COVID-19 Personal History Initiative: Journaling Prompts

Below are some topics to consider if you're journaling about or otherwise documenting your experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic. New suggestions are added periodically, usually on Fridays.

Hobbies and Activities

loaf of bread in baking pan

July 31, 2020

After the start of NY Pause, when we all realized that our immediate futures included a lot of time at home, a lot of us began to search for ways to keep ourselves busy and pass the time. Some of us started to bake and share our triumphs (and failures) on social media. Some of us tried our hands at a new craft like knitting or embroidery. Some may have even used the time spent home to finally get to those home improvement projects we may have let slide.

If you learned a new hobby or tried your hand at a new activity during NY Pause, you can detail your experiences in your journal. Consider the following when writing:

  • What new hobbies have you discovered?
  • What new activities have you tried?
  • Why did you choose that hobby or activity?
  • Did you have more time to devote to a hobby or activity you already enjoyed?

Art Journaling

handwritten pages with pens and pencils circiling the edges of the paper

July 24, 2020

Art journaling is a way to creatively express yourself using a combination of art and words. It doesn’t need to be complicated or perfect. You don’t need to be an artist to art journal. Spending just fifteen minutes a day jotting down thoughts and drawing, doodling, painting, or however else you’d like to express yourself is a great way to ease into the creative process.

Some ideas to try with art journaling:

  • Create an introduction page and draw a self portrait.
  • Draw a map of any outdoor spaces you may have visited during NY PAUSE.
  • Glue in some headlines from the newspaper and add your thoughts about the stories.
  • Draw or include pictures of your pets and talk about how they handled having their owners home so much.
  • Write a quote or mantra that has inspired you this year and embellish the space around it.

Summer Reading and the PHI

Imagine Your Story

July 17, 2020

A collaboration between the NYSL COVID-19 Personal History Initiative (PHI) and Summer Reading 2020 came together when State Library colleagues recognized the strong connection between young people documenting their personal history during the pandemic and the 2020 Summer Reading theme of folklore and fairy tales and telling your own story. Learn more about projects kids can do to document their experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Keeping List

July 10, 2020

Creating a list is a quick way to organize your thoughts and fill a blank page. Lists may be finite or you can continue adding to them as you think of new things. You could fill an entire journal with lists or you may use lists to springboard into other, longer journal entries.

Some ideas for lists include

  • An hourly log of your daily routine or a weekly log of your activities
  • The top books, music, movies, television shows, and/or other media you've enjoyed most during the first part of 2020
  • A list of your accomplishments so far this year, big or small
  • The most valuable life lessons you've learned
  • Your goals for the rest of 2020

Letter to Yourself

Two thank you notecards and a pen

June 25, 2020

A common journaling exercise is to write a letter to yourself. It allows you a moment to think about where you are in your life, how you’ve gotten there and where you hope to be. If you find that you’re facing a blank page and aren’t sure what to write, consider composing a letter to yourself.

  • Letter to your past self: When writing a letter to your past self, think about where you were when the news of COVID-19 first appeared. What advice would present-day you tell past you? Are there any pitfalls you experienced that you would warn yourself about? What moments would you tell your past self to cherish most?

  • Letter to your future self: When writing a letter to your future self, think about everything you’ve gone through so far regarding COVID-19. What would you like your future self to remember about this time? What do you hope the world looks like for your future self? What lessons do you want your future self to have learned by living through this moment in history?

Expressing Yourself Through Poetry

June 17, 2020

Words redacted from a paragraph to create a new narrativeSome people may find it daunting to record their thoughts in long prose but poetry can offer a creative outlet to express thoughts and experiences.

Poetry as a way of recording historical moments has a long tradition. Some examples include “Million Man March Poem” by Maya Angelou and “Will V-Day Be Me-Day Too?” by Langston Hughes. Both poems highlight a moment in time and the authors’ thoughts about what that moment means to them as well as what those moments mean in a larger context.

There are many ways to write poems. Short or long, serious or light-hearted, poetry is a flexible art form. Your journal could be all poems or you may wish to sprinkle them in as inspiration hits.

