Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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March 18, 2020

Telling Stories in Times of Crisis

Julie Glover


Whatever we'd originally planned to post today, it seemed like we should take a breather and just admit our current reality: COVID-19 has created unprecedented consequences and challenges.

It's rough out there.

As of this writing, the World Health Organization's latest situation report includes 179,112 confirmed cases and 7,426 deaths. The outbreak map looks like this:

CDC, March 16, 2020

Not to mention that Tom Hanks and Idris Elba have both tested positive. The madness!

Gone from our daily lives are many activities we counted on to provide for, support, and entertain us.

Some of y'all have been seriously impacted with income difficulties, family concerns, and personal anxiety. Here at Writers in the Storm, we want to give you a big, online hug. Socially distanced, of course.

When in crisis...

As Lisa Cron laid out beautifully in her book, our brains are wired for story. We craft stories to make sense of the world around us, learn from our experiences, and form plans for the future.

Stories are powerful.

Go on any social media platform right now, and you'll find people sharing their stories about how things are going. Or making up stories of how's it going, to evoke empathy or laughter. #QuarantineLife was trending on Twitter, as folks shared their newfound realities. And did so with real creativity!

No, I have no idea who those people are, but those are stories about how it's going. And others are intrigued by them.

Then there are those who turn to story to explain what's happening right now. Whether it's studying historical events like the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 or the SARS outbreak of 2003, or finally reading or watching such fictional pandemic stories as Stephen King's The Stand novel or Steven Soderbergh's Contagion film, people look for comparisons. Some comparisons work, some don't, but we use them to help us tell today's story.

It's something to do.

Of course, plenty of people whose lives have been disrupted find comfort in stories as simply something to do.

More people are binging shows on Netflix, Amazon Prime, and other streaming networks. Readers are pulling books off their to-be-read piles and finally diving in or downloading new reads on their phones and tablets.

Someone out there who's been wanting to write a novel since forever is finally putting pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, and turning out a word count they couldn't manage before. If that's you reading this post right now, good for you! After all, in case you hadn't heard, William Shakespeare wrote King Lear while in quarantine.

Though I'm with author Lauren Hough on this one:

It's also a challenge.

But as many people as there are now digging deep into stories, a number of writers just lost their ability to get any work done.

Yes, I see all of you parents who suddenly have preschool or school-aged children under foot. Not to mention those working overtime in healthcare or caring for someone who's sick. And those who got caught away from home when the travel bans hit.

Forget word count. You just want some semblance of normalcy!

Your work of fiction has been replaced by your personal story of upheaval. Believe me when I say the WITS team is pulling for you to have a happy ending.

Whatever your situation, we invite you to tell your story here. That's what we as humans do in everyday life, but especially in crisis: we craft and share stories.

Let us know what's going on since COVID-19 altered your life or tell us an exaggerated or fictional tale that connects or cheers us up in the face of difficulty. What's your story?

Julie Glover has oddly experienced little disruption lately—being a committed introvert, empty-nester, and self-employed writer. As a Gen Xer, she was mentally prepared for apocalyptic events by movies like War Games, Red Dawn, and Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. Though she really thought it would be the rise of the machines, not a virus, that eventually closed restaurants and bars. Anyway...

If you need something awesome to read right now, check out her YA contemporary novel, SHARING HUNTER, which finaled in the 2015 RWA® Golden Heart® and is now on sale!

21 comments on “Telling Stories in Times of Crisis”

  1. I'm in the "you're old" demographic. I chose to cancel my hair appointment for today. That's a 'luxury' service and not worth risking coming in contact with someone who doesn't know she (or he--unisex salon) is carrying the virus. It's laundry day. It's 'empty the wastebaskets and put the garbage at the curb' day. This evening's yoga has been cancelled. Otherwise, this is just a typical Wednesday.
    As a writer, my life has changed very little. I live in a rural neighborhood, spend most of my days at home anyway. I can go for walks with the dog, and spend time with my characters, just like always.
    My stress level is higher, but that's more from the way this pandemic was handled from the start and the stupidity of people denying that it's something to be concerned about than it is concern that I'll get sick.

    1. I've wondered about salons, and judging by the emails I've been getting from the place where I get a massage, I suspect they're losing a lot of money right now. But better safe than sorry! I can double up on services later maybe. But wise decision to stay home, Terry. Take care! And enjoy your writing.

