The blank notebook page stares at me with a malicious grin as if it can sense my anxiety and reluctance to write as I rack my brains, not to brainstorm, but to come up with an excuse to put off writing until I am ‘more inspired’. Well, the assignment is not due until ten days from now and I have other assignments and projects and lab reports due before that; so I sigh, push the notebook in the furthest corner of my desk and mumble, ‘Maybe later.‘
The first thing I attack is the calculus homework that has been the reason behind my nightmares every night for the past week. ‘Once that is done,’ I tell myself, ‘I shall be free of any nagging feeling reminding me of unfinished work and be able to focus all my creativity on the essay.’ Well, the calculus assignment does get done that night, only it took two hours longer than I estimated and left me as exhausted as a tennis player after a grueling five-set match. Surely nobody can write an essay when they are so tired; besides, I could always do it first thing tomorrow morning; it is not due until next Wednesday anyway. Satisfied with the justification, I fall asleep in under a minute.
Next morning, pencil in hand, I stare at the blank paper wondering why things seem easier when I am planning them out in advance than when I actually sit down to get them done. As no particular idea comes to mind, I turn to the prompt to see if that might lead to a burst of creativity. As I am leafing through the book, the title of an essay catches my attention and I begin reading it. It takes all of fifteen minutes for me to read and reflect upon that essay before my thoughts wander off without a leash. When I miraculously shake myself up and focus on the unwritten essay, a sudden drowsiness takes over. ‘Surely a ten-minute nap would not do any harm right?‘ I set an alarm too, just in case and convince myself that I would be able to think better when I am fresh and wide awake. Alas! I forget every past instance when relativity takes over and time dilates, so that what seems to be a ten-minute nap for me takes thirty minutes for the rest of the world. One glance at the clock and a quick mental calculation later I realize that I have only fifteen minutes until my first class of the day. Cursing myself, the alarm, relativity, Einstein, the course and even the super-comfortable and cozy blankets for putting me in such a deep sleep, I manage to get my books in my bag and a matching pair of shoes on my feet-if at all they do not match, I am prepared to call it the latest fashion trend-and reach class barely in time.
Needless to say, the essay gets buried under piles of Chemistry notes and Physics problem sets. The rest of the day goes by in a flash, pushing the essay to the lower rows of my to-do list. By now, I have realized that I need to get work done as soon as it is assigned, so I arrange all homework in a chronological order based on their submission dates and begin working on them, one by one. This ensures that the essay recedes to the remotest, most inaccessible corner of my memory for the next three days.
When I do get around to it, I have to begin right from the beginning, for the notebook is still blank-no ideas jotted down in a hurry, no brainstorming, no organizational pattern, not even the prompt. The textbook is fetched again, but this time, having learned my lesson, I only read the prompt and get to work. A few ideas do come to my mind, but I cannot think of a central theme which would tie them up together so that they complement each other. Well, at least I got started; did someone famous not once say, “Well begun is half done?” Congratulations! I am halfway there. I praise myself and reward my achievement by going out to meet a friend. Ten minutes of conversation should clear my head up and inspire me to begin actually writing, I tell myself. A part of me wonders why I have to justify everything I am doing, but I ignore the warning. Obviously, my friend has a lot of exciting to stories to tell me and I cannot interrupt, especially with homework as an excuse, so the notebook waits patiently for an hour before I am again aware of its existence. This time, I am not in the frame of mind to write. ‘The points are ready; I only have to expand them later. Right now, I should get logical and easier homework done, the kind which you do not have to think.’ So I begin working on my Physics problem set, suddenly in awe of Physics where things are either right or wrong, and one does not have to worry about “revisions” or “drafts”; a question has just one answer and if I have my concepts mastered, I fly through the problem set. Not wanting to break the momentum of getting work done, I fish out the monstrous chemistry lab report and vow to finish writing it before I sleep. I have to stay true to my word and I work on that until 1 am. It is too late to ‘begin’ work on the essay, I have an 8 am class the next day-Oh but it is tomorrow already!-I need to ensure I get enough sleep too, and the essay is pushed away again.
My war with homework never ends, for the homework army always has reinforcements ready whereas I am struggling with injured limbs as I find new excuses for procrastinating assignments that were assigned earlier. As new homework is assigned, I hasten to get older assignments over and done with. The essay now stays at the top of every to-do list and a bee buzzes in my brain reminding me about it every minute of the day. I have a nightmare in which I wrote the entire essay but my computer crashed and I could not retrieve it as I continued to sink underneath waves of assignments. Determined to get things in order, I sit myself firmly at the desk, notebook open, pencil in hand and write, fiercely, hurriedly and rather carelessly. After all, it is two days before the deadline. I do not feel comfortable until I have crossed the word limit, although I have done so with obscure strings of words here and there.
As if in answer to my prayers, the instructor extends the deadline by a day and I work hard at conjuring up a coherent and mildly interesting structure out of the scores of words from my notebook. It is not my best job, and I firmly admonish myself for the same. As I shut the lid of my laptop, heaving a sigh of relief and asserting, ‘Never again!’, I see the next Physics problem set out of the corner of my eye. ‘Well,’ I reason with myself, ‘I just finished writing a huge essay…it is almost midnight…and it is not like the problem set is due tomorrow…’