What is a writer’s notebook? In my blog from last week I mentioned my old Lisa Frank notebook that I wrote in, but when I was a kid I never really thought about it being a writer’s notebook. I never really put a label on any of my notebooks until I was a junior in college in Dr. Coughlin’s creative writing course, and he told us we should keep a writing notebook or journal. I prefer to call it a notebook, but some of my entries are journalistic in nature. However, I digress so back to the question at hand, what is a writer’s notebook? Everyone will inevitably define it as something different, but what it boils down to is a safe place to just write. I wish someone had told me that when I was younger and if they had I might have a much different opinion about writing then I do now, (no fear Dr. Miller, it is changing).
I always wanted my writing to be perfect and if it wasn’t I just gave up. That is what I loved so much about Anne Lamott’s book Bird by Bird because she said it was ok to have a shitty first draft and where you have that draft is usually in your writer’s notebook. It is a safe place for students to explore form, style, voice, genre or whatever they feel like writing about. None of my high school teachers encouraged me to keep a writer’s notebook and I wish so desperately they had. I still have a wild imagination and countless stories running through my brain, but as a kid I had no outlet for them. My high school English teachers didn’t encourage me to write ( don’t get me wrong here, I loved my middle and high school English teachers, however there is always room for improvement) and when they did it was all about required papers, or poems or short stories, never free writing-whatever form that takes.
I borrowed a book from a classmate this last week called A Writer’s Notebook by Ralph Fletcher and I’m really glad she had it. I had just been looking at copies of it on Amazon debating whether or not getting Amazon Prime just for one book was justifiable enough when she pulled it out of her backpack and let me borrow it. I actually haven’t read all of it but what I read so far is practicable, applicable and easy to understand. My favorite section so far is entitled “Writing Small”. It’s all about the details not the big picture-learning to be in the moment and not just an observer. It’s such a simple concept with a big reward. “Seed Ideas” was another great section because it talked about writing down the snippets of life. Just the other day at Wal-Mart I was watching this (maybe) one year old grab a leaf off the celery and just stare at it stuck to his finger. It was such an innocent childlike moment and I thought about it all day. Just today I had a little kid tell me “tank you” and it reminded me of the one year old from the day before. I don’t know if anything big will come of it but it’s the small moments that are the seeds for something more. Last semester we had an author come to campus and for the life of me I cannot remember her name even though I bought her book, which I gave to my dad…anyways she told my creative writing class about a time she was walking down the street and saw that someone had written on the sidewalk in chalk “You are in big trouble when you get home!”. She said it just stuck in her mind like a little seed and later helped her form a story. I often get an idea stuck in my head and cannot get it out until I write it down and as soon as it is on the page I move on because I know it will always be there waiting for me.
My absolute favorite teacher movie of all time is Freedom Writers and if I am being honest it was one of my inspirations for becoming a teacher and why I want to teach in a school that doesn’t have all the bells and whistles. The teacher who inspired the story Erin Gruwell gave her students plain blank composition notebooks and told them to write. What came out of those notebooks is beyond words and if I can be half the teacher she was then I’ll look back and be pleased. I want my students to have that safe place to just write instead of worrying about what I will think or how I will grade. If my students are truly going to get better at writing then they need a place where they can experiment, learn voice, and just write without fear of pressure, or the teacher.