    2. I love your happy quiet Wednesday life, Terry. But I'm sorry you missed your hair appointment! I've needed to get my hair cut for 3 months and it's likely it won't happen for another 3 months at this point!

  2. In between the long stretches of hysteria, there are moments of stopping to simply live in the moment. One small story, among many: I brought my car in for an oil change today. It was due soon, and I found myself wondering just how long the little shop I go to would remain open. I discovered the place about six months ago, one of those mom-and-pop places—literally, because everyone is related. Instead of just picking up my car when it was done and zooming off to my next appointment (after wiping the steering wheel and door handles, of course), I took the time to chat with the owner and his daughter, who works behind the desk. We shared out concerns, got to know each other. One of those small gifts that wouldn't have happened two weeks ago. So there's that kind of change because of the virus, along with all the fears and cancellations ....

    1. Yes, there is a "we're all in this together" spirit out there! I had a very interesting conversation with the mailman behind the post office counter the other day that I wouldn't have had but for COVID-19 and the Nitrile gloves we were both wearing.

  3. My favorite was Jane Austen wrote Clueless during an epidemic. lol

    My state was one of the first to react and we have more encompassing restrictions than some, but now a lot more are on par with us. Husband is working from home.

    Middle son is my biggest concern. His school is just on an extended Spring Break and hasn't made a decision--it's supposed to come on April 6. He went on Spring Break--don't judge me. He said he will drive home next week. He's young and healthy, but I'm aware these twentysomething kids are the ones which can be carriers.

    Youngest was only give a book, ONE book, to read. Now they're finally trying to assess who has online access before doing online instruction. You would think they would just gather this information to have on hand for any reason at the beginning of the academic year. (yes, I'm being judgy.) But, we do live in the digital age, and our state has one of the highest academic performance records nationally.

    As for me, I'm trying to finish edits, but having my husband underfoot is disturbing my time and mental game. I told him to create an office upstairs yesterday, and he took my advice. By then, it was too late. I did help a friend write a blurb. He will lose that office when the middle returns home. I will also run out of food faster because the middle is a lean eating machine.

    We're healthy (I've had two severe cases of bronchitis since the beginning of the year and have asthma, so I've been social distancing for a few months) and not at risk for losing income--things could be much worse.


    1. The hardest things to quarantine are children, aren't they? We adults are just bebopping on with our stuff for the most part but the kids are already missing school and each other.

    2. I've worried about the 20-year-olds too. (I have two of them.) Mostly, I'm just suggesting they socialize with each other and don't go into places also frequented by older folks for whom the virus would be a much bigger deal. In some ways, though, I think it's easier for them than it would have been for prior generations, because they're used to doing a lot of their socializing online and through text.

      Hang in there! Hope you can eventually work out the office situation and get things done. ♥

  4. I'm in the senior bracket and retired, so sheltering in place with hubby. I've been stuttering along with my writing this week not because of anxiety over these events (actually, the lack of any), but because the scene I'm working on is a difficult one. So, same old. My writer's group has switched from meeting at a coffee shop once a week to doing on-line sprint write-ins and on-line crit groups.This is a good way to involve the whole group who cannot meet on a weekday morning in person. I love how the writing community is coming together to prop up and promote each other in these uncertain times. We'll get through this and I bet a lot more books will be born.

  5. I'm determined to finish writing the second volume in the Pride's Children trilogy (mainstream) while isolated - in a retirement community. We're all staying in our individual apartments (we're all over 65, and many have other pre-existing conditions, so we're talking serious for this age group).

    I'm also blogging about some part of the isolation experiment at this kind of a social community, every day if possible, from the inside, both as a record/document effort and because the perspectives beg to be shared.

    The fact that the meat for last night's dinner was WAY too salty is a problem.

    But my writing will not be interrupted except by me, which brings me back to learning how to block the terrible news and wailing, and just get MY King Lear written.

    Stay safe!

    1. Oh, Alicia, you have extra challenges! Glad they're taking it seriously enough to keep y'all safe. And may your best work emerge in the midst of this struggle! Happy writing.

      1. Hoping that's true. We're settling slowly into a rhythm, and now that we have lines of communication (Zoom) with the kids, and know they're all at home, albeit in three different states, and I'm getting at least a call in to friends and family - the distractions are getting so boringly similar that I can actually ignore them better.

