Creative writing to cope with COVID-19 distancing

By Debora Durnin-Richards, PHEc, M.Ed.

Darn, physical distancing is hard. This business of not being able to gather for family or friendship dinners or celebrations takes a toll on our emotional wellness. Situations such as pandemic social distancing and even normal geographic distances, add disappointment in not being able to meet in-person; not to be able to hug our loved family members and friends.

Even when family and friends understand and accept that we must keep our distance in order to safeguard our own health, young and old, as well as other members of society. Or we have no choice because we live so far apart from one another.

But darn it! We still want to connect with one another!

There are some excellent new technologies that allow decent one-to-one conversations. But for larger groups – not so good for interactions amongst each other.

One option that I participated in recently is ‘collaborative story telling’. Instead of gathering together in-person to talk and tell each other stories about our lives, we wrote a story of fiction and fun together.

Writing a story brings out our creativity, which we know is alive and well within all of us …. even if some of our family members or friends don’t see it in themselves.

One person started a story. You know, a ‘Once upon a time’ sort of opening. Then the story was handed off to the next writer to add their words. Each writer was asked to build on the existing story theme but was free to take the plot and action in whatever direction they wanted. One person was ‘volunteered’ to bring the story to conclusion. Once done, everyone was sent the completed version.

As for technology, we discovered that ‘not everyone has Word’ available to them. Others had no interest in learning how to write in ‘Google Docs’. It took a bit of ‘managing’, checking in with each person during their allotted time frame, to make sure they were able to use the chosen technology and get their part added to the story. In my experience, I ended up taking dictation from one family member and writing down her part in the Word doc before it was sent by email to the next person on the list. In another situation, someone wrote their part and sent it to me via email. I added it to the shared Google doc and notified the person waiting their turn.

Be sure all participants get a copy of the completed story (PDF is almost always a good format for reading) so they can enjoy the whole story once it is complete.

My collaborative story writing experiences were amazing. People dug deep to make their piece relevant. Some added humour. Others offered fantastical adventures. Others warmth and wisdom. Everyone found words to add to the story, even though they thought it would be too hard to do. Once completed, we all had a written memory that we will cherish for many years to come. I used collaborative story writing during the Covid-19 shut down. We will reflect on how disruptive the first phase of the pandemic was to our lives, but we have proof that it did not destroy our humanness. We found a way to ‘be together’ and show love to each other, even when we could not really be together. And we had a great time doing it!

Debora Durnin-Richards is a Professional Home Economist living in Manitoba and an enthusiastic voice for the profession everywhere she goes.