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Writing in the Year of COVID

Updated: Nov 6, 2020

NOTE: I just finished my autumn session of "The Art of Story," my creative writing class in Gulf Coast State College's Education Encore program. This is a column I wrote for The News Herald before the program kicked off six weeks ago:

Writing is so often a lonely pursuit, as the work requires a critical element of inward focus, forcing the writer to avoid distractions.

"Writing, at its best, is a lonely life," according to Ernest Hemingway.

Even those who do their writing in public spaces tend to avoid engaging in a dialogue, since it's nigh-impossible to both write and converse simultaneously without some sort of neurosurgical assist.

So you'd think COVID-19 might not be such a terrible hindrance to writers, since it offers loads of isolation, and lots of time to think. You'd be wrong, for a variety of reasons, but one in particular.

I love the sound of a roomful of pens scratching paper first thing in the morning. It's the noise of a classroom filled with writers at work upon their own original thoughts. And it is followed, at least in sessions I have led, with conversation — sharing words and ideas, reading passages, discussing plots and meanings.

Unless something new goes awry, or all of the students decide to stay home and Zoom, then I'll be listening to that sound on Friday morning as another six-week session of Gulf Coast State College's Education Encore program gets going.

Lara Herter, program coordinator for Business & Community Education, the division that oversees Encore at GCSC, noted in a conversation this week that socialization is a big draw for Encore, and she's emphasizing it more this year than ever before.

"I have been trying to focus on socialization and how important it is for that community," she said. "I am working hard to ensure that even our virtual students will walk away feeling as though they experienced that aspect of the program."

As she mentioned, many Encore classes can be taken online or in a combination of in-person and virtual (as mine will be offered). I'm anxious about how this Zoom-era class will go, and how interactive class members will be when they're not in the room. It's an effort, of course, to keep the program alive in the era of COVID-19 by offering alternatives to attending in-person.

"Without a doubt, this is a concern for most," Lara said. "The college is extremely committed to ensure the health and safety of our students and staff. Several measures have been put in place, including mandatory face masks, fogging of classrooms, and enforced social distancing."

Extra masks will be available for enrolled students who may forget to bring their own, she said. Class sizes were limited to ensure social distancing can be maintained at all times, and online options were added for many classes so participants who prefer not to attend in-person on campus can still participate. (For details on the program, visit

Lara noted that she's led free Zoom classes to help Encore participants get acquainted with the technology. One of the instructors this term will be teaching from his home in Canada. And in the spring, she's thinking of starting a regular "Zoom Cafe" in which Encore students can gather just to chat.

I've been honored to teach creative writing classes for the program over the past few years. For those wondering, it's never a stand-and-deliver kind of class — that's no fun, for one thing. More importantly, writing is a craft you learn by doing. I share some best practices, inspirations, approaches and so forth. The rest is up to the students.

Because the thing that has to happen in a writing class is writing. (Followed by discussing, honing, editing, and then writing some more.) And although Education Encore's motto includes the words "no homework," writers gotta write.

There's really only one rule of Write Club: Sit your posterior in the chair and write. (Or, to quote Hemingway again, "All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.")

My addendum would be: Finish what you start. But that's a subject for another day; we'll get there eventually. Right now, we focus on Write Now.

Everybody have a pen and paper? Let's begin.


(PHOTO: Lara Herter poses in front of the smart board in a GCSC classroom.—Photo by Tony Simmons)

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