The Writer’s Notebook: Building Your Toolkit
Quaid Adams, Consultant
Writing is hard and can be daunting. Let’s get that out of the way first and foremost. Just like with math or science, some people excel at writing and can pump out dissertation length pieces with ease. While there are others who find themselves barely being able to string words together to make what they think is a “good” sentence, let alone, a longer piece of writing. I get it. Truly, I do.
Even though I am a graduate student in English, there are days that I struggle to write. Whether that is due to me not really having a direction to go in a new piece or hitting the dreaded wall of writer’s block in the middle of something I have already started. Or even not really feeling like writing that day because there is so many other things going on in my life that I cannot focus long enough to write something well.
Everyone’s story with writing is different and there can be real beauty in that. However, there is one thing I am sure of, there is no such thing as a bad writer.
Regardless of what former teachers, family, or friends have said in the past, you are a writer, neither good nor bad, but a writer who is ever changing and learning. We all are. We can all bring different things to the table and can share amazing stories given the opportunity, some of us are just a bit more reserved about it than others. Writing, whether academic or creative can be an outlet for so many things and can not only serve as a form of expression, but also as a form of therapy and a way to bring clarity to this crazy world. One tool that I have found that incorporates all of this is by beginning to keep a writer’s notebook.
What is a writer’s notebook? The answer to that is simple; it can be whatever you want. However, you may think this freedom makes it sound like a journal or a diary in its makeup. While it does share similarities, the writer’s notebook functions as more of a reactionary platform versus one of description. In his book, A Writer’s Notebook, author Ralph Fletcher describes the writer as someone who reacts to their world and differentiates them from ordinary people who notice things but do nothing about it. He goes on to describe the writer’s notebook as, “a place to write down what makes you angry or sad or amazed, to write down what you noticed and don’t want to forget, to record exactly what your grandmother whispered in your ear before she said good-bye for the last time” (4).
The writer’s notebook is a sanctuary for the writer and its pages are there for them to explore and express themselves through. Writing a paper for class and having too many ideas? Make a list or a web to get your thoughts organized. Lost in a daydream about some far-off fantastical place? Write it down in detail as a starting point for a larger piece of writing. Walk up on one of those campus protest about something you are feeling strongly about but can’t express yourself out loud, write about those feelings. It is your notebook to do with as you please. You can write pages on a single topic or just scribble an idea or something you overheard in the margins of the page to come back to later. Make it look professional with hard-leather backing or make it bright and colorful. Whatever reflects you as a person and whatever is going to make you use it.
I know, I know. It sounds kind of hokey and like just another piece of writing you have to keep up with in your already busy schedule, but hear me out. Writers get better at writing by doing it. Using the writer’s notebook to do this in an environment where you are not being graded or judged allows you to write without fear of repercussions or without an impending deadline looming. It also allows you to have complete creative control of whatever goes into your notebook. Not unlike a tradition journal in this sense, it also allows to you observe and react to the world around you, and as a way to channel your emotions into your writing.
However, the difference here is that while you may be using it as a means of therapy, these feelings and thought are also neatly tucked away into your writer’s notebook, ready for you to pull inspiration from someday down the line. So while you are benefiting from it now by relieving stress or the emotional trauma of Qdoba being out of steak for the burrito you’ve been craving since noon, you may also benefit from it in the future when you need inspiration for another project. The notebook can utilized in terms of academic and creative writing as well. Say an idea pops into your head about a story you might like to write or a topic for a research paper miraculously appears, write it down. Even if you don’t return to it anytime soon, its still written down and ready for you to pull from whenever you need it.
This brings up another important use for the writer’s notebook; reflection and editing. Your notebook is a glimpse inside your mind, spilled out onto a piece of paper. The only difference is that while thoughts are fleeting and can be easily forgotten, what your write in your journal is a tangible representation of your feelings and thoughts which can be visited whenever necessary. Reflection and editing is a vital step in any writer’s journey through a piece. It allows us to better understand ourselves and the work we have done to actually sit back and reflect on its importance to us and to whatever it is we are working on at the time. Through your writer’s notebook you can do just that, without constantly worrying about grammar or spelling errors. You can write what you are experiencing or whatever jumbled thought flits through your mind. Just write it, let it stew, and come back to it on a rainy day, or never again if you don’t want to. Sometimes it is good to get things out of our head and it is ok to never look back at it again. However, it is there should you want to.
The writer’s notebook is a multi-faceted tool for any and all writers, be they from academia, or just the poets and writers that wander the world making it a little better with each written word. It has something for everyone to benefit from regardless if you think you are a good writer or a bad one. Through the use of this resource, we as writers can have safe place to store our ideas, our feelings, and musings, if for no one else but ourselves. So pick up an empty notebook today and just start writing, it doesn’t matter about what, just write. You may be amazed at what actually comes out on the page.
Fletcher, Ralph. A Writer’s Notebook. HarperTrophy, 2006
If interested in further reading on the topic, I highly suggest picking up a copy of the work cited above, Ralph Fletcher’s, A Writer’s Notebook. Below is the link from Amazon: