How To Chronicle A Crisis

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chronicle a crisis

Writing in the midst of a pandemic can feel strange and overwhelming. Here are some tips to get you started in your attempts to chronicle this crisis.

Greetings from quarantine in New York City. I hope that all of you reading this are staying safe, healthy, and sane.

The gut-punch of COVID-19 turned much of life inside out, and if you’re like me, the practice of writing was no exception. Patterns and processes that worked before the pandemic no longer feel right and words that end up on the page sometimes seem as strange as the circumstances that informed them.

Given how bizarre life has become, none of this is surprising. But it is a matter that needs thoughtful, kind, and effective management. Read on for strategies and practices that have helped keep my writing flowing, even as much of life has stopped in its tracks. I hope they can be helpful to you as well.

Understand the importance of writing right now

This is a weird and unique moment in contemporary history. Any time you can set aside to capture it through words — now, as it’s happening — is time well spent.

Writing can also help you process new changes that the pandemic brings, both seismic and minuscule, and gain some feeling of agency at a time when control feels like a locked-away luxury.

Finally, imagine that you’re looking back on this period five or ten or thirty years from now. What about today’s troubling reality would you want preserved through text? Write that, now.

Throw preconceptions out the window

Do you normally write vegan cookbooks but, given the zeitgeist of the moment, feel compelled to channel Dan Poblocki and craft horror stories for kids? Do it.

Are you halfway through writing a work of historical fiction about J. Edgar Hoover’s G-Men, but instead feel comforted sculpting haiku about your favorite candy bars? Go for it and enjoy.

In such unusual times, forget all preconceptions about what you “should” be writing and make your art as unusual and unexpected as it needs to be.

Give yourself space to find a new routine

Hundreds of millions have had their everyday lives distorted by COVID-19, and the countless structures and routines that form the skeletons of our days have had to be rebuilt. Your writing process needs to adjust as well.

Even if you used to be most prolific after coffee in the early morning, you can start writing at twilight if that’s what gets words on a page. And if you find yourself inspired to write by candlelight, using a quill and ink you found in your basement, go with it. Does scrawling prose on your bedroom wall at 3 am spark your creativity? You can always take a photo and paint over it later.

In short, write what you can, when you can, however you can. All bets are off right now, so experiment and try to have as much fun as circumstances will allow.

Focus on snapshots of your own experience

When writing about something as huge as a global pandemic, it’s easy to want to document every detail and data point. Don’t bother and don’t get overwhelmed. While most of us are not trained statisticians, epidemiologists, sociologists, or economists, we are experts in our own reality, and that’s what we need to be writing about now.

How has the view out your window changed over the course of the pandemic? The lives of your friends and family? The way you eat, feel, and sleep? Your relationship with your cat? These are the nuggets of reality that you can document better than anyone else and each snapshot you take of your everyday reality in the time of Coronavirus will carry more truth about the state of the world right now than you may realize.

Don’t shy away from crisis-related fiction

In my recent post on world-building, I suggested that writers create a fictional world where just one aspect of everyday reality has shifted — as in Tom Perrotta’s The Leftovers, where millions of people simply vanish without explanation, or a zombie novel, where everything is normal, save the fact that the dead have risen and are eating brains.

Well, like it or not, we live in a similarly shifted reality right now.

When it comes to writing stories, consider placing a fictional character within the current reality, or what you imagine the current reality could become. In other words, a fresh, challenging, messed-up world has essentially just manifested around us — so what will your characters do within it? Sit down, write, and find out.

Loop your emotions

Last year, I wrote about the concept of looping emotions into music-making for the Disc Makers Blog. The same advice applies to writers, especially now.

The concept is simple — whatever you may be feeling at any given moment, try to capture something of that emotion in what you write. As I said in the Disc Makers article, it never needs to be a literal transfer — in other words, if you’re feeling depressed about Coronavirus, that doesn’t mean the character you’re writing needs to feel depressed, too. What it does mean is that you try to find some way of bottling the intensity, energy, or texture of what you’re personally experiencing and pour some of that authentic humanity into whatever you write.

Speaking for myself, I work on my current novel-in-progress (first written about in “The Accidental Novelist – How Stolen Moments Can Make A Book“) at night right before going to bed, when my head is full of the emotions of the day. It’s rare for my characters’ feelings to directly intersect with my own, but it doesn’t matter. The act of looping my own emotions into their struggles and joys is cathartic.

Just get it down

This is no time to feel self-conscious, so do your best to put your internal critic into long-term hibernation. If you’re channeling large amounts of emotion, the priority should be to get that on paper or screen as raw and pure as possible. To be clear — unless you’re writing for a client or publication with specific guidelines, what you create does not need to meet any external standard. It just has to be honest.

