unlike past experiences with last-minute paper-writing, I am not panicking and falling-over-sleepy and hating school, because (I think) I’ve been preparing for these papers in a much smarter way, so I’m going into the writing a lot better equipped and much more certain about what I want to say. This is still last-minute, since one of the most fascinating and wonderful things about the process of writing, but one of the most aggravating when in a time crunch, is that your work begins to take on a life of its own and you discover all these thoughts you didn’t know you had–which you then have to work back into your original neat outline. Assuming you even had a neat outline to begin with. But ha, this time I do have two neat outlines, two sets of extensive and coherent notes, and reasonable enthusiasm about both topics, so I think I’m set. As long as I can stop procrastinating long enough to really write, I think I will be able to get these both done today. (“Today” possibly meaning “very early tomorrow morning.”)

1.03 pm: Done with the intro to the historiography paper. It’s way too late in the day to have finished so little, but intros are the hardest parts for me to write (only because by the time I get to the conclusion I don’t even really care anymore), so at least in that sense it’s time well spent. Anyway, I woke up so sleepy today I had to do a lot of puttering before I was alert enough to start thinking and writing. I have to say I’m impressed with my work so far. Unless my sleepiness is just clouding my brain, I think this is the most coherent introduction I’ve ever written. It’s almost too bad the stakes aren’t higher. Why couldn’t I have done this with my thesis? Or is this, perhaps, the start of a beautiful new talent?

1.41 pm.: Done with… lunch. Hey, I’ve gotta eat! No, seriously, though, I realized after rereading my intro that it was actually too coherent and complete to serve as a workable intro. It explained too much and in too much detail: I couldn’t get started on the rest of the paper because there was really nothing left to say! So, I’ve pared it down and transferred parts of it to other sections of the paper, including the conclusion. It’s less pretty now but much more serviceable.

3.55 pm.: I’ve got to get a move on. It’s almost four and I’m only about half done with the first paper. Still, I like how this paper is turning out, and an hour per page is a decent rate under normal circumstances. It’s just that these aren’t normal circumstances… if I’ve still got sixteen pages left, and I continue at this pace, I’m in trouble. Back to work.

4.49 pm.: What?! Has another hour passed already? Dang. Well, I guess now I’m going slightly faster than one page an hour. Must keep up the steam! But… I… have… a computer… headache…

6.27.: OMG I am tired and this is taking too long. Currently at eight pages, needing two more to hit the bare minimum. What am I going to do about the next paper?
… stay up late, I guess.

7.31 pm.: Done with first paper. That took much, much too long for my purposes, but like I said before, it would be great under normal circumstances.

Now I am going to get away from the computer for a while, have a good dinner, then come back here to labor away at the second paper. Hope everyone’s day is going well.

8.44 pm.: I doubt whether one hour of recuperation can make up for six hours of sitting hunched down in my chair staring at my computer, but I tried my best. I turned off the monitor, changed my music to something more upbeat, and made dinner. Took it to the dining table, ate it sitting next to the opened window to get some air. Sat up straight. When I finished my soup (spinach, seaweed, green soybean) I turned off all the lights and opened the blinds so I could see outside. Saw three cars, then a guy looking sneaky. Watched him and learned somethng! Apparently other tenants of this complex cope with the lack of recycle bins by sneaking their recycling into the bins of the residents across the street! Then had an unexpected extension of my one-hour break because my kitchen ceiling started leaking. Called the manager. Now I have no hot water until tomorrow. Poop. Now… back to work. Big sigh.

10.49 pm.: No, not back to work, as it turned out. It’s not really that I didn’t want to write my paper, but that when I sat down at the computer again my whole body rebelled against it. My shoulders and upper back hurt terribly and I got a headache. So I did some other stuff for a while. Then Erik called and I lay down and rested while we talked. I’m feeling better now and ready to start in earnest. Next time I write I’ll have something done on my paper… or else!

12.17 am.: A little more than a quarter of the way through the second paper. Going to take a break to rest my shoulders. Someday I’ll get a better chair. Or I’ll just have to train myself to keep better posture even when I’m working.

3.33 am.: No further progress on my paper. So screwed and so tired! But I’ve been doing some other stuff I also had to finish. I’ve shortened and edited my personal statement for my departmental funding application, and I’ve made some gorgeous truffles to give to people tomorrow (I know, I know, it’s not strictly necessary!) I’m going to finish one other application, a writing sample for a class I doubt I’ll get into next quarter, and then it’s back to the paper. Biggggg sigh. Bigger than at 8.44 pm. That was a long time ago.

4.30 am.: Just finished taking care of the other thing I’m submitting tomorrow. Hope I get in.

5.30 am.: Half done with paper. This is taking toooo long!!

6.50 am.: Finishing up. Productivity has definitely declined over the last, oh, ten hours!! I predict I will get some sleep, but not much.

8.44 am.: DONE WITH SECOND PAPER. It’s shorter than it should be, but reads decently (unless I’m just too sleep-deprived to notice!). I’m printing it out and getting all my stuff ready for going to campus… and then I am going to SLEEP for two much-needed hours!

So, what have I learned from this?
(1) Bad to leave two papers to write at the same time.
(2) If I work hard, I can get one ten-page paper done in a day with no problem except a little whining and complaining. I should work hard every day so that (1) doesn’t happen.
(3) If I want to abuse my body and possibly write gibberish (I’ll have to wait until I’m more awake to judge), I can write two ten-page papers in less than twenty-four hours. But it makes me tired and makes my shoulders and back really, really tense. Soles of my feet, too, oddly.
(4) A good outline and coherent notes are worth their weight in… uh… sleep, I guess.
(5) Turning out a good dessert gives me more satisfaction than writing a good paper, sad to say.
(6) Productivity is higher earlier in the day. Evidence? Paper1: about six hours. Paper2: about nine hours, plus about three hours’ wasted procrastination time. Paper2 was the easier topic.
(7) Putting this all down in my journal like this is an excellent idea. Remind me to refer to this next time I have papers due!

Hey, check it out! Updates at 8.44pm and 8.44am.


[This post was imported on 4/10/14 from my old blog at satsumabug.livejournal.com.]