Journalling Through a Time of Corona 6

Last week I asked my journalling group what they wanted to write about in our upcoming online session. The response was unanimous: ‘Not Coronavirus!’ I found something similar when I ran creative writing sessions for cancer patients. ‘We don’t want to write about our cancer directly,’ said one. ‘It comes into the writing anyway, and it’s a safe place for that to happen. We want to find ways to expand our horizons beyond the illness.’ 

Coronavirus may have transformed the shape of our everyday lives, but there is still much going on around it, and many aspects of of life that are completely separate and independent from it. Our identity does not reside within a pandemic, nor does it have to be defined by it.

We are the same people, grappling with the same issues that the virus may simply have revealed in a different way. I was reading an article by a journalist bemoaning the weariness of so many online meetings. They were fun and a novelty at first, but are now a burden, and her schedule is full of them. She is as busy as before, but whereas she could once cry off a meeting by saying she was too tired to come out, now she has no excuse. But this only reveals a struggle to set boundaries that was there before Coronavirus arrived. The virus is a symptom, not a cause.

So today we’re looking at writing into the bigger picture of who we are and how we are outside as well as inside Covid-19. We’re going to think about writing in Steppingstones and Mosaic Portraits.


The journalling practitioner Ira Progoff devised the exercise called Steppingstones. The original technique is more developed than outlined here, and you may want to look further into his Intensive Journalling Program . Steppingstones helps to connect us to our life’s wider course by identifying what Progoff  calls ‘meaningful markings’ along the way.

The idea is to highlight significant life-experiences that have brought you to where you are now. Take some moments to settle yourself and let your mind range over your life, open to memories of key experiences. As they arise, note these down as words or phrases. You might want to follow Progoff’s suggestion and set your first marker as ‘I was born.’ You are not aiming for a comprehensive list. Try to identify around eight significant memories, and certainly no more than twelve. Once you have them on paper, order them chronologically. 

Now choose one to focus on in further writing that describes, explores and examines it.  Start this more detailed writing with the words, ’It was a time when..’ 

Afterwards, read what you have written and add a reflective sentence or two on what you notice. You may want to add a couple more sentences on your original list as a whole. Does  a theme emerge? 

You could angle this approach to any aspect of life that you want to track – working life, relationship(s), an issue, achievement or acquiring of a skill. 

Your Steppingstone lists remain in your journal for whenever you want to return and pick up on another item. You might also find that doing the exercise at other times releases different memories. 

Mosaic Portrait 

Like mosaics, our lives are made up of lots of small pieces of various colours that contribute to the whole picture of who we are. Unlike Steppingstones, in this exercise you are not necessarily compiling something in a time-sequence. 

Here, the idea is to gather together a few ‘stones’ of a particular colour. These could be anything: hills you have climbed, people who have influenced you; memorable films; places you have been/lived; your favourite music/clothes/sounds/foods/restorative activities; areas of expertise; ways you like to spend a day; cherished achievements; challenges overcome or issues you feel passionate about.

Choose a category or devise one of your own. Make a list under your heading. Its length may vary depending on what you have chosen. It does not have to be exhaustive. You might want to reflect on anything the elements on your list have in common and note that down.

Now take one item to write about further. Imagine it as a mosaic stone in your hand as you observe it and explore its quality and texture. 

Write as vividly as you can. You can do this best by paying particular attention to the senses – sight, sound, taste, touch, smell as appropriate, and to the emotions. Write to celebrate and cherish this part of the unique picture of who you are, current events notwithstanding. 

Note how you feel as you write. Capturing something important to us in words can often rekindle our emotional engagement with it.

This is an activity to return to, choosing a different ‘stone’ in your mosaic each time, grounding yourself in an awareness of the rich and varied elements of your life. You might even assign different colours to the qualities, tastes, experiences and environment that are part of your unique portrait.


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  • About Julia


    From writing stories for my younger brother, to penning poems for the School Magazine and filling a growing pile of personal journals, the written word has always been part of my life’s journey.

    I started out as an English Teacher and subsequently retrained as a Counsellor. I have counselled in a GP Surgery and worked with various Employee Assistance Schemes and Charitable Trusts alongside seeing private clients.

    Although I have done some freelance journalism and written four non-fiction books, creative writing has become my main focus in recent years.

    My poems have appeared online on sites including Amaryllis, Silver Birch Press, Clear Poetry, Spilling Cocoa Over Martin Amis, Riggwelter and Ink,Sweat and Tears. I have been published in Curlew and Bucks Mill Magazine, and anthologised in Our Hearts Still Sing. My first poetry collection, Chester City Walls, came out in 2015.

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