Hold Strong that Pencil: ProTips for Writing through a Pandemic Semester

By: Tracy Hamler Carrick, 
Tue, 12/01/2020

This semester.

For so many reasons, the literal and symbolic pencil with which I write can feel too big, too heavy to wield right now. To be sure, many of us are struggling with that lift – the cumulative physical, emotional, and cognitive lift of this unusual pandemic semester.

If you are like me and the fifteen-year-old with whom I live, your brain and body are sometimes – and unpredictably – operating differently than they have before. Perhaps you cannot maintain focus for typical lengths of time and get easily distracted by low-priority activities, or perhaps you get tired more quickly and become irritated more easily when you are wrestling with a new or complex challenge, or perhaps you lack the will to start or finish a task. Rest assured, we three are not alone.

Now returned from a two-week instructional break, though, we have a unique opportunity to hit the refresh button and to plan and strategically to compose a successful semester conclusion. Consider reading and sharing Dr. Deborah J. Cohan’s recent Psychology Today article, “Ending the Pandemic Semester Successfully: A professor offers advice for students.” Dr. Cohan’s kind and encouraging tone is soothing, motivating, even emboldening, especially when coupled with her pragmatic advice about the kind of perspective necessary to cross this extraordinary semester’s finish line. Consider here her final paragraph:

A pandemic semester is different than a regular semester because it's less about the sprint to the finish line in a marathon. This is more like an ultra marathon requiring different stamina, surrender, resilience, humor, grace and a sense of the world as so much larger than we are. It's one grade at a time. It's one class at a time. It's one semester at a time. As I tell my own students, it's not about the grade you earn that you will remember in years to come; it's the process you'll remember and what you learned about yourself and the world around you. Tomorrow is a new day. 

To complement Dr. Cohan’s piece, I have recast her advice to more directly target the needs and realities of writers, Cornell First-Year Writing Seminar students in particular. The resulting “ProTips for Writing through a Pandemic” offer a series of recommended activities – together with links to campus and online resources – that can help you hold strong that pencil as you complete final writing assignments in your FWS and beyond.

ProTips for Writing through a Pandemic




  • Make Your Writing Meaningful | How can your current writing assignments help you work toward for long-term goals and aspirations?  

  • Connect with Peers and Faculty | How can you participate in remote campus activities and events that provide inspiration – direct or indirect – for writing projects?
    • Tatkon Center | Informal peer guidance & an empathetic ear. Drop-in Tat Chats
    • Tatkon Center | Themed conversations with junior and senior student staff. Tat Chats
    • eCornell | Experience the best of Cornell, live and on demand. Keynotes
  • Take Care of Yourself | What can you do to relieve stress and bring joy?
    • Cornell Health | Support and maintain your mental health and emotional wellbeing with self-care tips, resilience courses, and meditation platforms. Resources for Coping During COVID-19
    • Schedule an appointment with a College Advising Dean or Faculty Advisor to make plans for next semester and beyond!

Tracy Hamler Carrick

Big Pencil