What is a Writer’s Notebook?

I little over 6 years ago I decided to live like a writer.  I had a passion for teaching young writers in the classroom and I was constantly encouraging them to live like writers, but I didn’t actually spend much time writing for myself.  I decided it was time to walk the walk AND talk the talk, so I started a blog.  The title of my blog, Home Is Where My Story Begins, had many different meanings to me.  First off, I love everything about home and family.  Home is my happy place and I love making it a place my family members love too.  Home is the place that I feel I can help families make a difference in their lives.  If I can encourage someone to start a garden, cook from scratch, or learn to thread their sewing machine, I feel like I’m helping them improve the quality of their life.  I also believe that there is a story to tell behind every project, garden, or recipe and I wanted to tell my story.  I wanted to share my story in a writerly way through pictures and words.  You see, home really is where my story begins.

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The first thing I did when I decided to start my blog was buy a blank book.  This would be my Writer’s Notebook and it would go everywhere with me.  It was small enough to fit into my purse and I found that once I started using it, it became an extension of me.  I started seeing things as stories.  Everything became an idea for a blog post.  I took my kids to the zoo and started writing posts about animal experiences and their importance.  I dug up potatoes in my garden and snapped pictures because I know people would love to learn to grow their own food.  I ate a cinnamon roll at a family gathering and just knew I needed to tell the story of my grandma’s rolls.  I started living like a writer.

I think artists and photographers see things differently, much like writers.  When I started blogging, I knew that I would need beautiful photos to go along with my posts.  As I learned more about photography, I started seeing ordinary things in a new light.  Tree branches framing a barn became an irresistible image.  Fruits and veggies from the farmer’s market were calling out to by styled.  While photographers can take a picture to preserve the memory, writers need a place to jot things down to remember for later.  That’s where the writer’s notebook comes into play.

When I talk to teachers about what writer’s notebooks are and the purpose they have in my classroom, I begin by explaining what they are not.  A writer’s notebook is not a reading response journal.  It’s not a place to answers specific questions or write about inferences they are making in the story.  It’s not a diary where there is just a constant stream of thought, ranging from the weather to breakfast foods to friendship issues.  A writer’s notebook is special.  It’s meant to be something that belongs to writer, and not the teacher.  A teacher may make suggestions about what to put in the notebook, but each writer’s notebook will be personal.

So, what DO you put in a writer’s notebook?  Reactions.  Feelings.  Moments. Writers, photographers, and artists are just normal people, but they experience things in a different way.  While a walk down the street is an ordinary activity for regular people, it is extraordinary for a writer.  A writer notices the flowers, bees, people, the sound of cars, and the feeling of the wind blowing.  (I’m still training myself to be more mindful and think like this.) Writers need a place to write these things down. They need to react and wonder.  Now, each one of these things does not need to become a story in itself, but a writer may choose to use these experiences within a piece of writing.

Over the years, I’ve had many different types of writer’s notebooks.  I have had small spiral memo pads, plain leather books, journals with lined pages, and (my favorite) journals with a mix of lines and no lines with places for sketches, lists, and big ideas.

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My writer’s notebook is a powerful tool to help me connect writing and living, to help me remember (I think memory really goes down hill after the age of 40), and to help me appreciate.

The kids in my kindergarten class have just started their writer’s notebooks.

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I can’t wait for them to live like writers!  If you don’t have a writer’s notebook, I’d encourage you to grab a book – any book.  It’s time to start living a writerly life!

Happy writing!

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