No, Your Quarantine Journal Doesn’t Have to be Future Source Material

How to let go of writing for an imaginary audience.

When Shelter in Place began, I heard a lot of variations on the following:

“Write everything down during this time- historians might reference it in the future”

“Keep a journal so you can share what happened with your grandchildren someday”

As a person who enjoys daily writing, at first, this idea appealed to me. Here was the chance for all of my writing to pay off! My writing could be important and help future researchers!

But after a couple of days, I realized I wasn’t enjoying my writing as much anymore. I would sit down for my daily routine but found myself second-guessing myself. I would start to write something but then would pause and think something like —

“Does this sound thoughtful enough? Am I capturing the weightiness of the situation?”

“Oh, I shouldn’t mention that – that is such a generic everyday problem and doesn’t even have anything to do with the pandemic”

When I really noticed these thoughts, I realized the problem:

My journaling, which had always been a form of self-expression for me, had become performative.

By giving myself the audience of “future researchers” I no longer felt free to write at will. I was pre-judging my thoughts, which stopped me from being able to truly process them. I felt like I needed to write like “someone in quarantine” would write, instead of just writing like myself.

So I decided to let this vision of my journal becoming a historical source material go. And I let myself journal about whatever I needed to express or work through that day. While my daily struggles or worries might not be absolutely fascinating to a future audience, they were important to me, and this helped me find my journaling rhythm again.

So if you find yourself struggling to write when you sit down to journal, I encourage you to also let go of any visions of a future audience. This is a challenging time for many people, and journaling can be an extremely cathartic way to process your emotions and stress. You don’t need the pressure of making your journal perfect. Because our journals are a reflection of us and well, spoiler alert, none of us are perfect.

If you still find yourself with writers block, here are some ways to approach journaling instead:

  • Write a letter to your past or future self
  • Make a gratitude list (here are some gratitude journal prompts to inspire you)
  • Set a timer for ten minutes and write every thought that comes to your mind during that time
  • Write a list of your favorite things

We all are struggling with our own and others’ expectations of how we “should” act right now. Don’t let your journaling be another burden of expectations. Let it be a tool for your own processing and growth, whatever that looks like for you.

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