• Prompt: Write About a Virus

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in ABCs of Writing     Comments 25 comments

    Discussion questions: Write about a virus. That time you were eight and stayed home from school with the flu and discovered a new book. That time a trojan horse destroyed your computer and you lost the 100,000-word novel you were working on. That time in 2020 when that thing happened.


    I hope we never hear or read or say the word virus more than we have in 2020. For most of us, that word has daily been top of mind, or at the very least, humming always in the background. Even if you think it’s some kind of hoax (and I know some of you do), it’s still a presence.

    Did you know virus has five plural forms? The most proper (the properest) are viruses and virusses. Vira is acceptable, but rarely used. Viri and virii are poo-poohed, but obviously they’re the most fun (the funnest).

    I stared hard at the word and tried to think of what I’d write, using it as a prompt. I don’t really feel like writing more about COVID-19. I can’t think of ever experiencing a particularly harsh viral illness; a few bouts of flu that kept me in bed for a week, one of which led to me quitting smoking, for a few months.

    Virii affect our computers, as well. Some of you are reading this post on a virus-infested computer and you probably don’t even know it! I’ve had a few. I’ve lost some writing. Nothing life-altering, or at least nothing life-shattering.

    So far, I’ve gotten lucky. Vira haven’t impacted my life in a brutal way. But they’re out there, waiting, hoping for me to walk right into them or for me to invite them in.

    How have viri affected your life? What did Coronavirus do to your 2020? Has a virus ever landed you in the hospital? Or steamrolled through your computer and wiped out all of your hard work?


    david blogWriteByNight co-founder David Duhr is fiction editor at the Texas Observer and co-host of the Yak Babies podcast, and has written about books for the Dallas Morning News, Electric Literature, Publishing Perspectives, and others.

    WriteByNight is a writers’ service dedicated to helping you achieve your creative potential and literary goals. We work with writers of all experience levels working in all genres, nationwide and worldwide. If you have a 2020 writing project you’d like a little help with, take a look at our book coachingprivate instruction and writer’s block counseling services. If you have a manuscript that’s ready for some editorial care, check out our various critiquing, editorial, and proofing servicesFor your FREE writer’s diagnostic, “Common problems and SOLUTIONS for the struggling writer, join our mailing list

    5 1 vote
    Article Rating
    Notify of
    Newest Most Voted
    Inline Feedbacks
    View all comments
    Barbara Mealer

    Viruses….an infection that destroys things. They normally aren’t very much fun. Like getting the mumps. My throat was so sore I could barely swallow, the side of my neck looking like I had a ball stuck in there. It went away, but a week later was back. This time on the other side. Again, feeling miserable, being forced to eat soggy toast is warm milk, both of which I hated but knew better than saying that. At least the chicken noodle soup was edible. A week of barely able to eat and it goes away again. Three weeks of being… Read more »

    David Duhr

    That prank is kinda funny, kinda shitty. I’ve never heard of such a thing, vowels bouncing on the bottom of the screen!

    After those two lost Christmases, how many years went by before you *didn’t* expect to get sick during its approach?!

    Barbara Mealer

    The falling vowels was sort of funny but it was one of the first viruses for the Apple computers, inserted on a disc but luckily it could be fixed. As to the Christmases, I was sick every Christmas from the age of 3 through 19, when I left home. I believe it was the old furnace in a house that was over 100 years old. I’d get a cold starting about Thanksgiving and would have pneumonia near Christmas and would be sick until April when the heat was turned off. Left me with permanent lung damage in the form of… Read more »

    David Duhr

    So you might say you’re such a heavy reader and prolific writer thanks in large part to a furnace.

    Barbara Mealer

    You could say that. I started reading at age 4 with minimal help by memorizing the words. I’ve never stopped reading. Writing was something I wanted to do but didn’t simply because everything I wrote sounded like crap. Then I discovered that everyone’s first draft did and to just complete the horrid first draft that can be edited into something readable.

    Sid Kemp

    Viruses with Bugs Back in 1987, managing a computer lab at a graduate school, I encountered my first computer virus. It was also one of the first computer viruses anyone ever saw, and it spread worldwide. It actually was never intended to be a virus. It was written as a copy-protection program to prevent legit software from being pirated. But it broke free from the original progam and infected floppy disks at colleges all around the world. The lesson: Practice safe computing; always wear a write-protect tab. So that was a law-abiding program, that, due to a bug, became a… Read more »

    David Duhr

    All these floppy disk virus stories!

