An essay is never finished. You work on it until you run out of ideas, time or energy and then you hand it in. It will never get 100%, because it always could have been better. There’s always another level of analysis that you could have gone to, or a better example that you could have used, or a clearer way that you could have worded a point.
Accepting this was a vital step in me getting better at writing essays. Once I had, writing an essay became less about trying to reach ‘perfection’ (an undefinable and ultimately unattainable status), and more about working out how to produce the best piece of work that I could in the time that I had. I stopped trying to frantically race against time, and started to methodically manage it, breaking down the time I had until the deadline into three even chunks: planning, writing and editing. By focussing on just one key skill in each chunk of time, I could make sure that I did it as well as possible.
So, if I had three weeks until the deadline, I’d spend the whole first week gaining background knowledge, finding my sources of information and planning out my points. I’d resist the urge to jump into the writing, because by that time I’d learnt that research is the foundation to a good essay; only when my week was up would I move onto the writing. I’d then do that for another week, making sure to finish writing a week before the deadline. I’d always spend the last week editing and presenting my work properly before handing it in.
Think of it like making bread. You can’t just chuck the ingredients in the oven and expect to get a decent loaf. You’ve got to combine the ingredients, let them rise, and knead it all together before you cook it. It’s a process, not an event. Essay writing is just the same.