Moving Student Writing From the Notebook to Publishing



A young teacher approached me during a break in my presentation about Writer's Notebooks yesterday to ask, What about publishing? She was projecting ahead and it set me to thinking more deeply about this important issue. Young writers need to experience every phase of the writing process and yet it is publishing that frequently gets squeezed or curtailed. Either that, or it gets the 'fast food' treatment and every child's published work looks alarmingly the same. Publishing and the student writer are short changed.

With so much emphasis on gathering entries in the Writer’s Notebook there is a further danger it will begin to establish itself as the primary focus for writing both in the minds of teachers and students. 

It would therefore be easy to lose sight of the purpose of the Writer’s Notebook. The Notebook’s primary function is to provide a place for writing to begin. The notebook is to the writer, what the sketchbook is to the artist.

Across the pages of the notebook we gather writing ideas - experiment, trial, and start to play with words. It is the place where potential writing projects find their humble beginnings.It is where the writer first breathes life into a writing piece. Let's think of the notebook as a launching pad, rather than an end in itself.  

Young writers need to publish some of their writing projects to experience the entire writing process. This is how they learn to more deeply understand the significance of pre-writing/rehearsing, drafting, revising and editing their work. This is where the ‘polishing’ of their rough diamonds takes place.

It is in publishing that we most effectively teach our students to appreciate the importance of grammar and conventions. Publishing provides authentic opportunities for students to work through the revisions and editing of their work and prepare it for their intended audience. 

These process steps provide genuine purpose to the work being undertaken. By engaging in this process, writers display increased critical awareness for making their message as clear as possible. Their writing gradually assumes a ‘reader friendly’ shape.  

Editing must be seen as a separate action from getting their thoughts organised and detailed. It must take place after adequate time has been devoted to those critical changes made during revision. Editing will not improve the content of the writing. It will improve the surface features.

Rereading Notebook Entries.
Young writers need to be shown the value of rereading their notebook entries. Rereading their earlier writing ‘closely’ is an important skill that benefits every writer. They need opportunities to ask themselves, - Which of my notebook entries jump out at me?

This is the place where possibilities for publication emerge! It is therefore important for teachers to demonstrate and promote this strategy. The goal is to help students discover buried treasure within the pages of their notebooks. Rereading shines light on the writer’s words and ideas. The more entries, the more choices the writer has to choose from.

As the writer rereads, they ask themselves questions, such as:
  • What stands out?
  • What can I imagine spending some extra time on?
  • What deserves my attention?
The decisions writers make about potential publishing projects are enormously enhanced when shared as a class. Making these project ideas public enables students to briefly outline the ideas they are considering and why they consider a particular piece worthy of further attention. Hearing the writing intentions of others, helps the less confident writer make decisions.

Reason for Choosing A Particular Publishing Idea to Pursue

In consultation with the teacher, students may develop a set of criteria for rereading their notebooks. At this point students  will benefit from support that encourages their thinking and decision making. This can be achieved by providing a list such as the one that follows:

Some Reasons for Beginning a Publishing Project:
  • You believe an entry is important and you have already written a lot about it.
  • You believe an entry is not your best writing and you know you have more to say about that topic, subject, or idea.
  • An entry sounds like a genre you are familiar with and you believe you can develop and revise it for publication
  • You have a series of entries about a topic/idea and you can see the potential to join them into a single piece of writing.
  • You have an entry you believe is well written and you think you can improve it even further with some revision.
  • You think you have a story that readers will find interesting because it deals with an issue in which others are interested.
  • You notice a theme threaded through your writing pieces and you believe it is worth developing. 
  • You have a question in your notebook you would like to answer.

The final decision in identifying a piece of writing worthy of more attention can be guided by asking students:
  • Does this piece deserve more of your writing time and will you look forward to working on it?
  • Who do you see as an audience for this piece of writing once you lift it from your notebook?
  • What literature and what writers (mentors) will support you if you choose to publish this particular piece of writing?

Students will produce writing pieces at different rates across the course of the year. However, once they have completed their first publication, they often require less assistance and guidance the next time they undertake a project. This is because they now have experience with the process. The writer has an increased sense of direction and ownership. Their vision of the publishing process is sharper. They are travelling down a familiar track the next time they wish to publish.

Once the decision has been made about the focus of their publishing project, we assist students by moving the writing from the notebook to a writing folder, where the piece is further developed on paper or a computer –or both. This enables the writer to experience the freedom to move the text around, craft the texts, cut and paste, sequence events and generally reshape the words. Eventually they may work with a mock up book should they decide to publish their work in book form. This redrafting and revising phase is where the writing is seriously reworked.

In some schools teachers have developed a step of moving young writers from the writer’s notebook to another book called the ‘draft book.’ This appears to be a containment measure. I suspect the teachers are fearful that students will be unable to manage the various pieces of paper that may develop as the writing progresses. The draft book is neat, tidy and contains the spread of words and paper. On the other hand, writing is sometimes wild and unpredictable in its development and requires time and space to reach its full potential. The ‘draft book’ has the effect of limiting the writer, acting as a halter. It makes more sense to teach students to manage this phase of their writing and therefore encourage the best possible development of the writing they produce, than to keep writing safe.

The important thing about lifting writing out of the notebook and pursuing publication is that writing needs to reach a real audience -otherwise the desire to write will be difficult to sustain. Writers need readers to respond to their words and ideas.  It is through publication that writing becomes powerful and influential.


Hindley, Joanne (1996) ‘In the Company of Children’, Stenhouse

Fletcher Ralph ‘Writing Workshop, The Essential Guide, 2001 Heinemann

Davis Judy & Hill Sharon, ‘The No Nonsense Guide to Teaching Writing’, 2003, Heineman

Fletcher Ralph ‘What a Writer Needs’, 1993, Heinemann


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