Recently I spent a few hours looking through my dozens of travel journals. As I flipped through the pages, it occurred to me that now, during the Covid-19 pandemic, would be a good time to keep a diary.  Unlike many who love to write, I’ve never been a consistent journalist.  In fact, the only times I try to keep a daily account of my life is when I’m traveling.  Over the years, I’ve developed a personal style that works for keeping track of all the little frustrations and joys of being on the road.

With all that is going on in our world these days, everything from the upcoming election to Black Lives Matter, from the pandemic to the failing economy, from challenging personal demons to fighting for our endangered earth—this is a time that needs to be recorded by we who are living it.   As a dedicated reader of historical fiction and biography, I know that the best books of these genre are often inspired by, or at least improved by, the discovery and study of contemporaneous journals or letters. My own historical WWII novel, Immigrant Soldier, was aided by the letters my uncle Herman wrote to his mother, and my memoir, Wherever the Road Leads, would not have been possible without the saved, journal-style missives I wrote home to family.

from my sketchbook journal, 1960

My collection of travel journals includes a basic sketchbook done at the age of 17 during my first trip to Europe, almost two dozen small notebooks written longhand, and one more recent version which was tapped out on my laptop.

Travel is an extraordinary activity that takes us away from our everyday lives and thus is interesting to record. Now, most of us are unable to travel and many are unwilling to leave their homes without a good reason.  This unusual and disturbing year is turning into a journey that needs to be documented—and not only by political pundits and news journalists.




Here are 6 suggestions for tackling a journal in 2020:

  1. Set your own schedule. A long journal isn’t necessary.  Travel journals only cover a specific time when you are on vacation. You may want to make entries every day for only a month or once a week until January 2021. Feel free to adjust your goal after you see what schedule works best for you.
  2. Set a time-frame relevant to your own life. All my journals begin with a token that sets the narrative into a specific time. As a mom, I like to glue a picture of my children on the first page. The changing faces of my kids immediately identify the time in my life when I took any particular trip. For you, it might be a photo of your partner, your pet, your home, or a photocopy of your driver’s license or passport picture.  Even with a visual reminder, be sure to write down the full date you begin.
  3. Think outside the box. A journal doesn’t need to be all interior monologues or a chronological recitation of what you do each day.  Try a creative format. You could write in the form of letters to different people, or start each entry with the day’s newspaper headlines. If you’re not into writing, why not create a “diary” scrapbook adding notes and explanations only if needed.  When I was in high school, I kept old-fashioned scrapbooks— the kind where you paste in mementos without any embellishments from the crafting supply store.  For four years, I glued every movie ticket, dance invitation, Chinese-cookie fortune, Valentine’s card from a boyfriend, and dried, crushed corsage onto those manilla pages.  How I wish I had kept those books!   They would have been a window into the 1950s.
  4. Include the good and the bad—Your frustrations and the hurdles you surmounted AND happy or funny experiences. Let your feelings be your guide.  But don’t neglect facts, conversations, or interesting lists .   .   . like all your Zoom meetings in one week, the books you have read in one month, new recipes you have tried, or how many hours you spent volunteering or in the line at the food bank. No material is off limits unless you designate it as such.  This is your book and it’s yours to share or not.
  5. Pictures add meaning. If you like to draw, sketch in the margins or fill an entire page with your art. At the age of 10, my son traveled alone to visit his cousin in Denmark, a new journal packed in his suitcase.  Though a somewhat lazy writer, he added lots of funny drawings to his pages.  They continue to delight me whenever I see them. If you don’t draw, you can cut and paste all kinds of media into your journal, anything from timely magazine ads to a Sunday funnies comic strip that deals with current happenings. Or download your favorite meme from social media and import it into your document.
  6. Make your journal timely. Twenty, thirty, fifty years from now, family or researchers will want to know what it was like to live in 2020. Don’t neglect the special aspects of your daily life that are different now from before.  This might be information about family or friends who contacted Covid-19 or experienced a natural, climate related disaster. Or you can describe the changes in the culture around you like the proliferation of different face-coverings displayed near every checkout stand or the greeters at the entrance to your doctor’s office checking the temperature of everyone who enters. These details will be of interest to those who come later. For you, writing about your experiences day to day, may help you process, evaluate, and come to terms with this year.  Are some changes for the better?  What did you learn about yourself during 2020? How do you think all the changes we have seen in 2020 will play out in the future? What will be our new normal?


If you are writing a 2020 journal, I’d love to hear from you with excerpts from your entries!


2 responses to “Covid-19 Journals”

  1. Joanie Rowe

    Thanks Katie for the idea, however you know I’m not the one to take on this task! I love reading what others put to paper and I’m loving your new book so much!

    1. Katie Slattery

      So glad you are enjoying my memoir! Please leave a review on Amazon.

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