Telling our stories, first to ourselves and then to one another and the world, is a revolutionary act. … It can also lead to love, understanding, transcendence and community.
— Janet Mock
I’m not sure where we’ll all be by the time you read this. Still sheltering-in-place, cautiously out and about, or throwing post-pandemic celebrations? This has been an unprecedented time in history, and as we have learned from other landmark world events, the written word is what lasts into the future. We have the diaries, memoirs, letters and stories that take us back to experience history. There are essays from the Reformation, the Renaissance, both the world wars, the Civil War, the Suffragette Movement, the Civil Rights Movement … this is a list that goes on and on (definitely longer than the space of this column). The point? Writing about what is happening now may be a powerful communication to the future.
It is important to write about present events, but difficult, too. It’s hard to find motivation to write through hard times, but think of how diminished our understanding of the impact of Hitler would be if we didn’t have Anne Frank’s diaries to read.
Adopt Anne Frank’s method of writing; write strictly for yourself and without reserve. And like her, if you choose, edit it later for publication (she decided to publish a book based on her diary, and after her death her father took up the editing where his daughter left off). All versions are now published: her complete original diaries, her self-edited pages and the version her father showed the world.
Still not convinced of the importance of time to write? How about this: Writing during difficult times will help you cope with traumatic or difficult events. You may think you are dealing just fine, but anxiety is sneaky. It seeps in and keeps stress burning. Unchecked anxiety compromises your immune system — the last thing anyone needs right now. So do it for others, but mostly, do it for yourself.
Write about your day, what you see, feel, hear, experience. What has changed? What is going on inside your four safe-at-home walls? What about outside? Do you need to venture out? Where? Why? Write about it. Are you an essential worker and forge ahead to help others? What is it like to go out? How does it affect you? What are the streets like? Write about your concerns; pour them out on the page. Remember that sneaky anxiety? Is it whispering about what bad things might happen? Go ahead and list your fears. Uncovering what is behind that squirmy feeling in your chest will help. End your entry by listing ideas of how to help (yourself and/or others) and things you might do to feel more in control.
Writing might be your most important project during these pandemic days, both for your own wellbeing and for others. Right now writing will help you. And you never know whom your writing might inspire in the future.
Kathy Steffen is an award-winning novelist and author of the “Spirit of the River Series:” “First, There is a River,” “Jasper Mountain,” and “Theater of Illusion.” She is grateful to write from her safe-at-home in Spring Green that she shares with her husband and cats. Find out more at www.kathysteffen.com.