Writer’s Notebooks: Literacy Outside of School #sas2011

Many children love to doodle, write stories, and decorate empty notebooks found laying around the house.  How can we capture this energy and help kids develop their literacy skills outside the classroom?  We know how important it is to read, and we’ve talked a lot about reading this week. But what about writing?

There is nothing better than a writer’s notebook!  Every child should have a notebook, that they can decorate, doodle in, write down their stories, and cherish.  This should not be something that is graded, checked by mom or dad, or made to be a burden in any way.  A writer’s notebook is a special place, and individual place.

A writer’s notebook isn’t a diary.  It isn’t a journal.  It’s something different.  Something special.  A writer’s notebook is a place to jot down ideas and sketches, to write stories and paste in ephemera.

And the best part?  Lots of published authors cherish their writer’s notebooks and use them daily!  Some of those authors have been kind enough to share a photo of their notebook(s) and a little bit about how they use them.  I hope they inspire you to start keeping a writer’s notebook, and to hand a writer’s notebook to a child in your life!

Courtney Sheinmel:

Like most authors I know, I write my books on a computer.  The problem is, some of my best ideas come at completely inconvenient times – like when I’m on the subway and nowhere near my computer, or when I’m in bed with all the lights turned out.  Late at night, so warm and snug under my down comforter, the last thing I want to do is turn on my computer.  I used to think, Well, this idea is so good there’s no way I’ll forget it.  I’ll just write it down later. And then, invariably, I’d forget my brilliant idea.  In the morning, all I’d remember is the fact that I’d had a brilliant idea, and it would leave me devastated that the book would have to exist without it.  So I started keeping a notebook by my bed, and carrying it  around with me when I left the house, small enough so it fit in my purse – the book under the BlackBerry in the picture is one that’s all filled up now.  My handwriting is especially messy in it, since so often the notes were jotted down in the middle of the night.  Now I’ve graduated from an old school notebook to something way more technological, i.e., the “notes” application on my BlackBerry (that’s why the BlackBerry is atop the notebook in the picture).  I’m completely addicted to the device, so it’s never too far away.  Not sure you can see it in the picture, but I have all sorts of categories, and I’ll type in whatever idea just popped into my head.  They’re certainly not all brilliant, but at least there never has to be another idea lost.

Megan McCafferty:

I did research for about a year before I began writing Bumped. I jotted down passages from relevant books in my black and white speckled composition notebook and ripped out dozens of articles and put them in this “IDEAS” folder. On the clipping titled, “16 & Pregnant: No Fairy-Tale Ending” I wrote,”What if society DID encourage sex? Why?” These are the questions that inspired the novel. The whole story can be traced back to that torn piece of newspaper.

Mitali Perkins:

I start the mornings with a good cup of coffee and a time of reading and reflection through journaling. My preference is a standard composition book and a good, fine-tip pen. I write only on one side of the paper, avoiding backs of pages, always in messy, free-flowing cursive. What do I write? Poetry, ideas for stories, prayers full of angst and anxiety, gratitude and celebration. My journal is supposed to be as private and safe as a fire escape, and one of the reasons I like to use that metaphor in my online life. Recently, however, my dog Zipper (with my son as scribe), violated that privacy to leave an interesting request (see photo).

Barbara Dee:

I have a blue 4X6 spiral notebook that I bring along most places, because you never know when you’ll have your next idea for a book! Here’s what I scrawled one day on a bumpy train ride into New York City: the inspiration for my new tween novel, TRAUMA QUEEN. On the upper left, you can see the names of the characters (the main character is Marigold, but apparently I was also considering Zinnia.) Below it is the plan for the first chapter, which is pretty faithful to what actually got written. On the right page, I’d started to work out Marigold’s/Zinnia’s mother, a performance artist in the Karen Finley mold who “teaches improv workshops-colleges.” After that it gets weird– I’ve written “thumb/bendy straw/ self-esteem.” Huh? I’m completely baffled by these scribbles. Maybe they reflect some idea about where I meant to go in Chapter Two, and the train arrived at Grand Central Station before I could flesh out my thoughts. That’s one of the hazards of writing on trains, I guess: you can lose things even when you write them in your notebook.

