Journaling and writing during COVID-19

Dear Fellow Journalers,

During the Civil War, some soldiers were issued journals and asked to document their war-time experiences. The soldiers were from Wisconsin. Some of the journals survived and can be viewed at the Wisconsin Historical Society which was founded in 1846.

The Society has been chronicling crisis situations beginning in 1830 with the outbreak of malaria at Fort Crawford, the Spanish Flu in 1918 and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s.

One of those who wrote of his experiences was a Col. Rufas Dawes of Mauson WI. He used his journals to not only document his emotions but also to recount battles. He kept a tally of the dead and wounded. One such heart-breaking account reads :”Corporal James Kelly of Company B shot through the heart and mortally wounded.He asked me to tell his parents he died a soldier.”

Based on these letters, the society launched the COVID -19 Journal Project designed so that future generations would better understand the virus effects on every day life.

While COVID -19 is not as violent as the Civil War, it is deadly and has turned  our lives upside down. So many things are different now. So many restrictions.

Write your Story for your future self or your grandchildren. Let them know how you coped. Open your journal now!





Kick start your journal

Dear Fellow Journalers,

This is a unique look at journal writing by Quinn McDonald:


Yesterday, my friend Marit said she was “waving from her journal page to mine,” and I thought, “what a great idea!” Need something to focus on? Need a jumpstart on writing?

This is more than a journal prompt. It’s not a word to write about, it’s a whole technique. And it’s powerful. Let’s get started:

  1. Warm up by focusing on your emotions: Right now, I feel [fill in the blank.] One word may be all you need.

  2. The reason I feel [blank] in 20 words: [describe how you reached this emotion.]

  3. Almost always, someone else is involved in this story about your emotion. Whether you are happy, anxious, excited, or skeptical, most of our emotions are connected to other people, often for reasons we don’t understand.

  4. Use the next page to write a dialog between you and the other person. Writing dialog means you will make things up. That’s fine. You want to figure out a reason for the emotion and what your role is and what the other person’s role is. By putting words in someone else’s mouth (and you know you are doing this), you are resolving old issues, exploring new ways to happiness, or clarifying ideas.

Example: I’m feeling anxious. A friend has asked me to help her in a way that I feel uncomfortable with. I want to help my friend, but I want to hold onto my values.

Q: I’m not sure I can do this, Friend.

F: But it will help John and it will be a big favor to me, too.

Q: I think speaking up at the Writers’ Club and supporting John as another member isn’t a good idea. The club rules say you have to be a published writer, and John isn’t.

F: It’s not about you, Quinn, it’s about getting John into a place where he can find business. And the club is great for that. You’ve gotten business that way. John is a good guy.

Q: I have gotten business from the club. But I was a published writer when I joined. And John isn’t.

F: He writes his own blog, and that’s publishing. You are just afraid he’s a better writer than you.

Q: A blog is not publishing. And I want what’s best for John. But getting him into the club is not in his best interest.

F: What’s wrong with you that you won’t help this friend? Haven’t you needed a hand before?

Q: I’ll be happy to help John in some way that helps John. Being dishonest doesn’t help anyone. Least of all John, if he gets a job he can’t handle.

. . . .the dialog can go on as long as you need it to. In this example, I see my own stubborn character, but also my clarity in not being dishonest. Yes, it’s a small thing, but I can see that if I vouch for John, and he doesn’t do well, the lie I told will be the reason John got in over his head. What I am understanding from this dialog is that my need for approval is pretty big,  not big enough to lie for someone.

Is this the dialog the way it really happened? No, but by making up the other half, I’m giving myself the opportunity to dig into my own emotions in ways that help me see my own motives clearly.

The dialog exercise is a good way to find out more about yourself.

–Quinn McDonald is an explorer in her journal.

10 Tips for writing about your memories

Dear Fellow Journalers,

Memory journaling can be tough. Retrieving a memory is not like opening a document stored on a hard drive or pulling a file folder out of a cabinet. We all “file” our memories but sometimes we embellish the truth of them. We think we’ll remember the depth of feeling we’ve experienced or the way the event unfolded but we don’t – not even close. As we age our memories fade. That’s why memory journaling is important not only for us but for our families. So here are 10 useful tips on writing about your life:

  1. Use memory triggers. Flip through photo albums, greeting cards you’ve received, yearbooks, home movies.

  2. Thoughts and memories match moods. So, if you’re trying to remember your wedding, Don’t write about it when you are sick or upset.

  3. Sometimes if you visit the site of your memory more of the events you are trying to remember will be easier to recall. More often than not, this is not possible. When it is, take advantage. I have tried over the years to revisit my hometown and have discovered many happy memories I’d forgotten. Oh yes, many of the stores on Main Street are different but have you noticed – street names remain the same.

  4. Have you heard of the term “autobiographical memory?” This comprises both memory and general knowledge pertinent only to the individual. If you were to make timelines for each of your “spheres” of your life and list important events such as weddings, graduations, awards, births and deaths etc. your life would be unfolded in front of you.

  5. Pay attention to what’s distinct. Some of our memories are hazy, fragmented or seemingly trivial. Each one, however, make up YOUR life. Even if the memory seems difficult to understand, work with it.

One of my memories concerns the writing of this blog. I had a lot of technical questions and sought help from a new friend. I remember how I was hesitant to admit that my concepts were not completely formed. After contemplating that memory I realized that her gentle guidance helped me form the basis of all my blog writing since then. Now, every time I post an article I think of her and her advice.

  1. Don’t try to remember events from your early childhood. Few of us remember first grade jitters!

  2. Describe events as you remember them. Do the facts match up to how you lived, where you lived and your day to day life as it was then?

  3. Remembering is not like looking at a picture or even watching a video. These are triggers. (See #1). Relieving the memory is a sensory thing. You feel and “see”  and react to the memory. I grew up in a small New England town. I was a “tom boy” and spent my youth climbing trees, riding horses and reading a lot! I also grew up watching western tv shows. I  ‘re-watched an episode of Laramie ( a tv western produced in the early 1960’s) the other day. In the scene, the character’s horse started galloping down a hill. Suddenly I was “transported” back to a dusty corral in New York state. The afternoon Sun was hot on my face and I could feel the perspiration sliding down my shirt. The feel of my horse’s muscles were beneath me, my feet were firmly planted in the stirrups and my instructor ( a crusty old gent) said loudly, “use your legs” and “I don’t want to see daylight between you and that saddle!” I learned how to canter that day and it was a feeling I remember now so vividly.  I was glad I remembered it and could share it.

  4. It’s not to late to start your journal of memories. Your future self will thank you.

  5. Be as honest as you can when writing about your memories. Names of birthday clowns are trivial but dates and names are not.

Final note: This is YOUR life – what are you waiting for?


Pursuit of Happiness- Being Grateful (2)

Dear Fellow Journalers,

Gratitude comes in many forms. When we were kids, our parents, wanting us to be grateful for everything they sacrificed for us, focused on the “stuff”. But as we reflect on this we learned that gratitude is not “stuff”, gratitude is an emotion. When we remember the happy memories of when we received the new bike, book, car etc., then we experienced gratitude.

My mother always insisted that when I received a gift I must write a thank you note. I can remember thinking that a verbal ‘thank you’ was enough, but as I grew older and I received written ‘thank you’ notes, I realized that gratitude expressed verbally or written was a source of happiness for me.

So, how do we pursue gratitude? Here are some things to consider:

  1. Take a Gratitude Break. Some people do this when they first wake up or one of the last things before sleep. One way to articulate gratitude is at the dinner table with  your family.
  2. Be present in your moments. A friend of ours wrote us a brief note of thanks recently. We had invited him and his girlfriend to a Museum event that we enjoyed and he wrote: “Thank you for sharing your present moments with us.”
  3. Scale back. While social media is great, you can totally loose hours while “just checking email and Facebook. I’ll be with you in a few minutes.”  Before you know it, time has slipped away and your dinner is cold and that TV show is over!
  4. Start a Gratitude Journal.  How to do it? Here are some tips:
  •  Write 3 or more things daily in your journal. Avoid repeating the same things. As you challenge yourself to discover new things to be grateful for, you’ll start watching and listening for new gratitude experiences.
  •  It’s easy to list the material things – your home, your car, your phone, but what is hard is why you are grateful for these things. How do you feel about your home? Write about your feelings of security and comfort.
  • In addition to material things, there’s your talents and those things in your life that help you create your world. Start with the basics – your ability to write, see, watch, listen and being a good friend.
  • Write about the people in your life and how they make you feel. It’s easy to write about friends, family but how about that difficult co-worker?
  • Write about situations and events happy times and sad times.

As you write about your Gratitude Moments, you will quickly find that as you continue writing in your journal, your expectations and emotions will become positive and you will certainly be happier.


‘Til next time,


Why journal your goals?

Dear Fellow Journalers,

Growing up, did you ever have a personal coach (think sports) or a mentor (think writing, spiritual) who held you accountable; pushed you to work a little harder and then cheered you on?

A Life Goals Journal, while not a person, can still work to your advantage in much the same way. Your journal can be used to help you identify the things you really want to have or to be in your life and the steps you need to make to achieve them.

How would this work, you ask. Well, first of all you have to think “FUTURE” not past goals or events. So let’s start with one step at a time:

  1. Define your goal. A goal is a general statement about what you want to achieve.

  2. Figure out what you already know and/or have that relates to your goal. Make a list of skills you have and how much time you have to devote to ____.

  3. Brainstorm a list of specific objectives relating to your goal. For instance, a list of resources I need, people to meet.

  4. Put a date of completion next to each objective. Be flexible. Put the dates in your personal calendar also.

  5. Finally, use your journal and your calendar to hold yourself accountable. Hold a weekly “session” with yourself to write about how you’re doing/feeling. If you’re feeling frustrated, explore why and maybe change the objective or time frame. Don’t give up! A newer, better you is just around the bend.

‘Til next time,


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