Monday, August 20, 2012

Keep Your Friends Close and Your Notebooks Closer.

In his "How to Use Your Writer's Notebook" section of Tips for Young Writers Ralph Fletcher suggests,  
"Use your notebook to breathe in the world around you." 
An interesting idea: your notebook as a way of taking in the outside world.  And for something as critical as breathing, it seems you might want to keep it close.  

I had a writer's notebook at school for years before I ever thought to take it home with me.  When I did take it home, it usually sat in my bag at the top of the stairs with all the other work I intended to do.  
A few years ago--about the time Twilight author Stephenie Meyer started talking about the dream that inspired her--I started taking my notebook out of my bag and keeping it by my bed at night.  And it seems we're not the only ones.  Barbara Park, author of the Junie B. Jones series (and I didn't know it, but also Operation: Dump the Chump), says, "I don't keep a notebook, but I do keep a paper and pencil on my nightstand in case I get an idea in the middle of the night." (That's the same thing as keeping a notebook, if you ask me.)

At first, my bedside notebook was for those nights where I'd awake at 3am to download a nagging list of things to do and return to sleep.  But lately, I've also found that a good movie before bed can inspire me to pick up the pen at all hours, desperate to catch an elusive dream like this one:

We were onboard the container ship and had been separated for some time.  I could hear the game coming through the satellite radio on the bridge as I surfaced. My senses were alert, desperate for a sign that would let me know everything was all right, that our mission was still a go.  We had left our last port two days ago, and we didn't have much time.

Disappointed that a sign wasn't waiting for me above deck, I retreated below and headed to the chow hall.  I grabbed a page off the stack of freshly printed daily briefings.  And this morning would have unfolded like the last two if I hadn't given that stack a second glance:

News Briefing
June 30, 2012
News Briefing
June 30, 2012
News Briefing
June 34, 2012
News Briefing
June 30, 2012

And just like that, I knew today would be different.  Today was the day we'd sink the ship or die trying. 

It seems that having a notebook nearby helps me see stories where I never thought I'd find them. It even helps me unearth stories that might otherwise remain buried.  
You never know when an idea might strike you.  Who hasn't said, "Oh, I should write that down before I forget it"?  For many of us, the story stops there.  We say it, but we don't write it down, and before we know it, ideas are lost.  

So what happens if we start keeping our notebooks close?  
  • Do we start to see our world as writers (even in our sleep)?  
  • Do we start to see authors as mentors of the writing process as well as of the writing? 
  • Do we start to see writing as essential as breathing? 
I think so.  But don't take my word for it; try it.


  1. I had my new writer's notebook at home all summer, but it took going back to school to spark my first "try-it," so here goes . . .

    My mentor text is First Day Jitters by Julie Danneberg.

    I'm in Ms. Johnson's class. Ms. Johnson's teaching 3rd grade? I'm in Ms. Johnson's 3rd grade class? I'm in Ms. Johnson's 3rd grade class!! YAHOO!!

    I was sitting at the table on my very first day back at school. My pencil was "parked," my eyes were on the speaker, and I was doing my best not to talk to my friends Lois and Pam who were sitting right next to me on either side. I was so excited to be back at school that I could hardly sit still!

    I opened my folder when Mrs. Chandler said to, so that we could talk about our daily schedule. Lots of my friends moaned & groaned. Not me . . .

    For there, at the bottom of the page, under my name, it said that I would be the Para Educator working with the students in Ms. Johnson's 3rd grade class almost all day, everyday! I'm in Ms. Johnson's 3rd grade class! YAHOO!!

  2. Great conversation for keeping a notebook in the Teachers Write Minilesson Monday:

  3. Check out Aimee Buckner's book Notebook Know-How and then read her article from "Choice Literacy" to see how her view of notebooks is ever-changing: