Making art in isolation: a local writer suggests some projects

Start a novel (or finish one), write postcards, take a ‘photo walk’|

The order has been given.

By the time you read this, Petaluma?will have been sheltering in place for nearly a week, with another three to go. Clichés abound about making the best of a bad situation - lemons from lemonade, silver-?lined clouds, etc. One thing that I personally am trying to do during this time of “social distancing” is to make art in isolation.

What follows are some ideas of things you can do to keep your own mind engaged and your soul fed, and to stop yourself from going stir crazy, at least a little.


Have you ever thought that you should write a novel? Or a short story, or a personal essay series on the formative relationships of your life?

Finding time to write can be a challenge, but why not start now?

Writing has been my personal passion since I was too young to do the literal writing myself (Thanks, Mom!) and throughout the years, my writing has been the place I turn when I need a creative outlet. When I need to work out a problem, or when I get inspired or frustrated by the media I consume.

It can be hard to get going, so here are two websites with prompts to spur your creativity: and


Maybe you’ve started something, but aren’t sure how to finish it.

Getting stuck is easy. Getting unstuck is harder.

Finishing your writing projects is a skill that takes time and effort to build. I regularly find writing inspiration to keep going from podcasts such as Writing Excuses (, or from creative online things like “Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies” cards ( That last one offers short suggestions encouraging you to look at things from another angle - “Make an exhaustive list of everything you might do and do the last thing on the list,” “Listen to the quiet voice,” “Ask your body.”


One of the outdoor activities allowed under a shelter-at-home order is physical activity for health and wellness. So, go for a walk, keep safe distance from anyone you encounter, and take some pictures. You don’t even have to believe you are a good photographer.

Document some interesting graffiti on a bridge, or a spectacular sunset.

It’s fun, even if you’re not usually one who looks at the world through a lens.



I have a friend who sends me cards regularly, and receiving them makes me so, so happy. There’s nothing quite like opening up your mailbox to find something unexpected from a companion.

So write a letter to someone.

Maybe that someone lives two blocks away.

Maybe write to someone on the other side of the country. It’ll probably make them smile when they see it in their mailbox. It’ll probably make you smile to write it, too.

More of a digital person? An email might not have the physical touch, but a note to say hi in someone’s virtual mailbox could also brighten a day.



In Boccaccio’s “Decameron,” 10 friends leave a plague-ridden Florence and spend two weeks in the country. To pass the time in the evening, each of them tells a story according to a certain theme, chosen by the King or Queen of the day.

But you don’t have to hide out in the country to enjoy the power of storytelling.

Try it for yourself, either with your family or housemates, or with a creative group of friends via Skype. Choose a topic and take turns spinning a yarn.



The entire state is basically on lockdown for a month.

That’s really bizarre.

I don’t know what I think or feel about it. Maybe you’re having the same experience.

So why not start a podcast? Or a blog? Some place to record your thoughts and feelings during the next month, or your experiences cooking with the random ingredients you scrounged from the shelves at the market. Or maybe use it to get away from all of that.

Want to share your interest in the Albigensian Crusade with the world wide web?

Go for it. I would listen to that podcast. (I’m serious. If you do it, let me know.)

No doubt about it, this is a time of fear and anxiety, and it’s important to remember that such negative emotions are a double-edged sword. They can fuel our creativity or they can kill it.

None of us are under any obligation to be productive right now, but art can help us process our anxiety, and that is something that could be helpful. Maybe some days you’ll spend all day watching reruns of “Law & Order” from the living room floor (I probably will). But maybe the next day you’ll create a photo collage of every tree you can see from the windows of your house.

One day at a time. That’s all we can do. Fortunately, there are activities we can plan to help us get through it, one day at a time, one week at a time, until this finally ends.

Which it will.

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