The best place to become and grow as a writer is the writer’s notebook. It’s a safe place to try out new craft, to experiment, have fun, and keep ideas safe and warm. Your notebook is like a garden that changes color, patterns, and fragrances from spring to fall. Even in winter, your garden has hidden potential and takes on a quiet, peaceful beauty. Here are a few ideas, with a nod to Ralph Fletcher, Linda Rief, and Aimee Buckner, to get you started and to help you maintain a writerly life.
Unforgettable Stories: What moves you? Whenever you hear a story that stirs something inside you, write.
Writing Small: Jot down the important, telling details you notice or hear. Use your senses. Crack open the general words you might use by providing specific examples or an explanation.
Lifting a Line: Think about a favorite song or poem. Pick out the line that really stays with you. Copy it into your notebook and start to write from there.
Artifact Writing: Write about an object around the house. It can be a picture, a piece of original artwork, a ticket stub, or a candy wrapper. Think about the item and why it is important to you. Glue the item into your notebook (if possible – or take a picture of it) and write.
Mind Pictures: Use your five senses to absorb your environment. Divide a page into five blocks and label with the senses. In the present moment, try to fill up the blocks with what is happening around you.
Snatches of Talk: Fill up some pages of notebook with dialogue, the way people say things, pronounce and emphasize words, and repeat themselves.
Write from Another Point of View: Try writing from a different point of view than your own. Think about the people you know really well. What would they have to say about this topic?
Fierce Wonderings: Write about what you wonder about. Pay attentions to what haunts you, what images or memories keep running around in your mind, even when you try not to think of them.
Lists: Keep lists of different kinds of leads, words that are unique, sounds and smells of the holidays, strong verbs, spring things, pet peeves, accomplishments, favorite books, similes and metaphors, goals, poems about words, etc. Writers keep lists!
Writing that Scrapes the Heart: Do not hold back. Write about things that you keep close to you – family secrets, feelings, things that sometimes may be too personal to share.
Writing that Inspires: Use your notebook to collect lines, quotes, and passages that inspire you. Use these lines to write about your thoughts and feelings or to imitate – walking around in the syntax of the author.
Writing Off a Word: Put one word at the top of the page and allow yourself to freewrtie off that word.
Memories: Memories are a writer’s most important possession. Try to capture each memory as honestly and accurately as possible. Jot it down before it’s forgotten. To recover a memory, try writing in the present tense and describe the setting connected with the memory.
Writing in the First or Second Person Voice: Temporarily adopt another voice and try it on for size. Take on the voice of a polar bear, your pet cat or dog, or a character in a beloved book such as August Pullman in Palacio’s Wonder. Experimenting with different literary styles and techniques help us develop our own voice.
I love to write ideas down in different colored pens and watch the words spill onto a notebook page. It’s both comforting and energizing to watch the flow from brain to hand to pen to page! I use my notebook to write about people, places, and objects that I love or that I find unique in some way. My notebook is filled with snapshots of friends, relatives, and pets. Rich descriptions of Long Beach Island, the Poconos, my grandma’s house, the stables, and my East Mt. Airy neighborhood are some of my favorite entries.
My notebook is always a place to store lists. For example, after reading Names for Snow by Judi K. Beach I had the urge to brainstorm a list of names for autumn. I came up with names such as Leaf Dropper, Best Dressed Gal, and Masquerader. I love making lists because they often help me find a topic I want to write about or research. My notebook is a place for memory chains, my heart and hand map, and my neighborhood map. I put photos, ticket stubs, and clips from magazines and newspapers that will serve as memory joggers or topics I want to explore. A running theme in all my notebooks is my grandfather, Alexander William Sulima. I have so many snippets about all the things he taught me to do and to appreciate.
Finally, I use my notebook to study the work of other authors. I explore their writing using the advice of Katie Wood Ray in Wondrous Words. Mentor texts are imitated here before I use them in classroom communities where I write for and with talented, young writers. I could not imagine a writer’s workshop without the notebook as a central part of how writers live their daily lives. I am grateful to Ralph Fletcher, Aimee E. Buckner, Linda Rief, Shelley Harwayne, and Katie Wood Ray for all their advice and inspiration they have provided in their professional publications and/or workshops and keynotes about writer’s notebook!