Writer’s Notebooks

Writer’s Notebooks are tools that writers use to capture thoughts, ideas, images, words, feelings and more. They are limitless in their use and every writer uses them in a different way, so whichever way that you choose will be the right way for you.

A writer’s notebook is different from a diary. A diary records day-to-day happenings; a notebook is not aligned so linearly or prescriptively. A wnb holds your writing ideas, or words, etc. that you wish to hold onto.

Will you use all that you put into your notebook? Likely not! Still, in the moment(s) in which you captured your thinking, you grew, and for a notebook, that alone is enough.

Career writers, or most, could not do without them, even if they now may take the form of a laptop, iPad, or the like. I have a software program on my Macbook called MacJournal and I use it very much like a paper notebook.

Writer’s notebooks may be called Daybooks, Thoughtbooks, Journals. There are many names for the same tool.

What do published writers say about notebooks? Here are a few quotes:

Into my notebook goes anything that is interesting enough to stop me in my tracks–the slump of a pair of shoulders in a crowd, a newspaper entry, a recipe, “chewy” words like ragamuffin or Maurice . . . For me, it all begins with a notebook: it is the well I dip into for that first clear, cool drink……..Rita Dove

For me, there has to be an absolute flexibility in maintaining a notebook. My notebooks are really scrapbooks–pieced together with fragments, phrases, sentences, paragraphs, long and short passages, magazine and newspaper clippings, postcards&these items seem to dictate their own coherence. Some are like jumpstarts for the imagination; others function more like jumpcuts–little bridges that spring up between ideas and feelings. Connectors. Accidental linkages. Surprises……Sandra Cisneros

The words do not take me to the reason I made the entry, but back to the felt expereince, whatever it was…It is the instant I try to catch in the notebooks, not the comment, not the thought…Mary Oliver (one of my 2 favorite poets!)

A foyer. The place for introductions–some otherwise impossible…….Peter Sacks

It is partly the unpolished quality of the notebooks I find so beautiful. One finds in them the record of a struggle, full of rough edges……Laurie Sheck

“Many people drift through life. Your writer’s notebook can work as alarm clock to remind you to wake up and pay attention to what’s happening in your world, both inside and out.”…Ralph Fletcher

…there are more out there, and many from children’s authors….

I have kept writers’ notebooks for so many years. Before they had the name “writer’s notebooks,” actually. As a kid, I kept journals, mostly nature journals. I continue to keep them as an adult. I assign the keeping of a writer’s notebook in my Language Arts classes. I also used them as models for my middle school students. Students are generally resistant at first, but not once, in over a decade, have I had a student that did not find a fascination and passion in keeping one. Some of my notebooks are work-related where I keep thoughts on professional writing; most are personal notebooks, and most have a visual and/or nature theme. I often paint on pages first and then add words later. Sometimes I just sketch or paint with words yet to add.

Think of your writer’s notebook as a–toolbox—-a box of thoughts—-a mirror.

Writers keep notebooks to jot down thoughts that are forming, evolving, that might lead to work on a finished product. OR…thoughts just to help them along as they work on an envisioned piece of work. Notebooks are drafts of possibilities. They help to keep the writing muse alive and well. Teachers who use them with students, and especially on a school-wide basis from grades 3 and up, see an excitement about writing in their students. The notebooks become a focal point for writer’s workshop.

The rules:

Except that a writer’s notebook is not a daily diary, there are no rules. What works for you is right.

What can go in a notebook?

Clippings from magazines that inspire you to write

Photos that will inspire you to write

Words you love

Passages, “golden lines” that you don’t want to forget

Sketches, collages, and other artistic play–remember, art and writing are hard to separate for many people, including me–I express myself visually as often as I do using words alone.


Poetry, yours and others’ that you treasure

Notebooks can be a mix of unrelated topics, or they can be themed.

For teachers, starting a notebook as a model is a way to show students that writing happens in our heads first and on paper second, and that writing is our reflection on the world. Students often think that writing happens only when assigned and only within the walls of the classroom. They also think that writing is a gift; it is not–if you can think, you can write.

The scariest moment is always just before you start. After that, things can only get better.” – Stephen King

2 thoughts on “Writer’s Notebooks

  1. I had gotten away from my own writing notebooks and really appreciate reading this post today — am headed off to the kitchen to grind coffee beans with a blank one and my favorite (Office Depot) blue pen.

    One of my favorite quotes on writing is from Dylan Landis, author of Normal People Don’t Live Like This: “To write well, you must be willing to hold your finger in the flame.” I believe memoir writing is a brave act.

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