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Are You Hitting the Pandemic Wall Too?

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When Kacy shared with me her vision for the blog in 2021, I was excited to hear about the focus on motivation. As I mentioned last September, productivity usually isn’t a problem for me. I wrote that September post earlier in the pandemic, and when I look back now, I realized I’m in an entirely different headspace now.

As we head into the one-year anniversary of COVID lockdowns, I’ve hit what I’ve heard others refer to as the pandemic wall. The term “the pandemic wall” comes out of a Twitter thread from NPR host Tanzina Vega (she talks about “pandemic burnout”), and it refers to “the particular and sudden feeling of spiritual and emotional exhaustion with life during covid times” (Judkis, para. 7 ).

brick wall

I find myself thinking about the pandemic wall a lot lately, as my friends, family, and I are finding everyday tasks--both at work and at home--harder and harder to complete. My motivation seems to have vanished.

In reflecting on my waning motivation, I realized that the tools that I had relied on in the past to help fuel my motivation just weren’t available to me anymore. Last fall, I talked about how finding the right environment can help my motivation. In the past, when I was feeling restless and unproductive, I would often find a cozy coffee shop where I could get some writing or work done. Finding a different space to center myself was what got me through my master’s degree, and it’s been something I’ve relied on during my 10+ years as a remote worker.

book, notebook, coffee, pen

Of course, in this time of COVID, going to a coffee shop just isn’t an option; it’s not realistic or safe, and so opportunities for finding a new environment to help with my motivation are limited. I suppose I could try moving from my home office to my kitchen, but of course I also don’t leave my house during my down time, so I’m pretty sick of my kitchen right now too. That strategy that had worked well isn't available to me right now, but I also realized I’ve unknowingly found a few workarounds.

Recently, I’ve started using an app called Tomato Timer. The app uses the Pomodoro technique of alternating between focused work sessions and frequent breaks (“pomodoro” is Italian for tomato). I find it incredibly helpful and satisfying to watch the app count down the time until my next break, and I often find myself trying to work a bit faster to get a project done before the timer ends. The Pomodoro approach helps me push distractions to the side, since I’ll have a break soon in which I can easily get more coffee, check Twitter, get more coffee, walk around a bit, and get more coffee.

three tomatoes

The other strategy I’ve started using is a daily meditation habit using the app Headspace. I’ve always wanted to be more mindful, and with my inability to focus recently, I thought now might be the time to start building my meditation practice. I’ve incorporated Headspace into my nightly routine before I go to bed, and I’ve started using short 5-minute meditations during my Pomodoro breaks. It’s been a helpful way to reset my focus, and while I’m still a novice, I’m going to continue to build my meditation practice.

person sitting watching sunset

I in no way want to imply that the Tomato Timer and Headspace apps are solutions for the impact of the global pandemic we are still experiencing: we can’t time manage or meditate our way out of a global pandemic. And, honestly, we should all be clear with ourselves that our productivity probably won’t be the same as our pre-pandemic levels. It’s okay to feel unfocused and to struggle with motivation—that struggle is not a personal failing on your part; it’s a result of the world we live in right now and is not your fault.

It has been helpful for me, however, to reflect on the ways I’ve replaced my old strategies for finding motivation with new ones. Maybe that same reflection can be helpful for you too. If you’ve felt unfocused and unmotivated recently, consider where you’ve found motivation in the past. Is there a new way you can replicate that strategy? What resources or tools do you have at your disposal, however small they might seem? What support system can you lean into? How might technology be a tool?

Share your thoughts in comments to this post, and good luck out there, everyone. We will eventually be able to visit our local coffee shop without worry.

Beth Nastachowski has been with the Writing Center since 2010, and she currently manages the center’s webinars, modules, and videos. She spends her time running after her son, husband, two cats, and dog in St. Paul, MN. 

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Motivation: My theme for the Walden Writing Center Blog and life in general in 2021

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2021 Starting Line on Track
2020 was...a year. One way to illustrate the kind of year it was: I'm introducing myself and the yearly blog theme for 2021 in March. 

My name is Kacy Walz and I've been a Writing Instructor at Walden University since the end of 2016. I've written a few posts for the blog in the past and, this year, I'm excited to take the reigns. I'm also excited to share the theme of 2021's upcoming posts: motivation.

Chalkboard: "can't" crossed out, replaced with "can"
I'm going to be honest with you. I have ulterior motives (pun completely intended) for selecting this theme. I'm a doctoral candidate currently working on my dissertation. And I've been finding it harder and harder to motivate myself to sit down and write lately.

Something that never fails to inspire me is working with Walden students and witnessing the incredible things they do in their scholarship and day-to-day lives. I'm so grateful for that and I believe that tapping into my work at Walden will help get me to the proofreading stage of writing.

