Monday, June 7, 2010

Collecting and Developing Ideas in Notebooks

I just bought a new notebook, and I figured it was time to hunker down and write a post about the concept of a Writer's Notebook. I've been promising to do it for a while now. I think I've been reluctant to do it because I had a sense that it would take me f-o-r-e-v-e-r. Going into one of my old notebooks is like going through a photo album or a box of memorabilia from the past. You know how you just get sucked in and one thing leads to another?

The idea of a Writer's Notebook comes from the writing workshop approach to teaching writing. The gurus of this approach work over at The Reading and Writing Project at Columbia University.

I've always had a journal. In 7th grade, I remember writing things like, "Do I want to be pretty or do I want to be cute?" When I grew up and started teaching 6th grade reading and writing, I learned about the concept of a Writer's Notebook.

The founder of The Reading and Writing Project, Lucy Calkins, says:
The recognition that writing begins not as deskwork but as lifework has radical implications for how we and our students rehearse for writing. Whereas some educators imagine that rehearsal for writing begins with listing and choosing among topics, brainstorming ideas, mapping alternative forms, and experimenting with various leads, most writers say that rehearsal for writing is not a string of exercises that warms up a writer just prior to the process of drafting but a way of life. Rehearsal is not even something that occurs in conjunction with any one piece of writing; it is a state of readiness out of which one writes.

For me, my Writer's Notebook is more like a Life Notebook. It's a place to collect my ideas, my insights, my lists, my goals, the things that amuse me, questions I have, words that make me smile.

But it is not a journal. I write a separate journal on my computer that is full of angst and rambling and freewriting in an attempt to unlock my deepest feelings. My notebook is something that I carry around with me at all times (you never know when the inspiration is going to strike!). It's something that can become public at any moment.

Here are some examples of things I do in my notebooks:

Strategy #1: Collect Quotes
  • I simply jot down quotes that resonate with me. I read and reread these when I add new things to my notebook. It's interesting to see the types of quotes change as my life changes.

Strategy #2: Notes from Presentations
  • When I attend workshops, lectures, classes, etc., I like to take notes in my notebook rather than on the handout. I find that I file handouts away and never reference them again, whereas I read my notebooks over and over.

Strategy #3: Logistical Stuff
  • As you can see, I make "To Do" lists, I record directions to people's homes, phone numbers, etc. It's a catch-all place. It's like sticky notes, but it's all in one place and nothing ever gets lost.

Strategy #4: Travel Notes
  • When I'm traveling, I take notes about what I do each day. That way, when the trip is over and I want to write a Friends & Family Update or a blog post, then I can remember everything.

Strategy #5: Lists
  • And more lists, lists, lists. I am a verifiable list-maker. Hey, I need to go add that to my blogger profile. I make lists about absolutely everything. I make lists of who I want to invite to my birthday party. Lists about who came to my birthday party. Lists about things I'm looking forward to. Lists of moments in my life when I felt most authentic. Lists about what I want to be when I grow up. Lists about things that bring me joy. Lists of guys I've dated.

Strategy #6: Collect Ideas
  • I brainstorm various ideas with webs (or lists, of course!). The webs above relate to gift ideas I have for my husband and best friend.

Strategy #7: Develop Ideas
  • After I pick an idea off my lists, I develop it. The example above includes my ideas for starting a neighborhood time bank.

Strategy #8: Artifacts
  • I tape artifacts into my notebook (e.g., movie ticket stubs, museum admission stickers, sticky notes from other people, etc.) that help me remember important or interesting things.

Notebook Logistics:
  • I am addicted to using colorful, Sharpie pens. Unfortunately, those pens bleed through pages really easily. Therefore, I have to use a special Sketchbook from Moleskine that has thicker paper. My friend, Camella, changes the type of notebook she uses every time. She prefers the variety.
  • When I finish a notebook, I flip through it and transfer anything that I'm still thinking about to my new notebook.
  • When I'm ready to store an old notebook, I put a label on the outside to indicate the start and end dates contained in the notebook.
  • I always write my name and contact information inside my notebooks so they can be returned if I lose one. They are very valuable to me!

I think that's it for now! Please let me know if you have any questions...

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Marisa said...

Hey, Sara - this is a great post! I have a random collection of notebooks but have never really given myself permission to put anything in them. Strange. Some part of me wants only to-do items in my work notebook, only long-term plans in my personal notebook, and some other place for random ideas. I'm not sure why. So my notebooks become half-useful things I tend to leave behind, still lacking a place for that quote I found or sentence I thought of.

