How to Write in a Pandemic
When, in January, I agreed to write this blog post, I thought I knew what I would have to say to teachers and students about writing, and my life as an author. I’ve written a lot of posts like this in the past, and I try to keep them distinct, but the truth is that I end up circling back to the same ideas a lot. I often talk about the importance of boredom in the creative process, or how I began writing as a kid because my life was kind of hard, and writing was a way OUT of the bad days. I talk a lot about the importance of disconnecting from technology, so that our brains have a chance to get quiet. And I talk about failure, how important I think it is to accept that being an artist means failing a little better every day. I have plenty of subjects I like to revisit…
So, yeah, I wasn’t nervous about writing this post in January. I had things to say that I’d said before. Things I knew how to say. Things I believed to be true. No problem. I knew I could figure something out.
Then the world changed.
Our lives and habits and homes and families turned upside down. So now I’m sitting here, trying to think of what I can tell people that makes sense, in light of the pandemic gripping our planet. Who am I to tell bored kids, stuck at home day after day, to embrace that boredom? Who am I to tell them to set down the video games and laptops and iPads that connect them to their friends, and read poetry instead? Who am I to imagine I know anything about what anyone else is going through, as they attempt to attend school at home, while their parents work in the background (if they are lucky enough to still have jobs), and (maybe) a toddler screams for more Elmo? Or if, God forbid, they’re already in mourning?
So yeah, I found it hard to sit down and type this post. I found it impossible to be instructive, to sound authoritative, to imagine that the particular experiences that I, Laurel Snyder, have had… would mean anything to anyone right now. It just felt wrong.
But do you know what I realized? That my own sense of inadequacy is a really good argument for YOU writing. For everyone writing. Most especially kids.
This is a moment that calls for writing as a record. Because this—what is happening right now, today—is historic. And while each afternoon may feel dull or tired or just like yesterday, we will absolutely need YOUR stories, documents that will help us all remember and reflect on what this very weird year was like.
If you are scared, write about being scared. If you are bored, write about being bored. If you are tired of your brother’s annoying screechy YouTube channel in the next room, tell the world that story. And if you are desperately craving a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Sundae, write about how good it would taste. Those details are what the future will want to know, believe it or not. The tiny things that made each day feel real.
Have you ever watched a documentary? Maybe with your parents, or in school? If you have, maybe you remember that at some point in the movie, you perked up and paid closer attention, because suddenly there was a voice speaking that sounded like you, like a KID. Because someone had found an old letter, or a diary, and the details of what that KID had to say were different than all the things the grownups bothered to write down. They talked about their favorite candy, or their uncomfortable dress clothes or their itchy long underwear, and you thought, “Ha, yeah, that sounds familiar!”
The truth is that, for much of history, kids got left out of most storytelling. Which means that what we know about the children of the past are mostly the recollections of adults, trying to reach back in time, or to guess about the thoughts and feelings of the children around them. But of course, most grownups see the world differently from kids, and that is why it’s so important that you record your voice. Tell your story. So that in ten or twenty or a hundred or a thousand years, people will be able to look back and know what it was like in the Pandemic of 2020, for someone like you. What it was really like.
Beyond that, write about the things this moment is decidedly NOT. Write about the places it takes you in your dreams at night, your imaginary games, your flights of fancy. Build worlds of your own, invent people to talk to. Reach beyond your current moment, and down deep into what you have always carried inside yourself. The physical limitations of this pandemic have no power over your imagination, where you can wander anywhere you like.
How you choose to tell your story is up to you! Write it with a pencil or type it in word document. Take pictures for an Instagram post, or paint it with watercolors, or write a song and share it online (with a grownup’s permission, of course). But do it. Please?
I say this to you, as an author of books for children, as someone who strives to remember childhood, and spends lots of time with kids. As someone who has a dollhouse in her “office.” There are stories that only YOU can tell. No author or parent or any other kind of grownup can capture this strange year as you can, or imagine what might spring from it.
So we need to hear that from you.
Laurel Snyder is the author of many books for children, including middle grade novels, picture books, and the Charlie and Mouse early chapter book series. You can find her online at http://laurelsnyder.com or on Twitter: @laurelsnyder.
This giveaway is for a copy of Charlie & Mouse Outdoors. Many thanks to Chronicle Books for donating a copy for one reader. For a chance to win this copy of Charlie & Mouse Outdoors, please leave a comment about this post by Friday, May 22nd at 11:59 p.m. EDT. Stacey Shubitz will use a random number generator to pick the winner, whose name she will announce at the bottom of this post, by Tueday, May 26th. You must have a U.S. mailing address to enter the giveaway. Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment, so Stacey can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win. NOTE: There may be a shipping delay due to shipping-related issues caused by the novel coronavirus. If you are the winner of the book, Stacey will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS – SNYDER. Please respond to her e-mail with your mailing address within five days of receipt. A new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.
Comments are now closed. Roselinda Ponce is the winner of today’s giveaway.