Shelter and Write: 30 Journal Prompts for a COVID-19 Quarantine

I don’t know what quarantine has been like for you, but I have spent the last several weeks huddled under the covers, unable to look away from the news, and sanitizing my child like crazy. There has been a great grief, a great helplessness, and the overwhelming feeling that I should be doing something — anything — other than just staying home.  I understand that I’m doing my part by hiding under the covers. But it also seems like I should be doing a lot more. 

There have been a lot of tears. I might have gotten in a non-verbal argument with my toddler. And the things I say to my plants these days makes me wonder if they think I am crazy. The anxiety is real. And I know it would make me feel so much better to do something for others, to connect with others.

Are you feeling this way, too? Both paralyzed by anxiety and seized with the need to do something useful, something helpful?

Maybe your situation isn’t right to make masks or adopt a grandma, but you do want to do something. I have been wanting to write. I have dealt for years with feeling like writing is selfish, and in this age of unease, it only seemed more so. 

But still, I felt that nagging feeling deep in my chest that begged for me to write. Maybe you have been wanting to write, too. Maybe you have been feeling like writing is a luxury right now and something you shouldn’t be spending time on. But I want to push against that idea.

I personally could really only do the work that was absolutely necessary in the past few weeks, and that was teaching. So I started thinking about how I could be useful to the writers taking my course, which also led me to think about how we could be useful as writers. 

As my students returned to our little online portal after an extended spring break, I asked them what would be useful for them as writers right now. Overwhelmingly, they wanted to journal about this time and overwhelmingly, they wanted prompts. 

I wanted to make prompts that would really be helpful for my students. Prompts that encouraged them be present, to look at the little things, to imagine a better future. But also prompts that allowed them to voice their fears and stare down their anxieties. I wanted to make prompts that they could connect over, draw insight from, and use to document what they saw and experienced. Basically, I wanted to make prompts that were helpful in making my students helpful.

And I thought, maybe it will also be helpful for others, too. So I wanted to share it with you.

Here is the thing: you can help. You can help by writing. Think of all the ways that the writing is useful.

On the most basic level, it is important to have a historical record of this time, and multiple perspectives will be important to get the history right. We need to know what nurses were doing, what patients were doing, what it was like to go to work, and what it was like to stay home. The more information and perspectives that can be gathered will help those in the future see what worked and what didn’t, and how the world changed in response. 

Also, taking care of your own mental health is helping. I can’t stress this enough. Look, no one is going to be served by letting anxiety, depression or any other mental health issue take over. Practicing isolation and social distancing are terrible for all kinds of mental health disorders, from anxiety to eating disorders. If writing is making you feel better, you should do it. If it helps you get through the day a little kinder or with a little more ease, it is important, and you are helping others by doing it. It’s also a great way to ease the sense of isolation (see below!).

Think about all the reading you are doing. We are all trying to make sense of what is going on right now. There are numerous conspiracy theories, constant live news updates, and people sure that this will change life as we know it forever. All of these things exist because people are trying to understand a situation so unlike what most of us have experienced. Writing about it is trying to make sense of it. Sure, you might not figure out the answer to the pandemic, but even coming to one little way of thinking about it that is helpful to you might be also helpful to others. 

And if you aren’t writing about the pandemic, but are writing something totally unrelated, like ancient alien dinosaur erotica or whatever, you are helping too! People are looking to artists for distraction, for escape, because we can’t exist on high-alert all the time.

This brings me to a last way you can help: share your writing. 

Share your thoughts and the ways in which you are dealing with it. There is a need for connection right now, and one of the ways we can connect and still be socially distant is to share our thoughts in writing. So share your writing. Even if it doesn’t have anything to do with COVID-19, it could help someone find a few moments of calm and connection. Maybe you send your mom a letter with one of your journal entries that you think she would like, maybe you share it on Facebook, maybe you share it completely anonymously on a forum. But let other people learn from your thoughts, and allow them to connect back with you. You will both be helped by it.

So this is my small way of sharing with you. You can use this with #NaPoWriMo or #CampNano or on your own, day by day, or when you feel moved. I hope you find this helpful and I hope you also know that you are helpful. 

These are some of the prompts that I created for my students. I’ll post a prompt a day and you’ll find a little sneak peak below. I hope that you can use them to be helpful, to yourself and to others. I hope that you can use them to share your fears, your hopes, and your thoughts. And most of all, I hope you can use them to connect. 

Thank you for connecting with me by reading this <3

#writethepandemic

  1. Create a written collage.
  2. Write about the pandemic through a child’s eyes.
  3. Write about your setting and how it is affecting your experience of the coronavirus.
  4. Interview someone about their daily living experiences in the time of COVID-19.
  5. Describe in great detail one thing you are taking comfort in.
  6. Compare and contrast a historical epidemic and the one you face today.
  7. Describe in detail what is happening outside your window right now.
  8. Write about someone who is helping.
  9. Write about how your setting has changed in recent weeks.
  10. Go outside and write a haibun.
  11. Write about a character who thrives during the pandemic.
  12. Write in detail about one small thing you are particularly grateful for right now.
  13. Rewrite a piece of writing that you wrote before COVID-19 began.
  14. Describe in detail one small, concrete change in your world in recent weeks.
  15. Look at your fears upside down to find keywords to use in your writing.
  16. Find at least one other person to create a piece of writing with.
  17. Write a letter to yourself 3 months ago
  18. Write about a character for whom the pandemic is a plot twist.
  19. Tell the story of an image that has left a lasting impression on you.
  20. Write a conversation in which someone quells your fears. 
  21. Create an erasure of a text having to do with the coronavirus.
  22. Respond line by line to a poem that resonates with you in these times.
  23. Write a detailed description of your current daily life.
  24. Write in detail about a place you cannot be right now. 
  25. Create a piece of writing based around found words and phrases. 
  26. Write a difficult conversation that you have had or should have. 
  27. Write a story in which a good-news headline is the catalyst for the plot. 
  28. Write about someone more affected by COVID-19 than you are. 
  29. Bring a piece of art about the pandemic to life. 
  30. Write about a new connection in recent weeks.

Shelter and Write Prompt 30: New Connections

Write about a new connection being made because of COVID-19. This might be an essay or poem about your real life experience, or you can create a story of a fictional connection.

What new connections have been made because of COVID-19? This could be connections with others, connections with yourself, connections with a place, etc. Write the story of this connection. How did it come to be? Why is it important? What are the possibilities of where this connection will go?

This post is part of a series I am doing that includes 30 prompts for 30 days of sheltering at home. You can read more about my reasoning and also find other prompts here. I would love to see what you come up with. Feel free to share here or to tag your work #shelterandwrite.

Shelter and Write Prompt 29: Ekphrasis

Find a work of visual art about COVID-19 that moves you. You could consider these works of street art. It could be a photograph from the news. It could even be a meme, a cartoon, or anything visual that you might tie to the pandemic. 

Write a piece in which this work of art comes to life. Describe the art for us in detail. What is the context of the visual moment that you see? Who are the people depicted? Who is behind the art? Why did you choose this piece, and why is it evocative to you? What does this image not show?

This post is part of a series I am doing that includes 30 prompts for 30 days of sheltering at home. You can read more about my reasoning and also find other prompts here. I would love to see what you come up with. Feel free to share here or to tag your work #shelterandwrite.

Shelter and Write Prompt 28: Thinking of Others

Write about someone who is affected by COVID-19 in a very different way than you are. You could imagine someone fictional or write about someone you know. You could even imagine what it is like to be someone whose story you have heard but you do not know personally.

Who is this person? What was life like for them before? How has the epidemic changed their life? What happens to them? What conflict and crisis comes up for them because of the pandemic? How do they respond to it? What is the resolution? How does the experience change them as a person?

This post is part of a series I am doing that includes 30 prompts for 30 days of sheltering at home. You can read more about my reasoning and also find other prompts here. I would love to see what you come up with. Feel free to share here or to tag your work #shelterandwrite.

Shelter and Write Prompt 27: Good News

Find a headline or story that is good news. It might be the way that neighbors are helping each other. It might be the hope that our society comes out of the pandemic better in some ways. Maybe it’s a positive scientific discovery, or a very small silver lining in otherwise difficult times. 

Write a story, essay, or poem that is based on this good news. Maybe you dive deep into the possible implications, or imagine that all neighbors were helping. What happens when this headline explodes into goodness, and changes the course of everything?

This post is part of a series I am doing that includes 30 prompts for 30 days of sheltering at home. You can read more about my reasoning and also find other prompts here. I would love to see what you come up with. Feel free to share here or to tag your work #shelterandwrite.

Shelter and Write Prompt 26: Difficult Dialogue

Being in the midst of a global pandemic makes us think different about the ways we communicate. Some people are feeling that life is fleeting, so they feel the need to get things off their chest before it is too late. Others are working on keeping people better informed, while still others are trying to maintain relationships at a distance.

Think about something that needs to be said. Write out this difficult conversation. This could be a conversation you’ve actually had, or one that you have been wanting to have. It could also be a fictional conversation between characters. 

What needs to be said? How does the other person respond? Does this conversation resolve anything? Or exacerbate anything? What’s the context and the subtext of this conversation? What are the things that cannot be said? 

This post is part of a series I am doing that includes 30 prompts for 30 days of sheltering at home. You can read more about my reasoning and also find other prompts here. I would love to see what you come up with. Feel free to share here or to tag your work #shelterandwrite.

Shelter and Write Prompt 25: Found Phrases

Over the next few days, collect the words and phrases that stand out to you. There are a lot of phrases that have come into the recent zeitgeist: “new normal,” “flatten the curve,” and “social distance,” to name a few. You might also consider using quotes from news articles, survivors, politicians, or friends. What are people around you saying? What do you hear on the TV? What are the headlines, or the things you are reading on your feed? 

Take some time to make note of the ones that really strike a chord with you. Create a piece based on these phrases. For fiction, you could start with one of those as your first line. Or your last. You could try to use them all in a poem, or reflect on the underlying meaning of each one in an essay. One great example is Jessica Salfia’s The First Line of Emails I’ve Received While Quarantining. 

This post is part of a series I am doing that includes 30 prompts for 30 days of sheltering at home. You can read more about my reasoning and also find other prompts here. I would love to see what you come up with. Feel free to share here or to tag your work #shelterandwrite.

Shelter and Write Prompt 24: Forbidden Places

Think of a place you cannot be right now. Maybe it is with someone you love, or a vacation you were planning, or even just your local hang out. Or perhaps it’s a place you don’t want to be right now. Describe that place in as much detail as possible so that we can experience it along with you. 

What would it be like if you were currently there? Is it good or bad that you cannot be there? What does this place mean to you and what are the repercussions of not being able to be there? What would the repercussions be if you were there?

PS: Like always, you can fictionalize this prompt and use it to get started on a short story. 

This post is part of a series I am doing that includes 30 prompts for 30 days of sheltering at home. You can read more about my reasoning and also find other prompts here. I would love to see what you come up with. Feel free to share here or to tag your work #shelterandwrite.

Shelter and Write Prompt 23: The Structure of Days

Write a detailed description of current daily life. Perhaps you will use your own life as the basis for a poem or essay. Or you could imagine a fictional character trying to get through these uncertain times. 

Start with a schedule. Go into detail. How do days generally unfold now? Are they all similar, like Groundhog Day? Or are they completely unpredictable? What do you notice about the structure of the day?

How has daily life changed? How is it similar? Describe the movements and habits of this person. What do they do right when they wake up? Have eating habits changed? What they wear? Where they go? What is different in the way that the day flows? What do they notice, or not notice anymore? 

This post is part of a series I am doing that includes 30 prompts for 30 days of sheltering at home. You can read more about my reasoning and also find other prompts here. I would love to see what you come up with. Feel free to share here or to tag your work #shelterandwrite.

Shelter and Write Prompt 22: Responding to Inspiration

Find a poem that resonates with you in these times. You could check out these poems chosen by poets from Emory University, these collaborations sponsored by the Poetry Society of New York, or these pieces written by Alaskan writers for 49 Writers. Or perhaps you have recently seen some other piece of writing that spoke to you about what you are going through now. 

Type out the poem and then under each line, write your own response to just that line. It could be one word, a paragraph, or even the start of a story. Continue through the entirety of the poem. Then, delete the original poem so that only your lines are on the page. Use these lines to create your own piece of writing. Perhaps one line sparked an idea for a story or essay. Maybe  delete lines or words, or rearrange them to make a poem. Whatever you choose, use the writing you have done in response to your original chosen piece to create your own, new work.

This post is part of a series I am doing that includes 30 prompts for 30 days of sheltering at home. You can read more about my reasoning and also find other prompts here. I would love to see what you come up with. Feel free to share here or to tag your work #shelterandwrite.

Shelter and Write Prompt 21: Erasure

Find a text about current events that really catches your eye. It could be a news article, a social media post, a poem, or any kind of text, but it’s good to choose something with at least a full page of text so you have a lot of words to choose from. 

Black out sections of the text to create a poem or story with new meaning. This means that you will use only words from the text in the order they are in, but you can erase any part of the text you wish. Check out Sara Adam’s poetry for an example! 

This post is part of a series I am doing that includes 30 prompts for 30 days of sheltering at home. You can read more about my reasoning and also find other prompts here. I would love to see what you come up with. Feel free to share here or to tag your work #shelterandwrite.