I'm going to try this (though I doubt I'm organized enough to carry that many pens with me, perhaps just two would be enough).

Ms Bear Cub said...

Sara, how fast do you go through the moleskin you linked to? I got my husband that notebook for xmas (he plans on writing a children's book, and needed a place to sketch out his ideas) - but it struck me as rather thin.
Are moleskins your fave, or have you happened to find another type of notebook you like to use?

Andrea said...

This is a great post -- I also use a combination of notebooks and online sources for writing.

Have you heard of the concept of "morning pages"? It comes from creative writing courses but works for journaling too -- the idea is that you should write in the morning, 3 double spaced pages (or 750 words, approx), whatever comes into your head (either stream-of-consciousness/freewriting, or whatever you'd like) so that you can clear your head and prepare yourself and your mind for the day. Anyway, someone has taken this concept and turned it into a website, Its just a private space where you log in and write whatever you want in a basic text format, and the little word ticker turns green when you get to 750. BUT. BUT. BUT. you get POINTS. one point for writing anything at all, two for getting to 750, and then the points double or triple as you write for days in a row (kind of like strikes and spares in bowling), so its also a fun game of seeing how many points you can get month to month, or challenging yourself to write for X number of days in a row. Anyway, it just struck me that this could be something you (and others) might like!

Elsa said...

I carry around a similar notebook and do some of the same things. The last notebook I bought wasn't a Moleskine though and while it's great, I do miss just a good ol' Moleskine sketchbook.

Have you tried the new actual Sharpie pens? They don't bleed and are super awesome. I'm addicted to them and they do come in several colors--although I haven't found a variety like their other fine point pens.

Sara E. Cotner said...

@ Marisa: I promise I don't carry around too many pens at one time! It looks more colorful because I'll write on a single page on different days (and I tend to have a different pen with me because I grab whatever is around).

@ Andrea: Thanks so much for sharing! I love that idea.

@ Ms. Bear Cub: My last notebook lasted 3.5 months. Moleskines are thin, but I find that it's easier to carry them around. Really, the only reason I'm attached to Moleskines, though, is because of the thicker paper that is in their Sketchbook version. I honestly haven't been able to move away from Sharpies. If I ever get over my addition to pens that bleed through paper, I will probably start using different notebooks (because I would like the variety of looking at a different cover every time; I always say I'm going to decorate my Moleskine notebooks, but I usually don't get around to it).

Jo said...

Oh my god you are my hero. -Hurries home to go collect random notes and put them in a cute notebook so I can start being just as awesome/organized/thoughtful as you...

mmmmmonica said...

I've always liked the Writer's Notebook concept, and I did it short-term for myself, but haven't implemented it in my classroom. Do your students keep them? Does this work well for you, and do they enjoy it? I know, many questions:)

Sara E. Cotner said...

Hi, Monica: I've used Writer's Notebooks with all my kids, although now that I teach all the subjects (I teach 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade), we call them "Universe Notebooks," to make them more comprehensive. A lot of kids get really into them, and a handful are indifferent toward them. I think the key is lots of authentic modeling from the teacher, time to add to them in class (with the content being generated by the children, not mandated by the teacher), and time to share with each other what they've added to their notebooks. If you teach elementary, I recommend The Art of Teaching Writing by Lucy Calkins. If you teach secondary, I recommend In the Middle by Nancie Atwell. Hope this helps!

ninjab said...

Wow, Sara. As always, you're my hero! :)

aapuzzanchera said...

I am a new follower. I have read this entry of yours like 3 times. It has really inspired me to do the same thing. i have copied a few of your quotes.. They are good!! Excited to keep reading.

Jessica Reyna Brogan said...

I love your notebook idea. I kept a journal off and on from kindergarten through age 19 when a tornado hit my apartment building and every single journal of mine got destroyed! I haven't written in a journal since then, and I just turned 30 :( But after reading this post, I am inspired to put pen to paper again, and for that, I thank you :)

Natalia Toronchuk said...

Hi there! I enjoyed this post! I have a few notebooks for different things, I like the organization of what goes where. I find it really difficult when I get a new notebook to decide what should go in it! It feels like there is a "wrong" decision!
Anyway, thanks for sharing your notebook pages! It is always neat to see someone else's.

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