writer's notebook

It’s Not Just About the Notebook


twt notebook featured image

I started this summer with  this confession to all of you about my less than steady notebook habit. And after I let you in on my little secret, I dusted off my notebook, located my pens, and selected a few pencils. Then I put them all on the chest of drawers beside my bed, and I waited. I waited for inspiration. I waited for the right time. I waited for the perfect idea to write in my notebook. (Meanwhile, I happily wrote blog posts and worked on drafts of various pieces on my computer.)

I thought the motivation to write in my notebook would happen magically. Nope. It didn’t work that way. I did not wake up everyday inspired to spend time writing in my notebook. And that is when, where, and how my learning began.

My summer notebook writing goal led me to this learning: It’s not just about the notebook.

I was reminded that sometimes a writer faces a writing task with little motivation, and sometimes a writer has no idea what to write, and some kinds of writing come more easily than others.

I was reminded that a writer has to show up, and pick up the pen, and open the notebook, and try, even when it feels uncomfortable.

I learned that sometimes, using a prompt, exercise, or structure, helped to get me started.

How might all of this help me in the classroom?  I plan to be on the lookout for writers who are uncomfortable with a writing moment. I plan to share my stories of discomfort. And I’ll keep a few ideas for nudging them forward tucked in my back pocket at all times.

When I was stuck, I sometimes turned to Kate Messner’s 59 Reasons to Write.  Her book contains daily writing exercises, including quite a few that could work well for young writers. A few of my favorites include:

  • the six word memoir (see page 38)
  • choosing a single word and filling a whole page with thoughts about that word (see page 40)
  • and the “Clearing the Cobwebs” exercise (see page 91)

When I see a student having a hard writing day, I’m going to be able to tell him or her what I did when that happened to me.

Shortly after I figured out that I had to find the notebook, it wasn’t going to find me, I made another disheartening discovery.  My stamina for notebook work wasn’t all that impressive. While I often sit and tinker with a draft on a Google doc for hours at a time, I found it hard to spend more than about 8 minutes with my notebook.

notebook page- linesnotebook page webnotebook page reflection

And then I learned, that over time, as I practiced writing in my notebook, my stamina grew.

How might this learning help me in the classroom? I  have renewed appreciation for the experience of building writing muscles, especially when the writing I’m doing isn’t coming easily. I can look young writers in the eye and say, “Listen, I get it.” And while they are building writing endurance, I will make sure to celebrate wildly what is accomplished in short stints at the beginning of the year.

I learned that my notebook is definitely the place for me to record quick snippets, overheard lines and ideas, and sometimes it’s a place to vent or reflect. I learned that it has to be nearby always, because the moments when I needed to write those sorts of things usually occurred when I was doing something else. I was reminded that the notebook has an important role in a writer’s life.

How might this help me in the classroom? I’m going to do everything I can to help writers see their notebooks as a place where they do a lot of the choosing about what goes in there. Sure, there may be times, post minilesson, when they are invited to try something in the notebook. But I’m going to celebrate and notice all the other things that happen in there, as they learn to live like writers.

If I hadn’t refocused on my notebook this summer, I wouldn’t have made these discoveries and experienced discomforts. I wouldn’t be able to say to young writers, “Here’s something I tried in my notebook,” or “One way I get my writing muscles moving is…” I wouldn’t have pages to show them. I wouldn’t be walking the walk.

If you are teaching writers but don’t yet have your own notebook, now, as the school year starts, is a perfect time to start one. It’s going to help a lot more than it hurts. And, really,  it’s not just about the notebook.


19 thoughts on “It’s Not Just About the Notebook

  1. Lisa,
    I love your discoveries this summer. These are things that we know, but don’t REALLY know until we do. This year will be a great one with your kids, their notebooks and everything else you will help them discover.


