When to Pop Out of the Notebook

I am a big fan of the writing notebook. Believe me, I have about ten notebooks of my own going at any given time! I use them for different types of writing — one for story ideas, another for poetry and songs, another for informational writing and research notes, and even others for fiction ideas, essays. I even have separate notebook for hiking & camping, and a gardening notebook. And the list goes on.

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A pen-and-paper, old fashioned notebook is still the best tool around for gathering ideas, sketching and planning, making timelines, mapping things out, and jotting things down quickly. While technology may exist for all of these things, I’m not convinced that the digital versions of a notebook are always better than a handy notebook that I can toss in my bag and take with me anywhere I go.

As much as I LOVE notebooks, I have to admit there is a time in every writer’s process when it is time to pop out of the notebook and onto a laptop or lined paper.

I do all of my full-fledged drafting OUT of the notebook. I almost never write a complete draft in a notebook. How would I ever be able to cut & paste and move things around when I revise with it all in the notebook? (I will not, ever, ever, rip pages out of a writers notebook! Don’t even ask me to go there!).

I travel to many schools for the work that I do. Occasionally, I observe kids who are attempting to write full first drafts in a notebook. Here’s what I notice:

  • Kids have a hard time seeing their older entries when they draft inside the notebook. They’re forced to turn pages back and forth between the draft and their notes, plans, timelines, and other entries that they need to see while drafting.
  • Kids resist revision when they’ve drafted in their notebook. Why? Because it’s REALLY hard to do when the paper is stuck in there. Revision is MUCH easier when it’s done on looseleaf paper or on a laptop where things can easily be cut, moved around, and pasted back together again.
  • I despise reading student drafts in a notebook. When a classroom full of kids has finished drafting and are about to begin major revision work, that is one time that I really like to take all their work home and read through it. For obvious reasons, it is much more work for me if their drafts are in notebooks instead of on looseleaf or in a google doc. I’ll collect those drafts to read one more time at the end of the unit as well.
  • Overall, it has been my observation that students find organizing their writing into paragraphs much easier on paper or on a laptop where they can see their work in its entirety more easily.

When kids write each first-draft paragraph on a separate sheet of looseleaf there is obvious physical space for revision. In the notebook it’s harder for kids to see what’s going on.

Here are two versions of the same essay, one in a notebook. One on looseleaf.

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As you can(‘t) see, it’s impossible to see my whole draft at once in the notebook. Also, while I was drafting, I had to flip pages back and forth to see the outline I had done on a separate page, as well as my notes on other pages.

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You can see that when the draft is outside the notebook, the pieces can be shuffled around. I like to keep each section (or paragraph) of the draft on its own separate paper(s), so that I can see the organization very clearly. As I was drafting, I kept my notebook open so I could see my plan and notes right in front of me. Later, I can cut the draft with scissors, or add new parts in the middle easily.

As much as I love my notebooks, I also love the flexibility of drafting on looseleaf or on the laptop.