You are tasked with writing under pressure and you are trying not to freak out.
So, what is it? An ACT essay? A final exam paper? A business proposal? A formal report?
I have good news and I have bad news.
The bad news: Whether you’re a student or a professional, most writing projects require you to write under pressure.
The good news: Writing under pressure can be a stress-free, invigorating process—that is, when you follow the right steps in this guide. You may eventually find that your best writing happens when there’s a hard deadline.
It’s time to start spending less time fretting and more time composing. Follow this step-by-step guide for writing under pressure so that your writing project hits the mark without missing the due date.
Step 1: Breathe
Deep breath in, deep breath out.
Of course, you know how to breathe. But many of us find writing under pressure to be a stressful, anxiety-driven task. And when we feel anxious or stressed, we tend to take on breathing patterns that work against our best intentions.
Holding your breath won’t help you think. And rapid breaths work against your need to stay calm and focused.
Even though time is essential, take a few moments to slowly inhale, then slowly exhale. Establish a slower breathing rhythm that allows you to think solely on the writing task at hand.
Step 2: Assess Your Instructions
When it comes to writing under pressure, it’s tempting to start right away. Every minute counts, so why waste time doing anything else but write?
Resist this urge to dive right in. Without a clear understanding of the writing project, you can waste valuable time writing words that don’t count—or matter.
If the writing project is an academic assignment—such as an essay, paper or exam—read the instructions carefully and jot down any needed notes. If the writing project is a work assignment—such as a report or article—review all materials that address this request so that you fully understand the project expectations.
Step 3: Define Your Goals
Before you can start writing under pressure, you must understand what is expected from you as the project’s writer. You cannot write with purpose if you do not define the purpose of this writing project.
What questions are you asked to answer? What are the goals of this writing project? What impact can this written piece potentially provide?
Knowing your purpose to write means knowing that you are heading in the right direction.
Step 4: Structure Your Writing Assignment
Every type of writing piece has a basic structure. An essay has an introduction that states the thesis, body paragraphs that support the thesis and a conclusion that ties the entire writing piece together. A business report often includes an executive summary, background, key findings, conclusion, recommendations and references.
You’ll find it easier to start writing under pressure with a basic structure in place. Write an outline for your writing project so that it segments your piece into a series of manageable steps. Because of your time limit, a formal outline isn’t needed—you’ll find a series of jotted notes to be more effective than a blank page.
Step 5: Set Timed Goals
Setting timed goals can keep you writing at a steady cadence when writing under pressure. So, it’s time for some simple math!
Establish how much time is currently available to you, then divide that number by how many required sections there are in your writing piece. For example, if you had an hour (that’s 60 minutes) to complete a five-paragraph essay, then you have 12 minutes to complete each section.
Make sure to have a clock or a watch nearby so that you can keep track of the time. Try your best to stick to your time goals for each section. And if you get stuck, consider skipping ahead to the next section—you may discover the answer later on in the writing process.
Step 6: Stay Focused
It’s easy to freeze up when writing under pressure. But now is the time to get the words on the page so that you turn in your writing assignment on time and on point.
Here are some pointers for maintaining focus while writing:
- Concentrate on one specific section at a time. If an idea for another section arises, jot it down as a note so that you can add when you reach that section of the writing project.
- Restate the goal(s) to yourself whenever you get stuck. This allows for you to reframe your thoughts, solve problems within the writing piece and stay on task.
- Remind yourself of your strengths. This can help you battle self-loathing ideas that may arise when you feel the pressure.
- Find the positives in the moment. Feel pride in completing each section of the writing piece. Congratulate yourself for conveying great ideas, writing strong sentences and solving challenging problems within the writing project.
Step 7: Review
Now that you are no longer writing under pressure, you can now be the editor of your writing piece.
It’s time to think big picture. With the extra time you have left, make sure all your key ideas made it into the writing project. Do any sentences need adjusting? Do any topics need to be moved elsewhere in the writing piece?
Don’t second guess yourself, yet also don’t hesitate to make changes at the last minute. You may find that your final additions or deletions strengthen the writing project.
Step 8: Fine-Tune
Still have some time left? Use whatever moments are available to tweak the small stuff.
Are any words misspelled? Are all sentences grammatically correct? Do you apply the exact meaning to every word within the writing piece?
Step 9: Celebrate
Congrats! You have successfully completed writing under pressure by turning in a writing project that’s comprehensive and that fulfills the requested purpose. No need to throw yourself a big party, but there’s no harm in rewarding yourself for tackling this not-so-ideal challenge.
Practice makes perfect. The only way you’ll grow comfortable and confident in writing under pressure is through frequency. And because life isn’t shy about handing out writing projects with deadlines, it won’t be long before you have mastered these steps and your personal writing process.