Why you shouldn’t pull all-nighters…

Reading time: About 2.5 minutes

All-nighters not only cost you sleep, they set you up for a self-defeating writing habit…

Did you ever pull an all-nighter? When I was a university student, I did them all the time. It helped that I was already a night owl and that I’ve generally needed less than the typically-required amount of sleep per night. When I was young, I could get by on six hours relatively easily.

Now that I’m older, I find I need seven hours. And now that I’m smarter, I find I don’t need to pull all-nighters at all. As a result, I was both surprised and distressed to learn that some universities — in Germany, Canada and the US — are counselling their students to pursue binge writing. The event is called the Long Night Against Procrastination.

Designed to help students face writing — with the help of one-on-one coaching and fun components such as pet therapy sessions, tango lessons and yoga — the event generally runs from 8 pm to 3 am or even later. The magazine University Affairs recently profiled the Calgary iteration of the Long Night.

I’m glad that at least one associate Dean was smart enough to criticize the festivities for teaching bad habits. I work with many doctoral and masters students — and even with some of their professors — all of whom struggle with developing a sustainable writing habit. I’m often struck by what I perceive to be the lack of support these students (and professors) receive from their schools.

The process of writing — how to do it — is often ignored or badly taught. Teachers or professors tend to focus on grammar and spelling, or the content, which of course is important. But it bothers me that they usually overlook the psychological aspects of writing — time management, perfectionism and fear — that can turn an essay or a thesis into a nightmare.

But I don’t want to be a whiner so let me begin by describing what I like about the long night against procrastination:

  • I like that it tries to inject a sense of fun into writing. So many people see writing as something that’s dull or boring or frightening. If tango lessons or cupcakes can make it more entertaining and approachable, that’s terrific. I have no complaints about that — only encouragement.
  • I like that the schools are accepting their responsibility to help students write better. I particularly like that they offer one-on-one coaching. Everyone’s writing problems are a little bit different and these challenges require individual solutions.
  • People who call themselves writing coaches are generally better equipped to deal with the psychological components of writing than most professors, who are specialists in their own subject areas, but not necessarily in writing.

But here’s what I really dislike about the anti-procrastination night:

  • This type of event, ironically, enables It makes it seem okay. In fact, procrastination is the last thing that students should be taught to do. Instead, they should be counselled to work on their essays or theses a little bit at a time. They need to learn how to make a plan, and how to execute it. The plan needs to be sustainable. Can we all agree that pulling all-nighters is not sustainable? Or even a good idea?
  • Of crucial importance — particularly for long-form writers — is the habit of writing every day. Producing a 60,000-word thesis sounds daunting. But if you view it as a 500-words-per-day assignment you’ll have a rough draft in just 120 days (or 24 weeks if you work only on weekdays, as you should.) Doesn’t that sound way more doable?
  • Yes, there are negative aspects to writing — loneliness, frustration, dealing with ambiguity — but the best way to address them is not to write with other people. The solution is to do it faster. In other words, spend less time writing, and more time doing other things that are fun: going to movies, drinking coffee (or beer) with friends, getting exercise.
  • Isn’t it obvious that anti-procrastination nights aren’t going to happen every week — even though you might have an essay due that frequently? Why should anyone be taught to depend on the system that isn’t readily available?

Here’s another idea: If you need to write a book or a thesis — or simply want to develop a more effective writing habit — considering applying to my Get It Done program starting April 1. I have one spot remaining.

Have you ever pulled an all-nighter? How did it make you feel? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section below. Anyone who comments on today’s post  (or any others) by March 31/16 will be put in a draw for a copy of Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King. Please, scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join the commenting software to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest.