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.

59 thoughts on “Shelter and Write: 30 Journal Prompts for a COVID-19 Quarantine”

  1. Being returned Snowbirds, we’ve been in the manadatory 14-day quarantine since March 23, so far with no symptoms appearing. I’ve used the time to post thoughts and stories on my own blog (margaretghanna.wordpress.com). However, I really like your list of potential topics; if it’s all right with you, I will share them with members of our writing group.

  2. This is exactly what we need: a 30 day prompt. Whether writing, painting, photography, nature journaling, we 1) are making art, 2) have a purpose for 30 days that positively distracts us from the interminable waiting, and 3) connect with others through our posting. Daily activity posted on social media gives something new to look at and something to differentiate our days.

    I have begun to write again–I also am a teacher who has put all her creative energy toward the classroom at the neglect of my art–and I am glad for these prompts. I feel a little like the protagonist of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society when she was keeping up spirits of her readers with her humorous posts during the War.

    I encourage you to keep writing! We have told our students (and school boards) that the Humanities–literature, Music, Art–are necessary for the healthy soul, but now we have the perfect opportunity for us all to experience it firsthand. I would say writing is not a side calling you now can dabble in. I suggest it might be the best way you can serve your community right now!

  3. OMG! I finally found a ‘daily-prompt’ series I can totally jive with. Thank you so much for finding your way in my life. At such a time when I felt like I couldn’t write anymore, and didn’t want to, thank you for the reminder. I’ll get write (geddit? heheh) to it!

  4. Thanks for your wise words – I find I’m writing more than I ever have, freed up by the need to isolate and the time to think. I discovered and joined the NAPoWriMo poetry challenge which has led me to poets the world over – I find joy and purpose in writing and in reading other poets and writers thoughts, like yours.

  5. Awesome writing challenge, now NaPoWriMo is coming to an end I’m tempted to try #writethepandemic for next month… :) keep up the great work.

  6. Hi, I have a question and perhaps I am being a bit lazy because if I spent some time searching I may find the answer on my own. But I will ask. When we respond to your prompts, do we just post them on our own personal blogs or do we share them on yours? Does my question make sense? I am just not sure what to do with the prompt once I respond to it and since you are providing them for us it seems there should be some accountability or connection to you, the source. Thanks for responding.

    1. Hi Patricia! I think what you do with your writing should be up to you, of course. If you want to share it on your blog and then link to it here, maybe we could start some kind of collection of them to share. You could also link back to the main prompt if you wanted to. I’ve also seen people post them on twitter. It’s totally up to you!

  7. Good ideas for writing! I decided not to let this pandemic change my way of life at home. I just don’t go out as much as before. I only watch the morning and evening news! Never watch the talking heads. It is too depressing! I work in and out of the house and enjoy what I always have done.

  8. My experience due to the Rona has been exactly the opposite of most people’s. I isolated beginning in October and started working again with a self-mastery teacher just before lockdown. While we’ve been in isolation, I’ve been living my best life. I kicked out the ex, I’m creating mouth-gasmic food, I’m writing like never before, and I’m painting. I just committed to setting my phone away from me throughout the day and taking intentional breaks to engage on social media etc. I also cleaned and organized – maybe not to newborn sanitized levels, but I have three kids so that is literally just wiping things on my pants or blowing on them now! LOL But my life HAS changed – but differently than most.
    This all being said, I am posting this link to my facebook fan page because I think a LOT of people could use this. Hope to see you around the interwebs! And whatever you’re doing to take care of yourself, there are no mistakes. We all do what is best for US and we are all unique creatures from the same stuff as the stars and god – so do you and be well xoxo

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