If those trips down to the demos in Westminster have left you behind schedule for your end-of-term assignment, you may well be forced to write in the small hours this week. Here's how to pull it off safely and successfully.
12am: Get as far away from your bed as possible
Before you begin, avoid warmth and soft furnishings. Propped up on pillows in the glow of a laptop may feel like savvy ergonomics, but your keyboard will start to look pillow-like by midnight, and 418 pages of the word "gf64444444444444444444" will detract from the force of your argument. You could try the kitchen. Or Krakow. But your industrially lit 24-hour campus library should do the trick.
12:25am: Take a catnap
Thomas Edison used to catnap through the night with a steel ball in his hand. As he relaxed and the ball dropped, he would wake up, usually with fresh ideas. "Caffeine and a short nap make a very effective combination," says Jim Horne, director of the Loughborough Sleep Research Centre. "Have the coffee first. This takes about 20 minutes to work, so take a 15-minute nap. Use an alarm to wake up and avoid deep sleep kicking in. Do this twice throughout the night."
12.56am: Reduce your internet options
Temporarily block Twitter, Spotify, Group Hug, YouTube, 4od and anything else that distracts you. Constantly updating your word count on Facebook may feel like fun, but to everyone else you'll look like you're constantly updating your word count on Facebook.
1-3am: Now write your essay. No, really
You've widened your margins, subtly enlarged your font and filled your bibliography with references of such profound obscurity that no one will notice you're missing 3,000 words. It's time to brainstorm, outline, carve words, followed by more words, into that milk-white oblivion that taunts you. Speed-read articles. Key-word Google Books. Remember texts you love and draw comparisons. Reword. Expound. Invent. Neologise. Get excited. Find a problem you can relish and keep writing. While others flit from point to point, your impassioned and meticulous analysis of a single contention is music to a marker's eyes.
3-5am: Get lost in your analysis, your characters, your world Write like you're trying to convince the most stubborn grammarian about truth, or heartless alien invaders about love. Don't overload with examples – be creative with the ones you have. Detail will save your life, but don't waste time perfecting sentences – get the bulk down first and clean up later. "The progress of any writer," said Ted Hughes, "is marked by those moments when he manages to outwit his own inner police system." Outwit your own inner police system. Expect progress. Ted says so.
5:01am: Don't cheat
It's about now that websites such as easyessay.co.uk will start to look tempting. And you may sleep easier knowing that a dubiously accredited Italian yoga instructor is writing about Joyce instead of you. But the guilt will keep you up between now and results day. And you'll toss and turn the night before graduation, job interviews, promotions, dinner parties, children's birthdays, family funerals . . . you get the idea.
5.17am: Don't die
Sounds obvious, but dying at your computer is definitely trending. And however uncool it may seem to "pass on" during a five-day stint at World of Warcraft, it will be much more embarrassing to die explaining perspectivism to no one in particular. So be careful. Stay hydrated. Blink occasionally. And keep writing.
5.45am: Eat something simple
"There are no foods that are particularly good at promoting alertness," says Horne. "But avoid heavy and fatty meals in the small hours. Avoid very sugary drinks that don't contain caffeine, too. Sugar is not very effective in combating sleepiness." Fun fact: an apple provides you with more energy than a cup of coffee. Now stick the kettle on.
5.46am: Delight in being a piece of living research
If you happen to be "fatigue resistant" you should now be enjoying the enhanced concentration, creative upwelling and euphoric oneness that sleep deprivation can bring. If not, try talking yourself into it. "Conversation keeps you awake," says Horne. "So talk to a friend or even to yourself – no one will hear you."
6am: Console yourself with lists of writers who stuck it out
Robert Frost was acquainted with the night. Dumas, Kafka, Dickens, Coleridge, Sartre, Poe and Breton night-walked and trance-wrote their way to literary distinction. John and Paul wrote A Hard Day's Night in the small hours. Herman the Recluse, atoning for broken monastic vows, is said to have written the Codex Gigas on 320 sheets of calfskin during a single night in 1229. True, he'd sold his soul to the Devil, but you're missing out on a live Twitter feed, so it's swings and roundabouts.
7am: Remember – art is never finished, only abandoned
Once you accept there's no more you can do, print it off and get to the submissions office quick. Horne: "You're not fit to drive if you've had less than five hours sleep, so don't risk it. Grab some exercise." Pop it in with the breeziness that comes from being top of your marker's pile. Back home, unblock Facebook and start buffering The Inbetweeners. And then sleep. Get as near to your bed as you can. Euphoric oneness doesn't come close.
