Thursday, October 22, 2015

I Went to Vegas for the Weekend... and Wrote a 5-Page Paper (Here's How!)

My study set up at SeaTac airport, shortly before boarding was announced. Look at that headway in my notes section! (And yes, I know... the cover of my Theories of Reading copy is very creepy.) 

So, I went to Las Vegas, Nevada, this past weekend. Ostensibly, it was to celebrate my 22nd Birthday... but really, my parents would have been going whether it was with me or not, because Jimmy Buffet was playing that weekend, and eldest daughter's Birthday be damned, they were going. Recovering from a celebration with friends the evening prior, I packed for a weekend getaway with no less than 8 outfit changes - not so much approved as mandated by my mother, a chronic over-packer - and left early the next morning, for the land of yardstick drinks and having your bra count as a shirt.

One of the most important items in my carry-on, also happened to be the only fiction I packed for the trip. House of Leaves, by Mark Z. Danielewski, is the cornerstone of one of the classes I'm currently taking, and its companion for the Quarter, Theories of Reading, was the only other reading material I packed. Together, they make for some dense close-reading... and for a 5-page paper on paratextual material that was due the Monday morning after we returned from Vegas.

Needless to say, I was up Margarita Creek without a salt rim or a lime wedge in sight. What's a girl with a looming school deadline to do?

Well, let me tell you, in less time than it takes to stack a buffet plate (not that we went to any while there... *sob*). Here are some of the means by which I was able to finish my paper, in between rocking out at Rock of Ages at the Venetian, and dodging creepy 30-something dudes at Whiskey Down at MGM.

  • Take every smidgen of time you get. Twenty minutes of quiet at a mostly-vacant terminal at the airport totally counts. Double points for an hour logged on the plane, while resisting the urge to stare out the window or reach for the nearest People magazine. Those fractions of moments you're used to filling with the mundane are absolutely viable writing time. 
  • Then again, you are on vacation! I'm somewhat notorious for my anxiety, and believe me, my parents knew how tempted I was to forsake time spent on the Strip for a good outline session. However, no matter how much I wanted to get out of the sun and get a couple ink stains on my hands, I knew that wasn't why I was there. So, I left my notes section alone to marinate for most of the weekend, because really... there was so much more to look at.
  • But also, take care of yourself. There's no way you're going to be able to write a decent paper with any of the litany of residual issues that might follow you home from Vegas - hangover, sleep deprivation, having one too many Jimmy Buffet songs stuck in your head - so make sure that you're keeping in decent enough shape so that when you get back, you're ready to be back. 
  • When it comes to getting started, make an outline, with a thesis, as soon as you can, because there's no way you're getting things done with just a mess of vague verbage floating around in your notes section. The first thing I did, at the top of my notes page, was set out a solid thesis and several ambiguous sounding directions I wanted to take it, so I would have a tentative set of keywords to look for while rereading my material. 
  • Find good quotes first, develop your ideas second. It's easy enough to start throwing around complex ideas to see if they stick, but it's also kind of like tossing a whole handful of cooked spaghetti at a wall: sure, the material's all there, but it's also just going to cause a big mess. Instead, reread your text first, and pick the quotes that best apply to or fit in with your ambiguous outline, so that you can craft a more complex argument from actual evidence, rather than what you came up with on the fly. 
  • And finally, don't underestimate a good last-minute panic. As any procrastinator knows well, there's no muse quite like a ticking clock. Two out of my five pages were the product of the hour before my class started on Monday, logged in while being a shivering, antisocial keyboard-gazer in my sorority's study room. 
All things considered - and by all things, I mean mainly the food - the trip was a pretty decent birthday gift. Then again, I also got a purple lap desk, a copy of Rainbow Rowell's Carry On in hardcover, and a whole mess of grocery-oriented gift cards, so jury's still out on which one's my favorite.

Do you have any good last-minute paper-writing tips? How do you do homework on vacation? Let me know, in the comments below!

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