How are you approaching writing under global lockdown — and do you have any advice to share? Tell us in the comments below.

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Related Posts
Building Worlds That Captivate Readers
The Accidental Novelist – How Stolen Moments Can Make A Book
Meet Middle Grade Horror Master, Dan Poblocki
How to find inspiration
How Disc Makers Is Helping Combat COVID-19

7 COMMENTS

  1. “Anatomy of an Aftermath: Super Storm Sandy” evolved from a year’s worth of weekly columns I wrote for New York’s oldest weekly, The Wave. I was the Editorial Cartoonist for the paper and volunteered to note my observations, as well as cull stories and tales of people’s experiences in my neighborhood, Rockaway, New York. I photographed the broken houses dangling precariously over the beach, the staircase leading to nowhere, the fire engines’ glaring neon lights. A photographer friend volunteered his masterful shots of the ominous waves, the mountains of debris in the Riis Park parking lot. I intend to publish this short book in 2022, on the tenth anniversary of this disastrous hurricane that devastated our peninsula.

  2. I have log where I capture news events what I consider important. I start a new log each week. So far, I have twenty weeks. When I write, I can now look back at each week and know that was important then. Reading my log know gives me greater insight into the impact the virus has on society and activities. I know when toilet paper was important, when the stock market crashed and when people paraded in cars.

  3. I am a newbie to the field of writing so I was totally unprepared not to be able to just jump in and use my newly found open schedule. I found concentration impossible and the self-loathing mounting because I have deadlines and projects that simply MUST be addressed. Finally, I realized that this series of catastrophic events…the threat of illness for me and my family with several essential workers in it, my teenager roaming about grieving for the upheaval in her life and the removal of her eventful activities in sports at a time when scouts are beginning to contact her, schedules and needs colliding while we are now “on top of each other” in a small apartment…the list goes on! I finally realized I first had to step back and grieve myself for the upheaval in my emotions, physical wellbeing, exercise of faith and summoning of my resolve to write and not allow Covid-19 to dictate my goals, schedule, or outlook any more than necessary. I learned that I had to ALLOW these things to settle before I could take a rational look at how my own ability to sit down to my desk could happen. I stopped being hard on myself and began to shower, dress like I’m going to an office (I AM…in my Livingroom office space). It felt good to be in charge of things again.

  4. I am writing an essay dealing with Covid’s evil to the almighty dollar. My father use to say, “all wars are about money.” This is a true statement. I firmly believe the virus was allowed to infect the world deliberately by the communist leadership in China. My reasons being: China didn’t tell the world about the virus for two weeks after the outbreak in Wuhan. They arrested several doctors and scientists who wanted to warn the world. They allowed infected people to fly all over the world. A question fro all is, was China angry that President Trump made them begin paying their fare share in the trade agreement that was negotiated? Comments welcomed!

  5. My writing journey during this pandemic began with the Cruise we didn’t have to New Caledonia. The should we, shouldn’t we scenario morphed into a cruise cancelled. I was overjoyed! Ironically, we very day we should have been sailing, the first Corona Case occurred at our destination. We ignored travel-only-if-necessary advice and did a tour of Northern NSW. met people from a World Cruise, dumped off at Sydney, taking an Aussie trip instead. Restaurants wee still open. Museums closed at Port Macquarie. The River Cruise cancelled. At Port Stephens, seven harbour cruises had been reduced to one. Tourist Buses an extinct species. The day after arriving back in Sydney, lock-down laws began. Borders closed. The Ruby Princes disaster unfolded. My journal continues with snippets on the Potus Catastrophe and inaction. Aspects which will be of interest to future generations wondering about this historical period. Aspects of the Spanish Flu epidemic. Quirky additions like the killer wasps invading the US, Their faces look like something from Outer Space. A series of poems are emerging on various aspects of th Covid=19 Crisis, also some prose impressions. I’m almost up to 17,000 words, and counting. Including the latest trade spat with China, doubtless engendered by Trump’s attempts to turn blame for his ineptitude onto China, and our Politicians parroting his foolish nonsense at a time when the world should be unified, not looking for scapegoats.

  6. This is about my third year of sheltering in place, as i have electromagnetic sensitivity. I can’t go shopping or to concerts or wine with friends or belly up to a bar anymore…I am cloistered due the the proliferation of wireless. So when i hear how difficult others are having with ‘sheltering in place’, i am able to empathize. Last year i wrote about the experience, with living cloistered, and sleeping in faraday cages. Having written journals for my whole life made things rather easy, and i put my emails, journals and letters into my book called ‘ALL EMF*d UP’. Wrote it in 6 months. Thank G for my computer (wired) or my fingers would be raw. BookBaby was a huge help. Thank you so much for all of your suggestions and support. Appreciated.

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