About this page…
When I first began assigning the writer’s notebook project to my education students over a decade ago, I left it entirely open for their entries, knowing that the notebook would be more of commitment if it felt less like an assignment of writing to prompts. This was confirmed through my dissertation; one way that my preservice students viewed the writer’s notebook was as a refreshing contrast to assigned writing. They liked the freedom that the notebook offered. Over time, however, I adjusted my assignment to include invitational structure, for those who seek it. This decision came about from students each semester who would ask me for ideas, just something to grind their gears, to get them started. I began then, to “invite” students to consider entries that provided structure, yet remained open-ended. All of the invitations could also, in turn, be given to their students.
This page then, is for you, should you wish to grab some invitations. Many are mine, that I created; I provide credit for those that are not mine. Even while I created many of the entries, the things in life that I invite you to write about are timeless and universal.
Writer’s notebook invitation #1
Draw a map of your neighborhood, add text comments to your drawing, and use your map as a focus for many notebook entries. Your map may be of your childhood neighborhood, or it may be a map of where you currently reside. As you draw your map, your memories WILL emerge. Pick one and write.
I did not create this idea, but discovered it in a professional journal. The article, mapping our stories, is here. This is perhaps the notebook invitation that students love the most; they often tell me that their maps just opened up memories they may otherwise never recalled. This invitation almost always gets them “into” their notebooks.
Writer’s notebook invitation #2
Ten Observations a Day entry: Author/Essayist/Poet Georgia Heard, in her book Writing Toward Home: Essays to help you find your way, invites us to make ten observations a day of the world. You might focus on one thing and observe it ten times over the course of a day, or you might make ten random observations a day. Either way, you are planting seeds for future writing. This is a favorite of mine to note the natural world, and I practice it often.
Here’s an entry of mine from a woods-walk in Virginia spring 2009…
Yesterday afternoon Gary and I took advantage of the spring-like temps and spent the day outdoors. Part of our excursions included a 3 hour trek to follow a good piece of Bull Run River, tramping through the woods, over fallen trees, up and down muddy embankments. My gifts from this day….
A fox den! We wondered if it was and then hunted for muddy prints and finally determined that it was fox. The entry into the den was large, it must have taken incredible work to dig out as it was in the middle of the woods, not along an embankment with an already graduated slope to start with. Very well-mounded. Perfection, actually. We wondered if maybe little critters might emerge later this spring.
An active beehive. Got pretty close and then they started getting “anxious” so we backed off and just watched for awhile. About 8 ft up a tree—huge hole in which the hive was built.
Deer fur. White pile of fur strewn about a two-foot area.. Looked like perhaps from a tussle as it was not near a tree where may have been rubbed off.
Deer napping ground. Three huge fallen trees made a semi circle and a perfect place for deer to shelter on cold days/nights. Evidence of this—large areas of matted down leaves and forest litter.
Fresh green growth of baby plants—holly and others. New green tree shoots.
Ice on river—lost of ice, but lots of open water, too.
Open ground is muddy today–Deer tracks, everywhere.
Horse hooves tracks through woods and along river bank. (Often see horse tracks; sometimes we get lucky and see horses—Virginia is horse country)
Beautiful white and brown hawk on bare-limbed tree.
Deer rubbings on trees.
Tree-singing from the wind.
Writer’s notebook invitation #3
Name entry: An entry about your name—where did your name come from? Is it a common/uncommon name? Do you know why you were given this name? Have you always liked/not liked your name? This is a rather common exercise, often assigned by teachers. When I present this invitation I always precede it with reading from Sandra Cisneros‘ , the very short, poignant chapter, ” My Name .”
Writer’s notebook invitation #4
Here Today…Gone Tomorrow?
What things in your present life do you hope you will remember ten, twenty, thirty years from now? Write them down. Why do they seem or feel so valuable today? Why do you hope to remember them? Imagine picking up your notebook in twenty years. What would constitute your memory trove?
Writer’s notebook invitation #5
Write off of a photo. You should do this often, and invite your students to do this. Images evoke language, emotions, and memory. The photo might be one of your own, or one that simply catches your eye or inspires you. For photo entries, I like to write small, in haiku form, off of photos I take in northern Michigan–one of my other blogs is dedicated to my northern haiku. Here’s an example:
His walk not one of
purpose, but rather of need
To be is enough
Great inspiration for writing off of photos: Author Cynthia Rylant’s book Something Permanent is a collection of poems that she wrote from photographs taken during the Great Depression by a photographer who wanted to capture the essence of the GD on the everyday folks.