  2. Lisa–I credit your post with having inspired me to make morning writing in a notebook part of my routine this summer. Thank you!!!! Thanks also for sharing honestly what you learned from trying this. Overall, I learned that writing three pages only took me 15-20min. (there goes my excuse about no time to write during the school year!) and I need to (this is key!) withhold judgment on what I’m writing. I also learned that if I don’t write in the morning, I won’t make it up later in the day even if I have good intentions. I’m still evolving in my notebook practice, but at least I have one now! Thanks again for the inspiration!


  3. I think the understanding of the writing process that you have developed through use of your notebook will support your teaching as you help grow the writers in your class. We need to understand the struggles of the students if we are to help them push through. Celebration of progress is always good.


  4. What a wonderful post! A notebook is a humble and grand reflection of our thoughts…and the more we write, strangely, the more thoughts we have. Thank you for this post. I will be sharing it at Sharing Our Notebooks! xx


  5. I am looking at 4 notebooks sitting on the dining room table. I have 2 others in reserve in the closet. There are a few more in the bookshelf. Most of these notebooks are empyy, with not so much as 1 word in them. So, you are not alone…
    I had nutrition goals this summer, so I didn’t try to add the pressure of writing on top of it. But I did ‘think’ about writing almost every day…! Count?
    I see from your post that you were in Provence in July. Where were you? What great villages and cities did you visit? Did you try the fig ice cream? My sister in law lives in Provence. Been a few years since we stayed in that area. Seems to me you have a few blog posts to write about your travel to my beloved France! Can’t wait to read them! Maribeth


    1. Thanks for reading this post. Yes, visited Provence this summer and explored as many villages as possible- Bonnieux, Goult, Lacoste, Gordes, Joucas, Rousillon. All amazing. Good for you for focusing on nutrition goals. And best of luck with the notebooks!


  6. I usually fill my diary with snippets like these, but I am considering keeping a notebook specially for this, just like you said – to build writing muscle. Loved the post, keep up the good work 🙂


  7. Thank you for your honesty about the way you’ve worked through your struggle with writing in a writer’s notebook. You’ve learned so much about yourself as a result. Plus, you’ll be able to walk the walk and talk the talk with students who struggle to find value in the act of writing in a writer’s notebook this year and beyond.


  8. I love how you had to get into the nitty gritty yourself to grow your thinking about notebooks. You will be ready to share and grow even more along with your students. Once a student looked at my nearly full notebook and said, “Mrs. Simon’s notebook is almost full. I guess she doesn’t have much left to teach us about poetry.”


  9. I am awful about notebook writing so I am now working on writing one sentence a day – that is the goal. I can do one sentence! It can be about anything just a sentence. I have found that once I get the one sentence down I keep writing. Over the last few weeks I have been writing more and more in my one sentence notebook. I think sometimes it is getting started that is the hardest. It would be interesting to see what students would do with that. Just one sentence.


  10. Thank you for this post. I feel like I have struggled with Notebooks and often felt like a failure for not being able to make them work for me or my students. I am going to steal you ideas for talking with students. You’ve given me the words for my thoughts.


  11. Thank you fro this. I, too, had great plans for my notebook this summer. I also had the perfect materials. And, I experienced the same struggle you did. I still don’t have a steady routine, but I have come to the realization that it doesn’t have to be a fully thought out piece every time. I’ve sort of followed Kate Messner’s summer blog series. Like our students, I am still a work in progress.


  12. So true Lisa! This is the authenticity that students will see which becomes a building block in not only the student-teacher relationship, but your growth as a learner/writer. I’ve always believed these moments in teaching are what helps students see you as REAL. Thank you for this post. 😃


  13. Six word memoir!! I think that’s what I was talking about in my sol post the other day! So funny to read about it here. Yes, notebook writing IS so uncomfortable! And why? Isn’t that how we all grew up writing? I have a notebook too that I TRY to write in everyday. Sometimes it’s thoughts, sometimes it’s a rough draft blog post, sometimes plans, sometimes …. and on and on. But it is hard!


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