A Call for Volunteers — Writers, Diarists, and Thoughtful Observers Welcome! #MOC19

Vance Briceland
Mar 23 · 5 min read

We are living through a time of worldwide crisis. It’s easy to feel helpless. But you — yes you! — and your thoughts and stories can make a difference.

Are you a blogger? Do you keep a personal journal that you are willing to share? Are you a writer who recently has felt the urge to narrate your rapidly-changing world?

All of us are witnessing massive upheaval in our lives. COVID-19’s exponential spread has disrupted our routines, our employment, and our incomes. The outbreak has forced vast deviations in the ways we work and interact. Perhaps worst of all, this emergency has compelled us to isolate ourselves when we need each other most, with no assurance of certainty in the weeks or months to come.

I am recruiting volunteers to join me in recording our stories of this era of anxiety.

Mass Observation: COVID-19

The original Mass-Observation project rose to prominence during World War II in the United Kingdom. In a decade of nightly bombings, food shortages and rationings, blackouts, and vast social upheaval, five hundred diarists volunteered to record their day-to-day wartime experiences in notebooks shared with social scientists…and later, historians.

Sometimes the volunteers followed directives, responding to questions developed by the Mass-Observation organization. Mostly the diarists wrote what and how they wanted.

A diary is a valuable historical testimony. We all are witnessing history in the making, right now, day by day. Personal narratives can be exceptionally candid and open in ways that other documentation cannot.

I’m proposing that writers of all experience levels use this time to record their perceptions and share them with others, forming a collective of witnesses worldwide: Mass Observation: COVID-19, or #MOC19.

There is no better time than now to share your unique story.

How Can I Participate in #MOC19?

If you have an existing blog or website on which you publish your journal, you’re already ahead of the game — please continue writing and sharing just as you have in the past.

Are you new to keeping a blog or online journal? Simply set up a blog that can be publicly viewed at any site you choose. There are dozens of easy-to-use free or low-cost options — WordPress, Blogger, Medium, Tumblr…you pick. #MOC19 is platform-agnostic.

As coordinator for this project, I am asking our volunteers to follow a few simple guidelines for the project:

1) Depending on the number of volunteers, I am hoping to maintain a publicly accessible list or page of participants in #MOC19. Please send me a message or an email (grandiose@mac.com) to let me know your blog’s name, its address, and your country and state of origin.

2) Tag your posts with #MOC19 in the title or somewhere in the body of the post. If you share links to your posts on social media, please include the hashtag there, too!

3) Write daily, or often, or at least consistently!

4) Most importantly, write your truth. Share what you are thinking during this crisis. What you’re experiencing. Your everyday routine. Your feelings. Your narrative is unique. Your story is important.

#MOC19 Questions and Answers

Do I have to be a professional writer to participate?

Nope! I envision our Mass Observation movement including anyone who wishes to put pen to paper (or fingertips to a keyboard, more probably). Novice writer, secret diarist, aspiring journalist, bestselling-author, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist with a platform of millions — all are equally welcome to volunteer!

What should I write about?

Your blog or journal or diary should be the story you want to tell. Share your daily struggles, your triumphs great and small, the activities that are keeping you busy, the thoughts that run through your mind in quiet corners of the day. Describe your community’s reaction to this crisis. Write about your personal worries, your anger, your hopes. Anything goes.

I will be coordinating writing prompts for inspiration as needed. Some of these might suggest core essays anyone can attempt, while others may be periodic challenges in which we all turn our scrutiny to the same topic — just like the original Mass-Observation project. Keep in mind, however, that these prompts will always be optional. It’s your journal.

Is there an age requirement to participate in #MOC19?

Follow the guidelines of whatever platform on which you’re publishing your entries. That should be fine.

Do I have to associate my name with my blog? I want to remain anonymous.

Neither I nor anyone else need to know your real name. Make your blog anonymous or use a pseudonym if you desire.

Am I ceding any sort of rights to my blog or essays?

Absolutely not. Your blog is your own and will remain so. The original Mass-Observation organization appropriated volunteers’ notebooks as well as the rights to them; #MOC19 will do no such thing.

All I propose to do is maintain a list of #MOC19 participants and provide links to cooperating blogs, so that participants may investigate and discover other writers volunteering for the project.

Wait, who are you, exactly?

I’m Vance Briceland, a novelist and instructor of creative writing. I live in the metro New York City area, in Connecticut. Since I was 14 I’ve kept a journal. As reluctant as I am to admit to my advanced years, that’s over four decades of diary-keeping, and a lot of notebooks and computer files.

After my spring semester of writing classes was shut down because of the advance of COVID-19 in early March of 2020, I found myself searching for ways to keep the writing momentum of my own students on a forward track. My journey for their inspiration caused me to stumble upon the original Mass-Observation movement, then led to a conviction that there is no better time for a collective of writers — no matter the level of practice or experience — to turn our eyes upon a rapidly-changing world.

So what’s next?

Continue writing in your blog — or start one for yourself. Email me at grandiose@mac.com and let me know you’d like to participate in Mass Observation: COVID-19, and include your own email address, a link to your website or blog, and your country and state of origin. Use the #MOC19 hashtag in your blog titles and social media. It’s that simple.

I have set up a Facebook group for those volunteers who use that platform. Its address is: https://www.facebook.com/groups/moc19/.

Also important: please share this information with your friends and family, your students, your writing groups, your favorite story-tellers!

If you know someone whose writing and insight would make them an ideal diarist, particular in the unusual and stressful months to come — let them know about the Mass Observation: COVID-19 project!

If you know individuals who are willing to write from their unique perspectives, encourage them to share their testimonies.

Even if you don’t feel moved to participate in #MOC19 (and why shouldn’t you?), please pass information on the project to others, any way you can.

Remember: even in isolation, every new day affords prospects for fresh insights, for close study, and for narratives to be shared.

Your story matters. Now is the time to write, and to record history as it happens.

Vance Briceland

Written by

Author of 16 novels for young adults and not-so-young adults. Creative writing instructor. Karaoke ninja.

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