Pulling Essays From Your Ass: A Guide on How to Bullshit Your Way to an A

We’ve all been there. You’ve just realized your essay is due in two hours and all you have on the page is the name of your professor — and you probably spelled it wrong. It’s panic time.

I can’t tell you how not to panic, because I panicked my way through my entire bachelor’s degree. But I can tell you how to write a solid essay as fast as possible. This is the approach I took for almost every essay I wrote from late high school to college, and the only times I got a grade lower than an A were the times I didn’t actually turn anything in.

So, grab a notebook, turn to a blank page, and clench up those cheeks.

The Proper Diet to Encourage Bowel Movements

First of all, apologies if you were eating while reading this. I wanted to carry on with the metaphor from the title. Little stuff like that helps your work look thematically consistent, and will impress your teacher/professor/grad-student-essay-reader.

Now, this whole approach to essay-writing works best if you’ve actually gone to class, done the readings (or at least read the Cliff Notes for the readings), or, ideally, both. If you’re planning on printing this essay in the library the second you stop typing and then walking straight to class, go ahead and skip to the next section for now, and come back and read this part once your heart has stopped pounding quite so hard. (P.S. It’s going to be okay.)

Whether or not you’ve actually attended class, you’re going to need to gather the same basic materials. You need to have all the relevant readings gathered together, readily accessible. And you need a copy of class notes. They don’t have to be yours, but you need them because you need to check what the professor’s been talking about. For most classes that require essays, the professor will have spent several lectures essentially handing you ideas for said essays. Go through the notes and pick out whatever you can — hints at a particular theme, an example or passage from the text — anything that stands out as useful to you. Don’t just highlight important-looking words or sentences, because that’s not going to give you a better understanding of your materials. Your goal here is to find out what links all the readings together.

This is why it’s definitely more helpful if you’ve read the materials or have been to a class discussion on them. You’ll already have an idea of which texts correspond to which themes, and that gives you a head start on planning and writing. You can make up a lot of ground by relying on Cliff Notes, Sparknotes, or whatever study site is convenient, but when it comes to finding specific quotes to back up your ideas, the going is a lot easier when you already have that basic background knowledge of your sources.

Digestion

Although it’s tempting, you can’t jump straight into typing the essay, not if you want your finished product to be coherent. Spending a little time on planning will save you a huge headache trying to make your essay readable. That’s why you’ve got a blank piece of paper.

Start out by putting the essay prompt at the top of the page. (You don’t want it in the middle because you’re going to need as much room as possible to organize your ideas.) Sometimes it helps to rewrite it in question form, if it isn’t already. Sometimes it helps to stare directly at it with a steadily more grotesque facial expression. The simple act of writing it down will already help it work its way deeper into your mind (in the essay-is-literal-shit extended metaphor, your mind is your lower intestine). While you’re planning and writing, your eyes will naturally rest on it, and that will keep you focused on the goal of the essay.

Throughout my extensive essay-writing career, I’ve used two basic approaches for planning. Which one you should use depends on how you like to write and what you’ve been thinking about so far. And if you have gotten this far into planning your essay and still don’t know what you’re writing about, put it off a little longer, and just scribble down whatever thoughts float through your head.

The Inside-Out Way

This is where to start if you’ve already started thinking about an answer to the prompt or question. For example, in one American history essay, I knew I wanted to talk about class differences in early suffragette movements, but I had to figure out how to compare them.

Since you’ve got your overall topic for your essay, you need to focus on breaking it up into sections. Start by coming up with examples of your topic, or categories within your topic. Keep on splitting until you can point to a specific quote or passage for each separate idea. If you can’t split, make lists of components, details, characteristics. Try to compare what two different texts say about your main idea.

Once your idea is chopped up enough that you could make it into a Venn diagram, you’re about ready to start writing.

The Outside-In Way

This is the way you want to work if you’ve got a few ideas for paragraph topics or quotes to use but can’t figure out how they fit together. My example: I had to write about California literature, and I had a list of the themes in each book I was using, but I didn’t have any idea how to connect themes that didn’t seem to be related.