        Stay well.

  6. So, after poo-pooing the TP frenzy, (yes, I said that!) I just celebrated finding a package at our local big box store. Its ridiculous how fast it goes when a large family is stuck at home...

    It's times of real distress (more so than my TP first world issue) that the good in humanity becomes prevalent. Our neighbor alerted me to which store was restocked after delivering cases to shut-ins and nursing homes. I hope to hear stories like these!

    Stay safe, writer peeps!

    1. Lol. I've wondered when we'll need to rationing toilet paper squares here! Actually, it's kind of a good thing that I'm the only female here... Anyway.

      I also love hearing the heartwarming stories in times of crisis. People can be pretty awesome sometimes.

  7. Nice post, Julie. Thanks for helping us writers to share, and for your enduring positive voice. Thank heavens for social media, blogs, Twitter, and all the rest that are keeping us connected. I'm continually uplifted by the positive messages (and humor!) on Twitter, and wish everyone here only the best outcome. Trials like this do tend to put things into perspective. And we're lucky as writers--we have one of the best coping techniques right at our fingertips. So write away!

    1. I have not yet read the post, but I saw that Writers Helping Writers has one about how in times of crisis, we should do what our characters would do. I thought that was great encouragement for us writers, as you say, to tap into our best coping techniques—both through the writing itself and what we learn about overcoming hardship through the stories we write! Thanks, Colleen. Take care of you and yours.

  8. With Covid19 and an abundance of rainy days there in the Midwest it is easy to get discouraged. Though I am choosing to be positive. Covid19 will end someday or we will learn how to treat it. For now I follow a routine, write and catch up on reading. When I do go out I practice precautions and try to remember to thank those at the grocery store and hair salon. However my hair salon closed to day and I will survive. Stay calm and wash your hands.

  9. Eight days ago, my Canadian visitors returned to British Columbia the same day I felt a nasty sore throat coming on. The wife, whom I'll call Judy, volunteers at a nursing home in North Vancouver, and it was a nursing home in North Vancouver where the first Canadian death from the virus occurred, while Judy was here. My symptoms progressed after their departure, to include a cough, a headache, a fever, and sinus pains. One of my daughters, a nurse in Canada, was very concerned. I contacted my doctor last Monday. Not wanting me in his office, he did a telephone interview with me. He thought it was probably a sinus infection, and prescribed antibiotics, but he also wanted me to get a Covid19 test because I had a lot of the symptoms, and possibly Judy had been in contact with a patient.

    Could I get one? Could I even find out where to get one? Or when? Nope. Lots of information on hand-washing and social distancing, but not a single bit of information on testing. So now that I'm feeling on-the-mend, did I have the virus? Or was it a sinus infection? Likely the latter but we'll never know for sure.

    Meanwhile, my husband, who has Parkinson's disease (middle stages) is no longer able to care for me, so I continued to do everything even when sick. Well, to be honest, the housework took a back seat, except for toilets and sinks. We subsisted on left-overs and frozen meals. But the puppy would not be denied attention and play sessions. Kind neighbors took him for walks, and bought us groceries, but it was a long, lonely week. I was too sick to attend to my laptop at all. Even watching tv was painful with my sinuses.

    Coming out the other side, I'm now beginning to catch up with bill-paying, calling friends, and even starting a short story for my grandkids. We are blessed with a comfortable home, a soothing back yard, and wonderful neighbors. The priest from my church called and I'm on the church prayer list. I feel cared-about, and not psychically alone.

    So if you know people who are quarantined, give them a call. Believe me, it helps a lot.

  10. My six-year-old son and I have been “self-isolating” at home since March 16, when he woke up with a cough and a fever. His fever passed but he’s still coughing and we’re both sniffly. It feels like Groundhog Day (the movie), spending every day together, mostly indoors.
    I’ve been keeping a daily journal on my blog and on Medium.com, which I update after he’s asleep each night. My 1st novel rewrite and 2nd novel plotting work have been put aside for now: it’s too hard to focus with him in the house. I will have to come up with a way to get my work done if school is cancelled until September. We’re still waiting to hear about that in British Columbia.
    Also: is this pandemic making anyone else rethink their long-term writing goals? It feels like everything is changing, while at the same time it’s the same everyday. So weird.

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