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

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.

Big Pencil

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 compose a successful semester conclusion. Consider reading and sharing with your FWS students 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” (linked below in two formats) offer a series of recommended activities – together with links to campus and online resources – that can help FWS students hold strong that pencil as they complete final writing assignments in their FWSs and beyond.

Hold Strong that Pencil: ProTips for Writing through a Pandemic (link to GoogleDrive for a printable 3-page handout)

Tracy Hamler Carrick


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