Matt Shoard teaches creative writing at the University of Kent.
When I was little, I used to have a book with a collection of Russian proverbs and sayings. I remember being absolutely fascinated by the depth of knowledge and wisdom that I discovered on the pages of that book. Those proverbs opened a door for me to a better understanding of the Russian culture as well as important norms, morals, and life values. Indeed, I can say they helped me become a more mature and intelligent human being.
Speaking about second language learners: Proverbs can—like in my own experience—help them learn a great deal about the target culture and the norms and values that people in that culture respect and treasure. A writing class is a great venue for incorporating proverbs into teaching. With the effective use of proverbs, a teacher can both help students develop their writing skills and deepen their cultural knowledge. In other words, the use of proverbs kills two birds with one stone!
I want to share some activities that teachers can do in the writing classroom. Hopefully, they can inspire you to further ideas.
Using Proverbs as In-Class Journal Prompts
When I was teaching a writing class in an intensive English program, part of my weekly routine was having students write, twice a week, a 10-minute in-class journal. The prompts for these activities were prepared in advance, and were created to help students develop their creativity and analytical thinking. Proverbs seem to make excellent prompts for in-class journals. I suggest, however, that you select the proverbs with transparent rather than metaphorical meanings. Before the actual writing activity, you can also briefly explain the meaning of the proverb to help students move their thoughts in the right direction.
Here are some proverbs that you can use as journal prompts:
- A friend in need is a friend indeed.
- Absence makes the heart grow fonder.
- Actions speak louder than words.
- A penny saved is a penny earned.
- Bad news travels fast.
- Better late than never.
- Better safe than sorry.
- Don’t judge a book by its cover.
- Honesty is the best policy.
- Never too old to learn.
- Practice makes perfect.
- Practice what you preach.
- Two heads are better than one.
- Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
- What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
Writing a Story That Illustrates a Proverb
For this activity, you need to select several proverbs with metaphorical meanings. After you explain the meanings of those proverbs and briefly discuss them with the students, ask them to pick one proverb and write a short story or a passage that would illustrate the meaning of the proverb they picked. Then each student will read their story and the rest of the class will try to guess the proverb.
Here are some proverbs that you can use for this activity:
- A watched pot never boils.
- A penny saved is a penny earned.
- A stitch in time saves nine.
- Curiosity killed the cat.
- Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.
- Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
- Easy come, easy go.
- Every cloud has a silver lining.
- Give someone an inch, he/she will take a mile.
- Look before you leap.
- Still waters run deep.
- The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
- The early bird gets the worm.
- There are plenty of other fish in the sea.
- There’s more than one way to skin a cat.
- To kill two birds with one stone.
- Too many cooks spoil the broth.
- We will cross that bridge when we get to it.
- Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
- When it rains, it pours.
- You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.
- You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
Teaching About the Rhetorical Situation
The concept of rhetorical situation is not easy to grasp for second language learners. You can help students gain a better understanding of purpose, audience, and stance by implementing a simple writing activity with the use of proverbs. For this activity, you should choose one proverb and ask the students to write a story or a short passage illustrating the meaning of the proverb (just like in the activity described above). Then each student will read his or her piece and the rest of the class will analyze it in terms of its rhetorical situation. The following questions will help the students analyze the rhetorical situation:
- What is the writer’s purpose?
- What is the writer’s stance in this piece?
- Who is the audience?
- What is the basic impression that the author wants to convey?
- What do you think the writer wants the audience to do based on this passage?
To further help students with the concept of rhetorical situation, you can also discuss the differences between the students’ passages. The students will be able to see that although they all wrote about the same proverb, their passages/stories are quite different because of the differences in their rhetorical situations.
Practicing Argumentative Skills
Since many proverbs contain arguable points (e.g., Don’t judge a book by its cover; Honesty is the best policy; Better late than never), they can also be used to help students develop their argumentative skills. You can simply ask the students to express their agreement or disagreement with the meaning of the selected proverb and provide convincing pieces of evidence to defend their position.
There are certainly many other stimulating and interactive activities that writing teachers can do to help their students develop their writing skills and learninteresting and useful facts about the target culture. Please feel free to share your ideas with us!
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