Friday, March 8, 2013


Writers write.

There is no way around that.  If you want to be a writer you need to write... and you must write regularly.

One way that writers accomplish this is by keeping a writer's notebook.

Writers have gathered thoughts in blank books for centuries. These books may be fancy brocade diaries or cheap dollar-store spiral-bound notebooks with colorful covers,  traditional black and white marbled composition books, or long yellow legal tablets.  I have used all of these at one time or another.

My current favorite is Moleskine Notebooks (several of the varieties).   Prior to that it was leather bound books with gold-edged pages that I purchased at my favorite book store.  When I find something I like, I buy in plural. Therefore, I still have one of these leather books left over from when they were the favorites.

You may think it does not matter what kind of notebook you choose, but I cannot emphasize enough the immense importance of this decision.
If you don't like the writing repository you select for your writing, then you will never use it. 

If pages are not smooth enough for a pen or pencil to move easily or big enough to hold your thoughts, you will not write.  If the color of the paper is not to your liking, you will not write. If the spaces between the lines are too big--or too small-- you will not write.  You get the idea. 

Writers must practice their craft--refine their ability to accurately, intelligently, and creatively capture the moment,  to translate into words the indescribable feeling, and to pour onto the paper the passion and images that swirl in their minds.

Writer's notebooks provide writers the same opportunity to improve that pianists derive from practicing scales and etudes,  that dancers achieve through repeatedly executing turns, and that basketball players gain from dribbling  and dribbling ...and dribbling, and practicing for hours at the free throw line.

Carl Nagin indicates that " learning to write requires frequent, supportive practice.  Evidence shows that writing performance improves when a student writes often and across content areas."  More importantly, he also indicated that "writing is a gateway for success in academia, the new workplace, and the global economy, as well as for our collective success as a participatory democracy..."
(Because Writing Matters: Improving Student Writing In Our Schools by National Writing Project and Carl Nagin, 2006 p.12, 2))

So practicing writing is important--- and how do writers practice? 

Writers write.

What exactly do writers write in their notebooks?  

They write their poems and stories and essays, novel chapters and  musings.

And they also make notes that will help them write other pieces at a later time.
No list would be exhaustive, but here are a few ideas that are common among writers:

  • Lists of new writing ideas -Jotting down ideas that strike you a "write-able" means you don't lose that nugget of possibility.)

  • Notes for a new piece-  As you list an idea, if a sentence or more also comes along with the idea, I make a note--I never rely on my memory when a post-it or notebook is close at hand.

  • An observation about a person, place, event, conversation and so on-- A memorable or unique detail may be useful for a poem later or that short story on which you are working. Or it maybe the very ordinariness of a detail strikes you. For example, my father and I saw geese on top of the roof of his next door neighbor's house.    I was unable to let this unusual occurrence pass without documenting it to use later in a poem. (Could the poem start   When the geese climb to the top of the house, beware of the turn in the weather and a twist of the heart. And what does it portend when winter ducks walk the roof?)

  • Overheard dialogues -Writers eavesdrop in restaurants and other places. Snippets of conversation can come in handy for short stories, to fuel a novel, or enhance a poem.   In a local mall one day,  I overheard someone behind me say Fifteen year-old me bought this.  I could not see through the crowd who made this statement or to what object they referred, but I know that I will at some point use this statement in a poem.   (Could different ages and what was purchased be chapter headings or verse sections?)

  • Newspaper and magazine clippings that  are ironic, personally interesting, strike an emotional  cord or in some other way beg to be clipped and kept, make for future writing.  For example, I recently clipped from The Columbus Dispatch, a page that contained two separate articles that for me formed and odd juxtaposition, an ironic pair.  One item reported the death of Etch A Sketch inventor, Andre Cassagnes at age 86, and another item running directly beside it announced that Orangutans at the National Zoo are being successfully taught to use iPads.  Weren't the Etch A Sketches the first iPads?Am I alone in seeing the humor in this placement?  
  • Revisions or alternate versions of pieces on which writers are working are sometimes kept in notebooks.   There are several versions of my entire book and several versions of individual chapters on my computer.  In the folder labeled Notebook  (a folder that also serves me in the same way as my bound books), there are as many as 6 or 7 versions of particular poems.
  • Lists of words--in my computer notebook there is a also list of new words I like and want to remember, words I can see myself using in a poem someday because of the meaning, the sound the feel or the look of the word.
There is no way around it.  If you want to be a writer you need to write... and you must write regularly.

Writers write.

See The Writer's Notebook Part 2 ( Resources) for additional ideas about writer's notebooks.

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

Do you keep a writer's notebooks?  If not you may want to start.
What kind of book would suit your needs and personal tastes?

Write a notebook entry in which you explain why you have chosen your notebook and what is does(or you hope if will do ) for your writing.

Select one notebook  entry to revise.  Write several new versions of the entry--try poetry, fiction, letter or essay.  Compare the new versions to your original version, noting and analyzing  the differences.


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