Jonathan Auxier:

The first is just my closed Journal. I’ve been using one type for the last ten years (Canson 7×10 field sketch) and same pen (pilot v7

clipped into the spine).  I’ve got about 25 of them now on a shelf.

The second picture is putting down an idea for a book character. I happened to tap
e some old paintings I found online in the corner (which I often do). This character — like many I draw — didn’t make the cut.
The third pic is an example of what I like to do when I read . I take down quotes, new vocab and images that struck me. These notes are all from Roald Dahl’s TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED.


As you can see above, writer’s notebooks are differentiated and individual  Each person treats theirs differently, so there is no right or wrong way to use your writer’s notebook.  It is a great habit for kids to get into, and a great one for adults, too.  If you are interested in learning more about writer’s notebooks and getting some additional ideas, you must check out Ralph Fletcher’s A Writer’s Notebook: Unlocking the Writer Within You!
Do you have a writer’s notebook?  I would love to see some photos in the comments!

12 Responses

  1. Which one? I’ve got a stack of priceless half-filled notebooks…probably about 35 of them. :$ *addict*

  2. I am a notebook addict, too. 🙂 I buy notebooks whenever I see them on sale.

    Then I am too sad to “ruin” them by using them. Oops?

  3. Love this (and notebooks!) I will be sure to share this with my book club kids. Love note books, too. Each new member who joins us is given a notebook (I buy them as I can, so the kids can have their pick). it’s our official welcome to the club gift-most of them use it to take notes during the meeting.

  4. What a great reminder that i need to get back to some old-fashioned writing. I do so much on the computer that i forget to take time to just “blue sky.” Maybe now that spring is here I can do that more often!

    Thanks Sarah!!

  5. I love this entry! Everything about it! As a child I didn’t have my own notebook, but my mother brought home reams of old typewriter paper for me to doodle, write, and create with. As an adult I have a steamer trunk FILLED with notebooks and journals. The things we learn as children carry forward.

  6. Mine is filled with scratches! Thanks for sharing your notes!

  7. I love seeing all your notebooks! Like Jonathan, I adore the Canson notebooks–although they discontinued their lined writer’s notebooks, so I just recently switched to the sketchbooks, which are equally lovely.

    I have no idea how to upload a photo into the comments, so I cannot show you my PILE of notebooks, which is probably just as well as it is about seven deep and five across. 🙂

  8. […] getting cut out of the loop. Stay up-to-date on training and office tools withtips from a freelance writer in this free video on working from home. Expert: Rebecca Sato Contact: http://www.zenlife.net Bio: Rebecca […]

  9. Excellent idea to collect! I can’t wait to show my students how other’s actively use their W/N! Here’s a link to Barbara O’Connor’s posts about her drafting process!

    Thanks to Jonathan Auxier for bringing this to my attention!


  10. […] see what’s inside these magical pages?   To do that, you’ll have to mosey on over to The Reading Zone where Sarah Mulhern has collected images from a bunch of different authors’ notebooks — […]

  11. Love how you shared different notebooks in both description and photo. I think it’s important to show children that every notebook is different and unique to the writer. I’ll be sharing this post with some young Writer’s. Thank you!

  12. I’m obsessed with notebooks! I always have several going at a time. One for daily journal and mind-dumping, one for household planning, there’s one for catching ideas and thoughts for the piece I’m currently writing, one to carry in my pocket when I’m away from my desk. There’s a notebook/folder/collage book for articles, pictures, etc., and then there’s a folder for everything written out of order on loose paper, and then there’s yet another notebook for simply writing front to back as I further explore the story.

    Oh yeah, there’s another one I started using: notes on the process of the work itself, a self contained almost documentary of how I’m working through the project, with the main highlights of the problems and how the solutions were found, as a way to see what’s working and what’s not.

    It may sound crazy, but it works well for me. When the project is completed, all of the notebooks associated with its development will be banded together and put on the bookshelf.

    Some people type everything and organized their work by using different folders on their computer. I compartmentalize my work by assigning different aspects of the writing to its own notebook.

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