The Phases of an All-Nighter

Summary: Work work work work work

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Appropriately enough, I’m starting to write this at about half past one in the morning.

I’d like to say that this is a deliberate attempt to achieve journalistic authenticity, but actually it’s because I felt the need to offset the barrenness of my post-prelim existence by going out for drinks.

Considering I’m now on the wrong (or perhaps right) side of three double-vodkas, I’ve inadvertently managed to recreate the conditions in which I usually write my weekly essays.

All-nighters are a regular event which I factor into my week much as most other people have to timetable lectures (I assume), and while I can’t say that I enjoy the experience of sitting alone at 4am with the feeling of having had my brain replaced by a large boulder, it’s something which I’ve trained myself to get on with pretty well – mainly because I’ve found that people are oddly unsympathetic when I tell them that, as an English fresher in exam term, I’ve just been too busy to do my essay in the last couple of days.

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My hectic social life

Besides my chances of a 2:1, this is what usually goes down during the hours of my all-nighters:

9pm – 12am

Let’s face it, if I’ve started working by 9, I feel as though I’m owed a fucking Nobel Prize. I can only imagine that the sense of achievement I get from typing the title, my name and – if I’m being super productive – page numbers in the hours leading up to midnight is equivalent to that experienced by Isaac Newton upon discovering gravity. However, at precisely 00:01, the panic-infused guilt and preemptive exhaustion will set in, and I’ll inevitably start to feel as though I too have just been hit on the head by an apple.

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“Every Engling persists in their state of inertia unless they are compelled to change that state by forces impressed on them.”

12am – 3am

If I were going to compare writing an essay to giving birth (I’m going to), then I’d say that this is the point at which I’d be approximately 7cm dilated. Things are beginning to move along but the bulk of the work is still on the horizon and I’m not yet an incoherent wreck reduced to monosyllables and grunts (though perhaps my supervisor will disagree after reading the end result). You can guarantee that my internet tabs look something like this:

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In SparkNotes we trust

3am – 5am

Just as the hardest part of running a marathon comes after the first 20 miles (apparently), the hardest part of an all-nighter comes after the first 1300 words or so. You’re more than halfway, but 700 words is slightly too many just to spend reiterating your previous points. Now would be a really good time to pull something out of the bag, but unfortunately whichever proverbial bag I’ve been dealt is probably rotting away at the bottom of my wardrobe along with my forgotten collection of Sainsbury’s Bags for Life.

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You’re going to need those looks when you fail your degree.

5am – 8am

It’s beginning to get light, I’ve consumed enough coffee to fill several (midnight) oil tanks to overflow, and the sound of birdsong has never been so maddening. Chances are I’ll have eaten everything vaguely edible in my room, and probably also my own words about halfway through my essay.

But all of this pain is eventually worth the feeling of being able to shove your work off to your supervisor and then wrap yourself up in your duvet instead of a sense of guilt. That is, if you have nothing else on in the day. Otherwise, it’s a case of embracing the Cambridge-blue bags beneath your eyes and soldiering on.

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Nailing the ‘I woke up like this’ look since 1997

Regularly pulling all-nighters is obviously not the wisest idea in the world; for one thing, it seriously fucks up whatever semblance of a sleep cycle you’ve managed to maintain at Cambridge. But as a closet perfectionist (I know, I could have fooled myself too), I’m liable to spend literally hours obsessing over a couple of sentences, arranging and rearranging words until the rhythm sounds right in my head.

It’s only when I suddenly don’t have the luxury of time that I manage to override this and actually write the damn thing. After all, sometimes it has to be a case of quantity over quality.

Oh, and that wasn’t supposed to be a meta-joke about this article.