Mining Your Writer’s Noteboook

According to Ayres and Shubitz (2010, 101), “Writer’s notebooks are the open-arms that pull students into writing.” They talk about the value of reflecting on everyday living and ordinary moments. Every human being is a story teller. Each day we wake up with a brand-new page to write on. It is a page in the story of our lives, making our day-to-day experiences important and worth writing about. Fletcher (2001, 26) says that most professionals consider a writer’s notebook as essential to their writing process. For us, it is a place where we can write and share pieces of our writing with our students so they can see us as writers, too.  For our students, it is a place where they can engage in risk taking since notebook entries are not graded. As we guide students to return to their notebooks as often as possible, we are helping them to lead a writerly life and establish their unique writer’s identity.

The value in a writer’s notebook is not simply writing in it every day or nearly every day. The true value of a notebook is to be able to return to it whenever you like, for myriad purposes. To mine a notebook, you probably should keep one for at least three weeks or so. Try writing in it to record observations, make lists, try out memory chains, hand maps, heart maps, and neighborhood maps. Create snapshots with words of people, places, and objects.

As you reread your notebook entries, find excerpts, lines, and passages that speak to you. Try writing something new, beginning with these lines. Choose entries that are noteworthy, look for patterns, and ah ha moments!  Sometimes, you will find a piece that you are now ready to develop into something else or change a description into a letter or riddle.  You may find that you have written snippets here and there about a friend or a vacation spot. Are you ready to use these pieces to create a larger piece of fiction or nonfiction?

Take note of your “fingerprints” as a writer. What do you seem to do quite naturally?  Do you find metaphors, appeal to the senses, alliteration, anecdotes, and telling details in most of your entries?  Do you use strong verbs and exact nouns?  Whispering parentheses? Do your sentences vary in length to create a rhythm that belongs to the piece of writing?

Here, too, is a place where we can study craft. For example, Linda Oatman High uses similes and verbs that fit her writing topic. In Beekeepers, for example, she says “The springtime sunshine pours like warm honey from the sky…” and “Goosebumps sting my arms….”  In my notebook I try it out:

Beaming and glowing like a shiny teakettle, I traipse across the sun-soaked kitchen and

whistle a slow, low tune – monotonous and comforting – to greet the day.

Here is another example from my notebook, imitating the syntax of Jane Yolen in her book, Nocturne and using an idea from In November and The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant.

nocturne notebook page

Occasionally, you will find a gem of an idea – something in your life that needs to be written – a memoir, essay, or poem. Take a few minutes to write a one-page reflection about the usefulness of your notebook for you as a teacher of writers and about how you’ve grown as a writer. The writer’s notebook is a way to lead a writerly life – a friendly place to return to now and then to discover what you care about, what you like to write about, and how much you’ve grown over a semester or year.

Share ways you use your writer’s notebook with us.


Ayres, Ruth and Stacey Shubitz. 2010. Day by Day: Refining Writing WorskhopThrough 180 Days of Reflective Practice. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers.

Fletcher, Ralph and Joann Portalupi. 2001. Writing Workshop: The Essential Guide.Portsmouth,  NH: Heinemann.

I am participating in #SOL17. Thanks to the twowritingteachers blog team for creating a wonderful community of  writers!


23 thoughts on “Mining Your Writer’s Noteboook

  1. You are so right about the many uses of a writer’s notebook, Lynne. I go to mine often when I’m searching for an idea. I must admit, though, that i haven’t thought of it to take note of my “fingerprints” as a writer. Thanks for reminding me to do that!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I am still working on getting over the fact that my notebook has to be pretty – my handwriting needs to be pretty and everything needs to be spelled correctly. I’ll tell you the truth though, I have made strides. Now that I have granted myself some grace, I find that I listen and look so much better because I’m capturing ideas for my notebook. You never know what’s going to land in my notebook from the day and once I mine that notebook it might, just might end up on the blog!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for this slice of notebook wisdom. I have really been working on keeping a notebook – not a journal. Everything you have said is what I am trying to do. I have shared one page of my notebook (a heart map) and want to share more as the month goes on.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Lorie. I carried my writer’s notebook into each classroom for all the years I worked as a writing coach. My notebook kept me honest. It helped me firmly establish my writing identity. A teacher of writers needs to be a teacher who writes!


  4. I have a shelf in my office with close to 30 notebooks (or “daybooks” as Don Murray calls them). I typically fill up two daybooks a year. Usually I don’t go back to them once they’ve been filled. But, I’m about to take myself on a journey this summer. I plan to go through them, organize them, label them, and mine them for ideas. I’m excited to see what I’ll re-discover.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. My third grade students were impressed when I shared my writer’s notebook with them! I only wish that I were better about bringing it everywhere with me so that I could write when the inspiration hits. So often I will be reading at home and I come across a great idea in a book or blog post and think that I should write about it, but because I leave my writer’s notebook at school I never do. Maybe it is time to keep one at home and school…. Thanks for giving me something to think about!

    -Amanda at

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’ve tried SOOOOO hard to keep a notebook, but I just can’t seem to be consistent. I like Tara’s idea of a digital notebook. Maybe that would work for me! I love all your ideas, though. I know it’s an important thing to do as a writer.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Consistent does not have to mean daily. Do what works best for you. Sometimes, only one sentence is an entry. For example, one of my entries:

      A Perfect Match – a possible title for the story about my first horseback riding lesson!


  7. You know…. I don’t keep a real notebook for my writing. I have one to share with students. I do everything else electronically. I have stickies (an app) on my desktop with all types of topic ideas, quotes, inspirations etc. I have voice notes I leave myself on topics or things I want to explore. Lastly I have folders filled with drafts. Some drafts have a line or two and some are more fully developed. I go back to these again and again and play with them. I guess that is my reading notebook. Once published I move them into a folder for where I published it. Hmmmm — wondering about my system now. It works for me, but I wonder if a paper notebook would be different in any way. You have me thinking….

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am certainly going to explore the stickies app. I do love my hard copy journals where I sometimes stuff tickrt stubs, printed photos, drawings, notes from students, etc. but I may also try a digital format. There, I can place photos and even video clips. But I don’t think I could ever part with my beautiful penned journals!


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