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Writing Through Uncertainty

United Nations COVID-19 Response on Unsplash: Image created by Laura Makaltses.

Writing can be a partner in coping with “these uncertain times.”

There are many words that could be used to describe the era we are living through right now. It is a disruption of our norms. An upheaval. A time of upset, fear, and turning inward.

But the word that comes up most often, in my experience anyway, is “uncertain.” How many emails have you gotten in the past few months that start with some form of, “In these uncertain times…” We’re hearing it from our doctors, our schools, our grocers, and major retailers alike.

What it boils down to is: no one could have imagined the course that history would take in the past months, and no one knows how to predict where we’ll go from here. The only thing we’re sure of is that the path ahead is uncertain. We don’t know what to expect. We can’t know what to expect. We can only wait for answers to come.

Uncertainty is a precarious place for people to find themselves in. We like to have answers, to have some predictability, and to have some ability to be forward thinking. Fears about our health, economic futures, and safety aside, we’re in a place right now that is uncomfortable for us on unseen emotional levels. For many, some of the discomfort associated with uncertainty could be mitigated by the simple act of writing.

There are different forms of writing, each of which may offer the writer different forms of comfort during these uncertain times.

Fiction

Fiction writing puts the writer in control. He or she is quite literally at the helm, creating people, places, and things and deciding what those people say, what those places look like, and how those things function. In a time when so much is up in the air and out of one’s personal control, it can be therapeutic to engage in a practice that does allow for control.

Fiction writing also offers a bit of a vacation from the present day. Many of us are obsessing over the news right now, immersing ourselves in social media and news outlets to keep up with the latest developments in a constantly-evolving situation. If you can muster the creative energy, fiction writing can give a bit of respite. You can, if you’d like, place yourself on a beach in the Bahamas where there are no worries, or in outer space where your mission is not one of avoiding a virus, but of drilling on Mars.

There are limitless possibilities for where your mind can vacation during an exercise in fiction writing.

Astronaut Photo by Nicolas Lobos on Unsplash

Journaling

Journaling is the act of recording one’s thoughts and impressions, or of exploring an idea and letting it blossom. Journaling is generally non-fiction writing and for most people, it focuses on the self. It is an inward exploration of the human experience. Journaling is seen as a way to boost mindfulness through daily writing practices that drive home the notion that our experiences and our emotions around those experiences are external to us.

Journaling also has the power, particularly in times of tumult, to allow one to reflect on concepts that feel ever-evolving, fleeting, and monumental all at once. As people, we are being thrown into perhaps more processing of information, emotion, and circumstance than we ever have before. A journal can be a steady partner in navigating those waters.

Some find that journaling prompts can be particularly helpful, especially in times when the world seems too big to process. Some useful journaling prompts around uncertainty may be:

  1. What is something that feels particularly uncertain to you right now? What are you unsure will happen or will not happen? Imagine both of those scenarios. What will you feel like if it happens? What will you feel like if it doesn’t? Sometimes, really visualizing the end result of both paths can help us realize that we will be okay no matter what.
  2. What can you control in your life right now? Things may feel very uncertain, but there are a good number of things that you are indeed in control of. When you brush your teeth, what you eat for lunch, when you go to bed, what you read or watch on TV. No matter how mundane they may seem, write them down. Doing so will help you visualize how many things are in your control and may help mitigate the feelings you have that “everything is out of my control.”
  3. What positives does uncertainty bring? Are there things that are disrupted that you’re okay with? Things that you wouldn’t mind if they turned out different than you had assumed they would, before this disruption?

Person journaling Photo by Kaleidico on Unsplash

It’s our hope that “in this uncertain time,” some mindful attention paid to how much writing can be of service to the mind and soul may help you find some peace and inner-quiet at a time when it sometimes feels as though the world is screeching by like a loud train on the train tracks. Writing can be a tool in our toolboxes; a coping mechanism for when we need it the most.

Lauren Harkawik
Author

Lauren Harkawik

Lauren Harkawik is a journalist, essayist, and fiction writer based in Vermont. You can read her writing on her website.

Visit Lauren Harkawik's website