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The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted everyone’s life. As such, everyone has a story to tell about their experience over the past year. Whether in written, audio, or visual art form, our stories will be quilted together as one Santa Clara community to provide a unique snapshot of our world for future generations.

We are looking for reflections on everyday life, from the big moments to the small—how you’ve adapted to working and learning entirely online, how quarantine has affected your mental well-being for better or for worse, how institutional responses to COVID have shone a harsh light on racial justice and enduring inequalities, how you’ve picked up new hobbies or reconnected with your family.

Reflections should be brief—written stories should be no longer than 500 words, while audio stories should run about 30 seconds to one minute—and easy to create. Don’t be afraid to try a new medium! Or submit more than one kind of story. At Santa Clara, we have access to many creative experts who have generously offered the following storytelling tips for crafting impactful, simple entries.

Audio entries provide a unique opportunity for you to preserve your experience in your own voice. Journalist and SCU Senior Lecturer Gordon Young, who advises the University’s student newspaper, yearbook, and community radio station, has put together this simple audio recording guide. And remember, we are not looking for long oratory histories. Clips should be about 30 seconds to one minute, maximum; just enough to form an audio snapshot of a moment or feeling from the past year.


You probably already have an amazing piece of recording equipment. It might be in your hand right now. It’s your smartphone. The Voice Memo feature on an iPhone, or an equivalent app on other brands, is really all you need to make an effective recording. But you still need to give some thought to your sound environment. These tips will help you create a high-quality recording the captures your story.

Be a good listener: Before you record, listen to the room. Is there a fan droning in the background? Is the HVAC kicking in and out? Is your neighbor finishing that home improvement project? Avoid any obvious distracting noises, and that includes other people talking.

The softer the better: Sound reverberates in rooms with hard surfaces like metal furniture, appliances, and glass. That’s not good. You want a space that absorbs sound and eliminates echo. Think soft carpets, plush furniture, and drapes. Avoid kitchens and set up shop in the den.

Your own little world: Can’t find a good place to record? “Build” a sound studio. It’s easier than you think. A closet jammed with clothes will work. A blanket over your head is an option. Consider a pillow fort. Anything that creates a buffer between you and hard surfaces.

Keep it down: Avoid jewelry that rustles or scrapes during recording. And try to hold the recorder steady without a lot of hand movement. Better yet, use a tripod or holder.

Veteran NPR correspondent Don Gonyea and other radio journalists offer some great tips, including a guide to building pillow forts.

Your Voice

Thankfully, the days of everyone trying to sound like an FM radio DJ from the ’70s are long gone. Your natural voice—the one you use when you talk to someone you care about—is the perfect way to convey a personal story. Here are a few ways to capture your true voice when recording. 

We’re all friends here: Have someone in mind and tell your story to that person. A friend. A family member. Imagine that you’re talking to them, not a generic, unknown audience.

Breathe deep: It’s hard to sound like yourself when you are out of breath. It also puts a lot of strain on your vocal chords. Ideally, you should focus on breathing deeply into your diaphragm. Then again, if this is not how you typically breathe, it can create some problems. Don’t overthink it. Simply slow down. Pause between sentences for a gentle breath. There’s no rush.

Once more, from the top: One of the easiest ways to improve your delivery is to practice. Nervousness tends to fade with each take. As the words become more familiar, you sound more relaxed and natural. 

The popping Ps: Words that begin with the letter “P” can create a distracting pop when recording. It’s easy to fix. Just avoid holding the mic directly in front of your mouth. Instead, hold it about two inches below or to the side of your mouth. This also helps avoid distortion from holding the mic too close.

Cheers: Warm water with lemon and honey can do wonders for your throat. But not too hot. Or too cold, which can inhibit muscle function.

Voice coach Jessica Hansen and NPR’s Training Team explain a few ways to sound more natural when recording.

Humans have been capturing their experiences in writing for thousands of years—providing archeologists and historians windows into past lives. We’ve moved from tomb walls in ancient Mesopotamia to personal laptops, but we’re still working out our issues, big and small, in words.

If choosing to write your pandemic story, keep your reader in mind. They are future researchers, years from now, eager to learn what our lives were like: How did we deal with being isolated for so long? How do we feel about masking and social distance? What was it like to lose someone to COVID-19? What was it like to survive? 

Remember that less is more here. There is a maximum word count of 500 words, so make your points quickly and succinctly. Kirk Glaser, senior lecturer and director of creative writing at the College of Arts and Sciences, offers the following tips to writing short, effectively.


Make a scene: Think of one event that represents what you want to talk about it. Focus your writing on just that one moment/event.

Make it short, literally: Write about the one event by hand on an index card, knowing that is all the space you have. This is your scene.

Utilize all your senses: Write from your senses and use specific, concrete images, actions, moments, dialogue. Think about showing the reader “what happened” as if they were watching it, versus telling them what you thought or felt about the experience.

Do it again: Consider repeating the index card process with several events, all on their own cards. More on this below.


Try this: Set a timer for five or 10 minutes. Write about a specific event without stopping. No censor, just write whatever comes to you. (This is like free writing, but you have a specific topic/moment in mind.) Try to go for the concrete details, but don’t fret about it so much with open writing. You can do that part when editing.


Speak up: Read your work out loud to yourself. Even better, read it aloud to someone else. You will be amazed by what sounds right, and what doesn’t. People can serve as an audience only, with no feedback required. It will still help.

Don’t keep to yourself: Read to other people for feedback. Choose people whose opinions you trust. Ask for specific advice: What works? What really grabbed them? What would they like more of/less of? What left them confused? What intrigued them? You don’t have to agree, just listen and return to their feedback a day or more after they give it to you, so you can reflect on it.

Only pack the essentials: When editing, keep focused on choosing the most essential details from all you wrote: The most critical, the most alive/active, the most felt-with-the-senses moments. Remember, you can tell as well as show, but keep the emphasis on show. If you notice “head verb” sentences—“I thought,” “I felt,” “I saw,” etc.—cut them and see how you can say it differently, with active verbs.

Cut, cut, cut: If you wrote several scenes, pick your favorite and work on that one. Or, find connections between several, select key moments that weave together and combine these into one short piece. Perhaps you or your audience find a common theme, a recurring image or motif, or a series of moments that connect into a plot line.

Begin at the end: Start as close to the end of your story as possible—a great technique for “micro writing” and getting at the absolute essentials of your story.

Though the COVID-19 pandemic has profoundly changed our day-to-day existence, it’s also shown how imaginative we can get in isolation. Creating visual art—through painting, collage, drawing, sculpture, and photography—is an incredibly effective way to broaden perspectives and gain understanding of how quarantine has affected your life.

Artist Kathy Aoki, the Lee and Seymour Graff Professor, offers the following guidelines for visual art submissions, and shares videos for best practices on photographing your artwork for digital submission:

  • File Type: TIFF preferred for archival purposes (JPEG, JPG, or PDF also accepted)
  • File Dimensions: 1,200 pixels or greater on the longest side
  • File Size: Under 5 MB

Keep it steady:  It is crucial to use a tripod or something to hold your phone/camera in place. I suggest using the timer so that you are not pressing buttons on the phone during the exposure.

Lighting: Do not use a flash! Go for soft indirect lighting from only one light source, not mixed. For example, set up near a large window but turn off the inside lights.

Environment: Set up a clean, simple background—your work should be the focus. Plan on filling most of the frame with your work and then using an editing tool to delete the extra background.

Shooting 3D work: A large piece of white paper as a seamless background is recommended. Use a piece of white foam board to reflect some light onto the dark side of the object. 

Quality: Make sure your photo is in focus. Take several shots and check. If you have the option to capture in a format without data loss (such as tiff or raw), then do so. Most phones take jpegs that are a compressed file format with data loss. The higher the quality of the jpg, the less data will be lost, but the file will be bigger. I recommend going with the bigger file so you capture the best information as a base before you make your edits.

Editing: Be sure to crop and straighten the image. Only your artwork should be visible without any distracting elements. Adjust the lights and darks in your image. As well as any color cast. Some free photo editing tools for your phone: Snapseed, VSCO, Photos.

Watch this video from Saatchi Art, an online art gallery with a massive artist network, for tips on taking the best possible photos of your artwork, using simple lighting and camera techniques.
In this video, photographer Amanda Mollindo, who created aftrART to help artists pursue the practical side of art making, offers tips on how to photograph 3D art on your smartphone.