Writer’s notebook invitation #6
Go through the alphabet a letter at a time—think of words that would describe you. If you were an ABC book, what would readers learn about you? If you were to illustrate it, what colors, media would you use? This is a very flexible exercise–could become an alphabet of any theme. Very popular with kids (even my college kids), and encourages idea fluency.
Writer’s notebook invitation #7
Georgia Heard, poet, author, introduces the Heartmap as a way to collect writing ideas. Draw a big heart and put words and images inside–the things and people and events that are closest to your heart. Place this in your writer’s notebook, or close to where you will often write if too large for your notebook. When I have used this with students I asked them to draw their maps on a file folder and place post-it notes inside of writing seed ideas, or to fill the folder with notebook entries. The Heartmap is a very good way to launch a notebook study. If you Google Heart Map images I’m guessing you will find many as examples!!
Writer’s notebook invitation #8
What do you want to do with this day, this week, this month, this year, this life? Seize the Day in a notebook entry or list. The recent film, The Bucket List, is an example of a Carpe Diem writing entry.
Writer’s notebook invitation #8
A Place in Time
Writing of a place could be the most honest writing that you experience. This should be a standard invitation for your students. Write small. Bring life to a place in time that defines you or defines a special time in your life.
Writer’s notebook invitation #9
My Life in Seven Stories
Not even sure of where or how I came upon this invitation, but it is not a credit to me. I think a writing pal (Connie B) first shared it with me. What a powerful way to use your notebook to quickjoy seven life events that you could unfold in story. Give it a try!
Writer’s notebook invitation #10
Fall in Love 3 Times a Day
Georgia Heard (again!) in Writing Towards Home invites us to fall in love three times a day–maybe it’s just that first cup of coffee–that’s your first love today–and the quiet light of morning as you drink and the energy you have this morning that will drive your daily plans…your 3 loves can be as simple and profound as this..but recording 3 daily things that move and inspire you keeps you wide awake in the world.
Writer’s notebook invitation #11
Just that simple. Start with those two words and just write–see what unfolds onto your paper.
OR…the opposite…I Don’t Remember…..because what we do not remember usually reveals significance.
Writer’s notebook invitation #12
Another simple start that could yield amazing results. So many What If’s bouncing around in your mind. Write them down. Any one of them could transform into a longer writing piece.
Writer’s notebook invitation #13
Color your day
It’s a new day–how will you paint your pallette?
Today I paint mine with the soft pink of smiles, the orange crush of laughter, the pearl gray hues of tranquility.
Writer’s notebook invitation #14
Writing off a quote
Ok..this is my own quote, but I know it to be true. I just finished reading Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacquie Woodson, and while she wrote her story, I also wrote mine through connections made to hers. As I read this book I was unintentionally immersed in memories of my two grandmothers and how their cultures shaped how they lived their lives. And how they have shaped my own life. Woodson’s stories within this novel took a unique and personal direction for me. That’s what reading does to us–we make sense of our lives particularly through the genre of memoir.
What quotes inspire you?
Writer’s notebook invitation #15 (Especially good for academic-type entries)
Your notebook can also be a place where ideas ferment and grow. Grab a burning question or thought and run with it in your note6ook–asking yourself:
“How far can I take this idea? How accurately can I describe or explain it? How can I make it make sense to me?” A notebook entry such as this encourages you to become conscious, through language, of what is happening to you, both personally and academically.
Writer’s notebook invitation #16
Sometimes you just need a piece, a stem to trigger your thoughts…here are a few—each of these words can start you off on a writing entry…
Writer’s notebook invitation #17
Writers often say that you should write about what you know best. Well, that often means writing about YOU–who you are, what makes you tick. Why not make it fun?
A “You-nique” approach to autobiography:
Write an autobiography of your hands, arms, or legs, or your eyes, or your mind: What stories can you tell?
Writer’s notebook invitation #18
View from a window…..do you have a special place? A window view from which you can sit and observe?? Write as you observe; record your thoughts as they connect to your view. Here are two of mine as examples: