By Brandon Latham
Cooking, cleaning and a hallucinatory fever dream – we all remember the time when Spongebob took all night to write 800 words about what not to do at a stop light. Everyone from his pet snail Gary to his best friend Patrick to even the mail delivery guy, a perfect stranger which is a little weird, reminds Spongebob to get to work, but he manages to make his task more and more difficult. Imagine, he manages to spend a whole night procrastinating without roommates, and before the advent of either Facebook or Netflix. But you relate to him, don’t you? I think we’ve all been there, watching the clock (though for us, the clock rarely grows teeth and starts criticizing us) and hoping the paper writes itself. Here is what we can learn from Spongebob about how not to write an essay:
“I’m going to write the greatest essay of all time!”
First things first: try to manage your own expectations. The number one reason for putting off work is the assumption that you can do it better if you wait until you’re more prepared or more in-the-zone. Brainstorming and planning will help you get there. In his arrogance, Spongebob begins without even knowing how to answer the prompt. Really, the most important thing is to plan your response, get started, and do the best job you can under the circumstances.
“It should be against the law to write an essay on such a terrific, sun-shining day!”
Whatever you do, don’t look outside. OK that was hyperbole, but the sentiment is valuable: the more you think about what else you could be doing, the harder sitting at your desk is going to be. For Spongebob, the distraction was the carnival going on inconveniently outside his window. For you it might be your sixth consecutive episode of How I Met Your Mother, your phone, which just won’t stop buzzing, or Sunday Night Football (like me, right now). Whatever your vice may be, keeping your eyes on the prize will help you get it done.
“How about some calisthenics?”
To his credit, there is some merit to Spongebob’s desire to get his blood flowing. In long binge-writing sessions, it is important every now and again to stand up and stretch out. You just have to make sure to space these out and use them right. Spongebob feels the need to work on his cardio after writing his name on the top of the page but before beginning the paper. Just because it is a good tool does not mean you should use it as an excuse.
“I’m not leaving until you eat every single bite.”
Having other people around you can be a good tool for remaining focused. Sitting around a table in the library with your friends provides a degree of accountability, and you can use them to make sure you stay in line. The danger is that they can also become an excuse to lose focus. Spongebob feeds (really overfeeds) Gary when he doesn’t want to write. More than that, he sits and watches Gary eat, then cleans the entire kitchen when he is finished. Don’t let the people – or snails – around you become a distraction.
“Hey Patrick, how’s it going?”
Possibly the episode’s most topical and incisive moment comes when Spongebob more or less has a staring contest with his telephone. He loses, calling and waking Patrick (it was 10 p.m.!) when he should have been hard at work. Obviously, this is a much bigger threat now than it was in 2001, when phones were not mobile and could only be used to, ya know, phone people. If you have trouble obsessively checking your texts/social media, simply turn your cell phone off and put it away. You don’t need it staring at you the whole time.
Be honest: the first thing you thought of when you remembered this episode was a still frame of Spongebob looking at what he had written thus far, and finding an elaborately illustrated “The” alone on the page. What you can learn from him here is that nothing good comes from over embellishment. Writing eloquently can be powerful, but save that for the revision phase. When you’re starting, the important thing is to get your thoughts out rather than obsessing over one little word.
“Only 799 words to go!”
A watched pot never boils. Try not to become a slave to the word or page count. It is important to reach your professor’s requirement, but noting as Spongebob did that you are, in his case, 0.125 percent there will only bum you out. Likewise, don’t try to cheat the minimum requirements by enlarging your margins or adding empty words. The people reading your work are generally pretty bright, and they will notice.
BONUS: “My pants! You get back here!”
This one is just funny, but I guess the message is to try not to fall asleep while writing. You may see some weird stuff.