One way you can try creating a poem is through blackout poetry. Cut out an article from a newspaper or magazine and use a pen or marker to black out all the words except the ones you want to be the text of your poem.

sign in Empire State Plaza: NY Forward/ Returning to Work/ Proper PPE for Lobbies and Common Areas

Going Back to Work

June 12, 2020

This month as New York starts to re-open many of us are heading back to our offices and workspaces after two or three months of telecommuting or being furloughed. Most of us are encountering new safety measures, reduced staffing, and desks that seem like time capsules from the last time we saw them.

As we start this phase of re-opening some things you may wish to document in your journal are:

  • What, if anything, has changed for you at work?
  • How do you feel about going back to your workplace? Is it stressful or are you happy to get out of the house?
  • What did you miss most about your workplace?
  • What is something you'll miss about telecommuting?

The Personal History Initiative Is for Everyone

June 5, 2020

Trans pride flag, consisting of five horizontal stripes in, from top to bottom, light blue, pink, white, pink and light blue.

For future historians to know and understand this time in history it is vital that every voice possible is included. This is especially true for historically unheard voices. Your perspective is needed, your voice is important, your experiences will show a fuller picture of life in New York at this time.

Marsha P. Johnson (1945-1992) is a clear example of someone who represents several historically unheard groups. A black transgender woman who dealt with mental health issues and was economically disadvantaged, Marsha was an outspoken gay liberation and AIDS activist who protested in the vanguard at the Stonewall riots in 1969. Following Stonewall Marsha and her friend Sylvia Rivera founded Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), an organization which sought to help homeless gay youth. Marsha was also a member of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP), a group working to end the AIDS pandemic.

Though well known in her community, Marsha's legacy of kindness, caring, and wit coupled with fierceness and tenacity for the people and causes she loved went largely unrecognized in the wider world for a long time following her death. Thankfully her friends continued to tell her story, to highlight Marsha's work in and contributions to gay rights causes. Her legacy of advocacy has been recognized by those outside her community and her efforts celebrated more widely.

History is richer when it includes as many perspectives as possible. Please consider contributing your story.

Social Media as a Starting Point

hand holding a cell phone showing social media icons

May 29, 2020

When the COVID-19 pandemic started to spread throughout the world and eventually came to New York not everyone began to create a journal of their thoughts. However, many of us did turn to our various social media accounts. We raised questions and concerns. We shared our worries and, as time went on, our creative solutions to quickly changing situations. We posted pictures of new working environments, our furry co-workers, our changing routines, anything we thought worth sharing. All of this is a place to begin your journal or add to an existing journal.

You can look back on your old posts, write down noteworthy thoughts in a journal, take screenshots and include them in a digital journal, or even print or organize images you've shared. Knowing what you know now you may wish to respond to your posts, adding to and expanding your initial thoughts. Have things gone the way you thought they might? How different do you feel now compared to when you first posted about the pandemic?

Getting Started

May 22, 2020

These questions were originally suggested as prompts to get children started on a journal, but they could serve as prompts for adults as well:

  • How did you feel today?
  • What has been your favorite/least favorite thing about staying home?
  • What questions do you have?
  • What would you like to change? What would you like to stay the same?

Empty Spaces

empty parking lot in front of Regal Cinema (Clifton Park, NY)

May 11, 2020

As you record different changes you notice in your everyday life, also think about the places you went to before the pandemic. What do some of those places look like now? Maybe you see a movie theater with empty parking spaces, a shuttered storefront, an empty restaurant, or quiet streets that once teemed with people shopping or patronizing restaurants and bars. What has caught your eye or caused you to pause and think about the time before and what may change in the future?

The Importance of Community

fabric mask, scissors, pin cushion and other sewing supplies on a cutting mat.

May 1, 2020

In these uncertain times, with so many people feeling isolated under stay-at-home orders, community has become an important part of how New Yorkers are coping with the COVID-19 crisis. Individuals are doing their part to serve their community by making masks, donating food and money to those in greater need, and generally coming together through online channels and social media to organize relief efforts, big or small.

As you document your experiences, think about ways that your community has been supportive during NY's PAUSE period. What has someone in your community done for you to make this difficult time a little bit easier? What have you done to aid your friends and neighbors who may be struggling?

Last Updated: July 30, 2020