Keep a journal

Recycled composition books available at the bookstore at Johnston Community College in Smithfield – when the campus reopens.

Writers spend a great deal of time in self-isolation. The dark joke is our daily routine already seems like quarantine. I don’t mean to make light of COVID-19. My daughter is a senior medical technologist in Virginia working on the front lines of testing. My small part is keeping myself parked in rural North Carolina to stop the spread.

Until I started crossing through upcoming meetings on my calendar I didn’t realize how much I rely on public places to socialize with others – from senior center and chamber of commerce headquarters, to church and municipal buildings. Cancelling a writers workshop in Selma that was months in the planning was a blow, too.

My only outing now is to walk the dog, but even that can be dispiriting. I took him to the local park and donated books to the little free library at Godwin Park in Pine Level. The next day when my husband walked the dog there, he said the steward had emptied the box and posted a note that no more donations were being taken due to COVID-19. Does that mean blessing boxes at fire stations and churches will be emptied as well? Even the smallest giving gestures seem deadly right now.

So I was feeling sorry for myself, stuck inside, writing an arts grant application, beta reading a fellow writer’s manuscript, listening to an audio book. That is, until I read the newspaper about a guy who spent a whole year not being able to go outside. Outside to him was outer space!

In the March 21 edition of The New York Times, retired NASA astronaut Scott Kelly shared his tips on coping with isolation while spending a year on the International Space Station. Talk about not even being able to walk to the mailbox!

One thing Kelly did was keep a journal.

“I took the time to write about my experiences almost every day,” he said. “Writing about your days will help put your experiences in perspective and let you look back later on what this unique time in history has meant.”

Kelly went on to write a book, based on his journal entries, which he published in 2018.

0322201031b (2)Serendipity! I’ve been facilitating a 12-week Artist’s Way class, which moved from the closed Selma Public Library to home due to COVID-19. The three of us in class (myself – a former business writer, a potter/church assistant and a former mathematician turned nurse) have been keeping journals.

One of the basic tools of The Artist’s Way is to write three pages every morning.

By Week 9, where we are now, one of the tasks is to go back and read our journals, using two colored markers. One marker is to highlight “insights” and the other, “actions needed.” Artist’s Way author Julia Cameron considers the task a valuable map to help guide and increase our creativity.

0322201031I look forward to working on this task today with yellow and orange highlighters. Tomorrow we will share our insights — at a safe distance.

Scott Kelly’s tip is a good one for all of us in these claustrophobic thoroughly rattled times: Keep a journal.

I have a stack of new composition books that I bought for 50 cents each after the back-to-school drive at the local office supply store was over. I give these out whenever I hear someone say, “I’d like to write a book.” And I have the really cool “decomposition” books made from recycled materials that I save for special gifts. There’s no better way to write a book than to just start writing, three pages at a time.

That, and get yourself a well-worn copy of On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King.


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