Scrabble letters spelling "Do Not Give Up"
Along with our amazing students Walden also has some excellent and inspirational staff members, and I'm so lucky to call them colleagues. I know their writing will help me develop and maintain the motivation I need to finish and I hope you'll also find motivation as we progress through this year and beyond.
Offered fist
So what do you say, 2021? Let's do it. 

Kacy Walz
 is a writing instructor from St. Louis, MO. She is currently working on a PhD in Literature from the University of Missouri. Along with her work on the blog, Kacy also cohosts the Walden Writing Center podcast. She enjoys piña coladas and getting caught in the rain.Send me new posts by e-mail! button 
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March Live Webinars

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It seems like each month is somehow both flying by (is it really already March??) and also taking forever. But a new month also means a new webinar schedule! We'd love to see you at a live webinar, but if the times don't work for you, you can always check out the recording in our archive.

This month we are offering the following live webinars:

Date: Thursday March 18th
Time: 11:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m. ET
Audience: Doctoral Students

In this webinar, participants will learn from Writing Center Form and Style editors about the use of APA in doctoral capstones: Expectations, common errors, and resources for understanding more complex APA rules.

APA Reference List Workshop Part 1: Top Overall Formatting Errors and How to Fix Them
Date: Tuesday March 30th
Time: 12:00 p.m. - 1:00 p.m. ET
Audience: All Students

In this workshop-style session, students will learn the purpose of an APA Style reference list, how to identify and fix common reference list formatting errors, and resources for further help.

Optional: To fully participate, students should bring a reference list of their own to work on. The list can be one for a current or past assignment, and it will not be shared.

Click on the webinar titles to register for the live sessions. Hope to see you there!

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Inclusivity in Academic Writing and APA: The Singular “They”

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Last year, Walden University  adopted the newest edition of the APA Manual, APA 7. While many rules stayed the same between APA 6 and APA 7, a few rules changed, including one that has caused excitement across the university: APA 7 officially endorses the use of “they” as a singular third-person pronoun (see Section 4.18 in APA 7).  

What do I mean by the singular they? Essentially, writers can now use “they” to refer to one individual or many individuals, just like “you” can be either singular or plural. Here are a few examples of the singular “they” in writing:  

  • While my boss provides regular employee feedback, they also take mid-year reviews seriously. 

  • The respondent noted that they did not fully understand the question in the survey.  

  • My daughter has appreciated their nonbinary student high school support group.  

While the Writing Center has advised Walden students to use “they” as a singular pronoun since our 2017 Inclusive Language Policy announcement, APA 7’s endorsement means that the singular “they” has taken another step on its journey to mainstream use by entering Standard Academic English standards. The singular “they” is actually much older than you might think. If you’re interested in etymology like me, you can read the Oxford English dictionary’s comprehensive history of the singular “they,” which  traces the first documented use of the singular “they” back to 1375.  

The singular “they” has a long history
 and is one that also includes controversy as many grammarians have treated it as grammatically incorrect. More recently, however, academics have recognized that the singular “they” can provide writers a much needed tool in their writing. Using “they” as a singular pronoun allows writers to reflect the gender identity of individuals they are talking about. This practice is particularly helpful for nonbinary individuals who may not identify with gendered pronouns like he/him or she/her.  

The singular “they” also allows writers to avoid gender bias in various situations in their writing. For example, the singular “they” provides writers a way to avoid misgendering individuals when their pronouns aren’t knownFor example, let’s imagine a situation in which we are able to gather in person again: Maybe a Walden student is attending an in-person residency, and in their reflection paper on the residency, they want to talk about someone who asked a question across the room in a session. The student doesn’t—and can’t possibly—know that person’s pronouns. In this case, APA recommends using the singular “they.” Similarly, if you’re writing about a hypothetical situation, use the singular “they” to avoid gender bias. Research shows that when nouns are gendered (as is the case in languages like Spanish and German), speakers describe objects differently based on their gender. The language we use does impact our perception of who we are taking about, and the singular “they” helps us avoid that bias. 

The use of singular “they” in academic writing and APA is one more action we can embrace to ensure our communication is inclusive, and it’s not only happening in academic writing. You might see people you email self-identify their pronouns in email or on social media, or you might see pronouns identified on someone’s name badge at work or at a conference. Many members of the Walden community have embraced the idea of self-identifying their pronouns, and I’m glad to see that APA is now following suite by adopting the singular “they.”   

Now that you better understand the history and context around the singular “they”—and gendered pronouns in general—I encourage you to begin using the singular “they” in your writing. Like many changes to writing rules, it may take some practice to get used to, so give yourself time to experiment with this pronoun. Try using the singular “they” in your other writing at work, with family and friends, and on social media. The more you practice using it, the better you’ll understand how to use this tool in your writing toolbox.  

Resources to learn more about the singular “they”: 

  • Walden University Writing Center, “Singular ‘They’” 

    • Beth Nastachowski has been with the Writing Center since 2010, and she currently is the associate director of the Office of Writing Instruction. She spends her time running after her sons, husband, and dog in St. Paul, MN. 

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