    Seems to me your doc rushed you off to a shrink rather quickly. After one test? Good lord. Was the test equipped to identify a staph infection? Did you ever learn why it didn’t?

    Sid Kemp

    Actually, the DEC virus was an email plant. Maybe I should make that clearer. The shrink was actually a good thing. I learned that, whatever was wrong, I was mentally and emotionally healthy. The challenge in my emotional condition was family, not me. I stopped living with my mom and went to live with my dad for the last two years of high school, and the therapist supported my decision process. The first test was a blood (and probably throat or nasal swab) panel that should have caught the staph. I never got medical clarity, but I figured it all… Read more »

    David Duhr

    Yeah, the “What have I learned?” graf wraps everything up nicely and brings the themes/ideas together. It’s a good piece, Sid.

    Sid Kemp

    Thanks, David. As this is a new level of personal essay work for me, I really appreciate your feedback.

    David Duhr

    If you have a good idea for a future prompt, something that really grabs your interest, let me know!

    Sid Kemp

    will do!

    Sid Kemp

    Hi David,

    I’m looking forward to our conversation. Please check email and respond to confirm a time.

    stephen Glick

    Levi saw his wife enter the great hall .She was stunning, with her long red hair sliding over her shoulders. All who were in attendance knew why she was fashionably late. Her name ,Magdalena, she wiped the last residue from the corner of her mouth. She smiled a radiant smile .She appeared strong and vibrant. Magdalena had just finished the late night feeding. While the village assumed a terrible virus had befallen them. In truth they were vampires well over three hundred years old .I could not resist this spin!

    David Duhr

    Sounds like the roots for a new novel, Steve!

    Elissa Malcohn

    “The plural virii, though common, is based on a misunderstanding of Latin. There is no example of a plural for the word virus in Classical Latin.” — Wiktionary   “Since vīrus in antiquity denoted something uncountable, it was a mass noun. … If vīrus were a masculine second declension term like alumnus, it would be correct to use vīrī as its plural. However, it is neuter.  There does exist a Latin word virī, meaning ‘men’.” — Wikipedia   *   The countryside resounds with the thunder of stomping feet and guttural howls. It’s a chant, but it’s a chant in tongues,… Read more »

    David Duhr

    Well… this is excellent.

    Elissa Malcohn

    Those sloppy shenanigans at FL DOH piss me off something fierce.

    David Duhr

    It’s disgusting. I can’t believe I ever lived in that state. It has its perks, but, ugh.

    david lemke

    Shazam flexed her fingers and set back to work, This site won’t hack itself, ah, I’m in! That was easy. But something goes weird with her screen. How the hell did that happen? I’m locked out of my own machine?!? What’s with the blinding light?!? That hurts! It burns! I itch all over! What’s that smell? Smoke…“Fire!” she yells. She and the other hundred employees in the Brazilian cracker house flee the now burning building. Out on the street, looking at their place of employment going up in smoke, her skin begins to burn, she gets dizzy, loses her balance… Read more »

    David Duhr

    A virus leads to a virus. I love it. And I particularly love to see some fiction from you.

    Fred Ermlich

    Flu bugs absolutely leveled me as a kid. One time when I was 5 I got so sick my mother took me to the doctor. He was concerned, but what can you do for a virus? So he gave me an injection of antibiotics to prevent bacterial pneumonia. As we were leaving, my mom to the left and Dr. Schwinn to the right, going down the flourescent-lit hallway, I got very dizzy and all the light focused into a cone and then I was staring up at the ceiling and my mom’s and Dr. Schwinn’s faces. When I caught Covid-19… Read more »

    David Duhr

    Jesus, this sounds awful. Did you ever feel so bad you considered going to a hospital? What a sharp pharmacist — that feels like the days before we figured out it had already established its beachhead here. Not that it could’ve done you much good to know you had it.

    Thanks for sharing. Dr. Schwinn is an awesome name for a doctor. I hope he rode around the hallways on a ten-speed. Or maybe a unicycle. A tricycle?


    Hey everyone…I’m thinking we all just lived through 1865, 1945, 1968 and 2001 all in the same year…Peace, Love and Happiness to you all in the New Year…

    Elissa Malcohn

    Thanks, Kevin. I’ll throw in 1918 and 1929 for good measure. Here’s hoping for a kinder 2021.

    Latest Tweets

    Would love your thoughts, please comment.x