Taking a little time in this Coronavirus crisis could go a long way toward helping future generations understand what we’re all experiencing these days. One of the simplest ways to do that is to keep a journal or diary of your experiences in these unusual days.
It’s easy to think we’ll just rely on our memories to tell our children and grandchildren about the toilet paper shortages, the first days of working from home, and all the other ways in which our lives have been affected by COVID-19. But memory can be fickle, so maintaining a journal or diary of your experiences can go a long way to keeping the facts straight in the years and decades to come.
It doesn’t take much time to keep a journal. Devote as much time as you want to your project. Ten minutes per day might be enough? Or you might want to spend an hour or more each day putting your thoughts and emotions into words.
You can even turn it into a family affair. Encourage your children to take time each day to write down what they’re going through.
For anyone new to journaling, here are a few tips to keep in mind while writing.
Paper & Pen? Or Online?
Whether you want to physically write in a notebook with pen or pencil, or if you want to keep a digital journal, the choice is yours. Go with whichever option makes your most comfortable.
Paper journals can become cherished family heirlooms. It’s nice to see the person’s words written in their own handwriting. Writing in a notebook with pen or pencil can also make it easier to avoid the temptation to re-write your journal entries. That’s a good thing as it’s best to preserve your words as they were originally written.
On the other hand, typing out your journal on a computer can be faster and easier for some people. Personally, I use Google Docs and keep one document for each day, all placed in a Coronavirus Journal folder. This way, I can add to my journal from any computer. My handwriting also can be difficult to decipher, so a digital version will, no doubt, be more legible in the future.
Cloud storage (like Google Drive or Microsoft OneDrive) might not be for everyone, but you can still keep a digital journal using any standard word-processing software. The trick with offline storage is keeping your file(s) in a place where you can easily find them years or decades later.
You might want to skip the written word entirely and create a series of audio or video recordings to document your experiences. Just like seeing someone’s handwriting can add a personal touch, hearing about the experiences in an audio or video recording can be very powerful, too. I would recommend writing out a minimum outline of what you want to talk about in each of your “entries” just so your thoughts are organized and coherent, and to avoid rambling.
Keep It Simple
Your journal doesn’t have to be overly produced, and you don’t have to be at the front lines of fighting the Coronavirus to have interesting stories to tell.
In many ways, the day-to-day changes can be just as interesting. How are you handling working from home? Are you eating differently? Are you interacting differently with friends and family? What may seem normal and mundane to you may be vastly interesting to future generations.
Don't worry about writing every day. One strategy in journaling is to force yourself to write something every day, if even for only 10 minutes. That may help if you need the motivation. But as long as you stick to it, it’s okay to take a break and write once every two or three days. The important thing is to keep at it -- don’t abandon your project.
Start Sooner Rather Than Later
Don’t procrastinate. The longer you wait, the more your memories of the first few days of this crisis will start to fade or alter.
Start writing today. Your first entry may be a long one, recapping the events of the last few weeks. The sooner you get those memories down on paper (or computer), the more reliable your information will be later.
Include Pictures And Clippings
If you can, incorporate pictures of your experiences. This is particularly easy in a digital journal, but it’s absolutely possible in a handwritten notebook, too.
You might also want to include clippings from your local newspapers or other publications. If you get a card or flyer in the mail with health guidelines or local information, hold onto that. These are the extra things that can make your journal that much more interesting for future generations.
The difference between a mildly interesting journal and one that is truly amazing can be in the details. Did you venture outside for a grocery run? Was the store more or less crowded than normal? Which items were completely (or nearly) out of stock? Were there markings on the floor reminding people to stay six feet away from each other? What else was different?
If you’ve never worked from home before, what did you notice about your home or your neighborhood that you never realized before? Do you find that you’re more or less productive during the day? How have your interactions with your coworkers changed?
Try to incorporate as many specific details as you can in each entry.
Don’t Assume Facts
Professional journalists do not assume things to be true. They talk to experts and witnesses before reporting what’s happening. When writing your own journal, even if you’re not a professional reporter, avoid the temptation to assume things.
Did someone move away from you as you walked down a grocery store aisle? Don’t just assume that they were practicing social distancing. Maybe they were? Maybe they were just trying to get around to an item on a different shelf.
Did the cashier seem unfriendly? Maybe they’re upset about needing to work through this pandemic? Maybe they’re just having a bad day? Maybe that’s just that person’s outward personality?
We can never know what other people are thinking, or why they take the actions that they take. If you do want to write about these theories, be clear in your writing that your perceptions of other people’s thoughts and actions are just that: your perception.
Don’t Change Your Entries
Finally, once you’ve written an entry and are pleased with it, avoid the temptation to go back weeks (or months) later and change it.
Yes, some of the best writing comes from re-writing. So once you’ve finished your entry, re-read it and make sure you’re expressing what you want to express. Do your re-writing immediately.
But then leave it alone. Your future self may want to change things, or soften some language, or remove bits that you no longer think are relevant. Making those kinds of changes days, weeks, or even years later, damages the integrity of your original entries.
If you’re writing with pen and paper, it’s a little harder to completely change passages, so that’s another point in favor of writing by hand.
If you are keeping a digital journal, make a copy of your original work before altering the duplicate. That way you always have your original words, the way your current self intended.