March 17, 2008

A Writer's Notebook

So here I am on St. Patrick's Day and my writing group is meeting tonight. I don't have anything written, of course, because now that I've decided to take graduate classess to become a school librarian I had to spend all weekend cramming for the GRE this Friday. We also just had all the floors done. And my daughter and I have been sickly. In a word, I've been distracted. So trying to think of something, anything to write about for tonight, this book popped to mind. It's written for 4th grade and up but that doesn't mean you won't get anything out of it as an adult.

Writing is capture. Write everything down so you don't forget it and write it in the same place so you don't lose what you wrote. In A Writer's Notebook, Ralph Fletcher is promoting the same idea. Get a notebook and fill it with words, quotes, fragments, names, lists, whatever and you'll always have something to draw from in your writing.

So far so sensible, but he digs a little deeper. He interviews some writers and asks them about their notebooks which is quite revealing. He also quotes from his own notebooks and guides you toward certain fruitful types of notebook writing. Chapters like "Fierce Wonderings," "Writing Small," and "Seed Ideas" lead to some great exercises. The book is peppered with quotes from student notebooks as well.

I think a writer's notebook is just a place to be free and sketch some thoughts. I don't think it should be an end in itself. The point is to write, not fill up notebooks. There are people who have the most gorgeous and creative notebooks I've ever seen with writing and collage and art on every page. If that's your thing, then great. I like to think of a writer's notebook as a bit more utilitarian. More along the lines of a reporter's or even a cop's, but not just for the facts. The best way to have good ideas is to have a lot of ideas and a writer's notebook will lead you there.

Ralph Fletcher has also written How Writer's Work, Live Writing and Poetry Matters along the same lines. He's also written some great books for teachers of writing including the essetial What a Writer Needs and two books on Craft Lessons. Check them out and enjoy the process.