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Commit the Past and Present to Paper: Coping in the Age of Covid

Commit the Past and Present to Paper: Coping in the Age of Covid

If ever you intended to keep a journal, now is the time to do it.

If for no other reason than to preserve your sanity.

When you write about your worries, you discharge their power. When you confront the trouble, it transforms. You may even achieve clarity on how to approach an ongoing challenge. Yes, that old notion of catharsis. Choose a framework, like a story. It may be what researchers have called “redemptive narratives.” That happens when you imagine a positive outcome from an otherwise negative scenario.

As a professional writer who usually dreaded beginning the first draft of a story, I often began in the middle, or the part I felt I could tackle, realizing it could shape the beginning and eventually the end. Or I started at the end and worked backward. (In fact, I credit the cut-and-paste function of my computer for enabling me to hold a writing job.)

In a journal, chronology is optional. Stream of consciousness is an effective writing strategy. Note to self: never edit as you write. Grammar, spelling, punctuation—none of it matters in your journal. You’re allowed to repeat words! For now, at least.

We live in frightening times. The journal is your secret place to tell your stories, whether they remain private musings or shared for the sake of posterity. It's your friend over coffee, your confidante.

No question, a blank page is stark. Begin simply: jot down the key points in short order. One sentence will do. In a matter a days, you might write two. And then a paragraph. Just make it a practice, whether over morning coffee, an afternoon break, or before you go to sleep to unpack your buzzing brain.

Sometimes de-stressing and free-writing, in which you write nonstop for a set period of time, regardless of how trite or nonsensical the prose, enables your brain to relax and flow toward something creative or even literary. Yes, you. Sometimes those bullet points can even turn into an impromptu haiku.

Did you know that when Anne Frank wrote her diary, it had been polished as the outcome of multiple drafts? The entries may have begun as the spontaneous flow of daily impressions. But, ultimately, her "Dear Kitty" was a well-crafted document, intended to be read for generations to come. 

An option: a gratitude journal is a valuable daily reminder of what’s good in your world. I’m grateful for so many things—my funny dog, having enough food, a comfortable home, a caring support network. But those are categories, and it’s best to be specific. Keep it close to home. When I see my dog plop down and roll in the grass, uttering small groans of pleasure, I automatically smile. The day’s off to a bright start when I perfectly flip an easy-over egg. A day of sad will turn to glad when a friend offers a treat from the outside world. (I’m self-isolating and don’t shop for myself.) When you remind yourself of the small delights, even when things look pretty bleak, your perspectives usually tilt toward the positive.

So why not just compose on your computer? That’s fine, but perhaps not ideal. Research confirms the cognitive and emotional benefits of writing by hand. The physical process of putting pen to paper enables the mind to seek clarity, find focus, and create calm. Another vote for cursive writing! (For the cursive-challenged, printing is permitted.)

Suffice to say, while we await the next chapter of the looming Apocalypse, use this time to be mindful and write it all down. Observe. Think. Create.  

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