What Writers Do in Times of Crisis

By Katrin Schumann

I sat down to write this post and have now written four openings and ditched them all.

What do writers need to hear in times like this? How can I be helpful to others when that which binds us--our obsessive love of words, books, writing--is overshadowed so universally by our fear of the unknown? 

Do I tell you how to make lemons out of lemondade?* Do I reveal that I'm writing page after page despite the uncertainty and boredom? Or do I admit to not writing at all because of fear for loved ones, or because of a sudden lack of imagination? Do I complain or should I express gratitude?

In Letters to a Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke wrote this about being ALONE:

"What you really need is simply this — aloneness, great inner solitude. To go within and for hours not to meet anyone — that is what one needs to attain. To be lonely as one was lonely as a child, while adults were moving about, entangled with things that seemed big and important, because the grownups looked so busy and because one could not understand any of their doings — that must be the goal.” [Letter #6]

In this moment, we are alone and yet not alone at all. Many of us have wild children underfoot, young adults in our hair, or older parents we're desperate to protect. Maybe we have no work anymore, or way too much work. Others may find themselves even more alone in the face of all this online togetherness so many are particpating in--chatting with family, dancing with strangers, virtual cocktail parties. We are less alone than ever before and more alone at the very same time.

Maybe the urge to write is there, but all the news and noise around you is deafening. What do we do with the suspicion that whatever it is we are working on is insignificant in light of what's happening in our world right now?

What can I tell you but this: we must each find our own ways to cope. One size does not fit all.

That might mean we sit in the bathroom with the door locked, and scribble in a notebook. Or that we cry into a towel, muffling the sounds.

That might mean we don't try to write at all, because why add to our burdens right now? 

That might mean we video chat with our elderly friends and help them tell their stories. Or that we take our children on our knees and begin talking and talking, and then showing them how to put those stories down on to paper. 

It's going to mean very different things to different people. I've been dying for a block of free time to work on my next novel... and I got it!!! Woohoo!

And yet... No writing is happening.

So instead, I offer you the only thing I can: my undivided attention. For the next month, I'm accepting #fivefreepages from any and all writers. If you're looking for some thoughtful feedback, give it a try. I can't guarantee a fast turnaround time, but I can promise you I will do my best to be helpful. Go to my website, and when the popup emerges, sign up for my newsletter. All the informatuion on submitting is there. There's no obligation to stay subscribed.

Help me by letting me help you. 

And in the meantime, be well.


Katrin Schumann's second novel, This Terrible Beauty, was published on March 1st and her debut, The Forgotten Hours, was a Washington Post and Amazon Charts Bestseller. If you're interested in her #fivefreepages offer, sign up for her newsletter at

*BTW this was an error, but I'm leaving it because in a twisted way, it actually works!

Photo by Robin Benzrihem on Unsplash

grubstreet Image
About the Author

Katrin Schumann is the author of The Forgotten Hours (Lake Union, 2019), a Washington Post bestseller; This Terrible Beauty, a novel about the collision of love, art and politics in 1950s East Germany (March, 2020); and numerous nonfiction titles. She is the program coordinator of the Key West Literary Seminar. For the past ten years she has been teaching writing, most recently at GrubStreet and in the MA prison system, through PEN New England. Before going freelance, she worked at NPR, where she won the Kogan Media Award. Katrin has been granted multiple fiction residencies. Her work has been featured on TODAY, Talk of the Nation, and in The London Times, as well as other national and international media outlets, and she has a regular column on GrubWrites. Katrin can also be found at, and on Twitter and Instagram: @katrinschumann.

See other articles by Katrin Schumann

Rate this!

Current rating: 5