The Power and Influence of the Writer's Notebook

I have shared my writer's notebooks many times across the years and given that I have been using a notebook for more than 30 years, there is quite an array. I impress upon students that my notebooks reflect my way of operating with a notebook and that it may not necessarily be the way they choose to develop a notebook. Every writer must find their own  unique way when  it comes to using a notebook.

I always inform these curious learners that to be a useful resource for any writer, a notebook requires regular feeding. You must feed it the ‘stuff’ of your life. It is important to challenge the notion that reading and writing are just for school. Encouraging students to take their notebooks out into the world gives them greater ownership of their writing lives. I want young writers to see their notebook as a travelling companion. I tell them how my notebooks go everywhere I go. Just in case...

I ask every student writer to accept certain challenges when scanning my notebooks. I give each of them notepads upon which they can make notes.
I urge them to be:

  • Curious learners
  • Text detectives
  • Explorers
  • Thinkers and Questioners
  • Collectors and Note-takers

They are given notebooks to share in small groups. I watch as they scan and peruse the pages of the notebooks. They ponder. They wonder. They discuss entries and puzzle over certain artefacts.  As I work the room checking in on groups, questions constantly come my way.

When the exploring is complete, we gather to share the findings of their action research. It is time to compile a list of the things their detective work has revealed. They inform me of such things as:

Lots of beginnings
Lists –so many lists
Ephemera- tickets, business cards, greeting cards, messages, emails
Opinion pieces
Maps, plans
Extracts from mentor texts
Writing craft ideas
Memory markers
Facts -some unusual facts
Each notebook was different in size
Some notebooks had no lines
All the notebooks had strong protective covers.
Many of them had personalized covers
'There was lots of writing.'

Each time I do this, I marvel at what catches the eye of young writers. The questions asked and the observation made impress me greatly. I have the students tell a partner one thing (at least) they would begin to include in their notebooks as a result of viewing another writer’s notebook. I then get them to share with me. I like to follow up to see what progress has been made. The aim is to close the gap between intention and action. 

It is important to sustain the energy for writing and collecting entries moving forward. The support of teachers remains vital here.
I encourage teachers to also have writer’s notebooks they can feed with raw stuff. The challenge for all young writers (and their teachers) is to embrace the challenge of producing rich and varied notebook entries. -Entries that begin to capture their interests and present their personalities on the page.

I urge all teachers of writing to share their notebooks entries with their students. When teachers take such mindful action they are sharing critical understandings. Understandings about where writers find inspiration and ideas. Understandings about the way writers observe, connect and collect from the world they inhabit. The most proficient writer in the room thus begins to have a significant influence on the writing that follows.


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