Your ideas are separate in your head, so separate them on your blank sheet of paper. If you have quotes in mind, or passages to refer to, or even just a sentence from the Wikipedia page you read instead of the assignment itself, write those (or a shorthand version) underneath. Comparing two texts is your best friend when you’re stuck — write out similarities and differences. When all else fails, and you just can’t figure out any way two sources could possibly be related, go the opposite direction and point out how incredibly, amazingly different they are, and why.

You’ll know your planning is about done when you start to realize those ideas do belong in the same essay after all.

Some Yelling, Sweating, and Just Trying to Get It Out

With your ideas organized, you’re ready to write. Commit to not lifting your fingers from the keyboard until you have an actual essay (or most of one) sitting in front of you on the page. If you get stuck trying to figure out a sentence, move on anyway. Write half of a sentence, write the quote you want to use there, write “he get angery,” just don’t stop typing. If something suddenly clicks for you and you make a connection, scribble it on your paper or jump to that spot in the essay. Don’t keep forcing yourself through a section that isn’t working for you — you can come back to it later.

One very important note: avoid the conclusion, and probably the introduction, as long as you can. If you’ve got a dynamite idea for an anecdote that will set the tone of your whole argument, fantastic! Write down a reminder somewhere on your paper and then leave it alone. It seriously damages the structure of your essay if you try to summarize your ideas before you’ve even written them.

So, for this first attempt, focus only on the body of the essay. By the time you stop writing, your goal is to have a set of complete body paragraphs. Each paragraph should be focused on one idea, and should contain all the information and quotes that demonstrate that idea. Again, your writing does not have to be fancy, it only has to be able to explain your ideas to anyone who reads it.

Take a stretch and water break after doing that. Never, ever underestimate the helpfulness of a stretch and water break. It will help clear your mind out again.

When you get back, start reworking the essay, from whatever angle you want. Fix up all your unfinished sentences. Rewrite the sentences that just don’t sound right. Look at what order your paragraphs are in, and rearrange them if they sound better in a different order. Make sure you’ve got at least one source quote for every paragraph — properly cited, with the author’s name and the page number.

Don’t be afraid to use the delete key. It’s counterintuitive, I know, because the whole point of this guide is that you have a small amount of time to write a big amount of words, but it will go a long way towards the overall quality of the essay. If you’re struggling with a sentence but it’s about an idea that’s really important to your argument, you’ll find another way to stick it in. And any professor who grades a slightly short but well-written essay worse than a bad essay with a higher page count is not a professor whose opinion is worth your time.

Once it starts to feel like a real essay to you (woo!!), then it’s a good time to start on the introduction and conclusion paragraphs. Your thesis is much easier to fit into a sentence once you’ve already got paragraphs for your main points and they’re in a good order.

Slap on a title of some sort. There’s nothing wrong with a boring title which is basically a summary of your prompt or your thesis. That tells the professor you actually know what your essay is about.

Polishing the Turd

If you were one of the people who skipped the Proper Diet step, go ahead and skip this one too. Just print it and go. And get yourself a treat after class for finishing your essay. And promise never to do that again. (You’ll break this promise, but it will still feel better to tell yourself that in the moment.)

For all others: this is where you rack up all those extra points for attention to detail. Start by plugging in all your sources to a bibliography-making machine. In Microsoft Word, there’s a built-in tool which creates Works Cited pages from the information you put in. Or else you can open up a new tab, type in some variation of the words “bibliography maker,” and you’re good to go. Don’t forget to run a spelling and grammar check too. When that’s done, try reading your essay out loud, or reading it silently but moving your mouth. (There’s some solid scientific research showing that reading your writing with your mouth helps you catch more mistakes than just with your eyes. Seriously, look it up.) If you have time, try running your essay by a friend, and ask them to point out any places they were confused. The last thing to do before printing is to check your formatting — margins and font are what the professor asked for, that kind of stuff.

And when it’s all said and done, folks, sit back and admire your beautiful essay, straight out of your very own butt!