Published on May 8, 2020

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Photography by Brittany Ambridge

I have to admit, self-isolation is starting to get to me. When social distancing began, a part of me thought, as a self-proclaimed introvert, that I might enjoy the endless expanse of alone time. I could finally turn to the books on my bedside table, try my hand at the dozens of Alison Roman recipes saved on my phone, and maybe even take up knitting. But it hasn’t really worked out that way. I find myself yearning for interaction and—more often than not—struggling to keep track of a tornado of anxious thoughts during my aimless neighborhood walks and short-lived craft projects. Through it all, I’ve found only one thing that calms me down: journaling. 

I’m finding Suleika Jaouad’s Isolation Journals particularly helpful. Every day, the writer turns to her ever-growing community of creatives and asks them to share a writing prompt: anything from Maggie Rogers’s simple but powerful “What do you want?” to 6-year-old Lou Sullivan’s “Close your eyes and draw what you see.” 

Each night, before falling asleep, I take 10 minutes to respond to Jaouad’s daily prompt. I free-write, without worrying about grammar, word repetition, or sentence structure. Afterward, I feel calmer. I sleep better. My muscles relax, as if I’m physically letting go of my anxiety. During this time of solitude, journaling has helped me reconnect with myself. 

Now that I’ve found my quarantine salve, I can’t get enough. So I decided to reach out to three of team Domino’s favorite Internet writers to ask how they motivate themselves to sit down and journal, even in the most stressful of times. Here are their tips. 

Haley Nahman, Freelance Writer 

How she writes: I’m finding the morning—that is, the exact actions I take during the first hour of my day—to be the most important indicator of whether or not I’ll get any writing done. Right now my routine is: Read for 20 minutes, do a short yoga routine via YouTube, shower, put on clothes that aren’t pajamas, and sit down at my desk with purpose, even if I’m just faking it. Oftentimes just going through those motions is enough to make me feel like I’m capable (again, even if I’m just faking it). The other important factor is rest. If I force myself to write too many days in a row, my writing suffers. I’m learning to trust myself when my mind says it needs a break.

Her go-to prompt: This isn’t exactly a prompt, but I tend to write any errant thoughts down that I think might be worth writing about, or even just worth thinking about, on a iPhone note called “Ideas.” Then when I sit down to write, I’ll have a bunch of little writing prompts pulled straight from my life. But if that’s not your style, how about this: What’s a memory that stands out to you with alarming clarity, and why do you think you’ve never forgotten it?

Connie Wang, Senior Features Writer at Refinery29 

How she writes: I‘m lucky that I’m able to write about people, phenomena, and trends that I’m genuinely compelled by. Professionally speaking, if I feel unmotivated or overwhelmed, I’ll often read writing I know is beautiful, purposeful, and clear (for instance, I know this essay by Prune founder Gabrielle Hamilton will be something I revisit for years to come). Getting into the right headspace and mood is crucial for me. My best writing comes about when I feel responsible and solemn, with some undernotes of rage. Other people’s writing always makes me want to write well.
On a practical level, I have this back massager that runs on a 20-minute timer. I’ll force myself to sit down and do one task without interruption through the whole cycle (I find that more often than not, I’ll just finish whatever I’m doing even after the massager turns off, just because I’m nearing the end). Tying a treat (a massage!) with a task (transcribing) can be helpful.

Her go-to prompt: I love thinking about peaks and valleys—when did you feel a soaring of emotion (doesn’t have to be positive) and when did you feel a dearth of it? I’m not a very emotional person, so focusing on when I do feel those feelings helps me identify the meaningful moments in my day.
I also find it helpful to write about things outside of myself, even if I’m journaling. This might be an unpopular opinion, but I find myself feeling more depressed if I’m constantly circling my own anxieties and opinions in a vacuum. It doesn’t have to go as far as writing about others’ lives and experiences: Keep track of what the birds are up to every day outside your window, or what you notice on your daily walks, or one article or thing you’ve read that surprised you. 

Aemilia Madden, Senior Fashion Editor at The Zoe Report 

How she writes: Sitting down to write is not easy; I find myself easily distracted. Even if I do sit down to write, two minutes later, I’ll be in the kitchen grabbing a snack or I’ll get up to put away laundry. I’m the type who works well with a system of work and reward. If I can get through a period of time or a task, then I can get up and do whatever else I’m focusing on at that moment. I try not to put too much pressure on myself (this time is stressful and weird!), and of course I won’t be my most productive self at every moment. But I do think creating some structure helps.

Her go-to prompt: Every night during this time, I’ve made it a habit to note five things I’m grateful for on that day. I’ve even set a calendar reminder to just sit down and do it. Some days it’s all little things, like being thankful for the sunlight in my apartment or for a walk I took, but it really helps to remind me to stay positive when I’m struggling and feeling down. 

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