Creating a Writer’s Notebook

Many teenagers reject the idea of keeping a journal.  To them the word “journal”  is synonymous with “diary,”  something very girly and childish.  Teachers and parents should set an example by keeping a journal themselves.  Teachers have little time, I know, to do this, but writing about each day at the end of school is a great way to release the tensions and frustrations of the day and also to note successes and memorable moments.  Parents can plan their days in a notebook and then add notes throughout the day, writing down reactions to events or funny or poignant words from their children.

The best way to begin to keep a journal is to put effort into selection of a notebook.  Bookstores have sections devoted to journals.  Any student can select one that seems to fit his or her personality.  Boys who resist the idea of a journal can always find a color or design to suit them.  However, it isn’t really necessary to select a ready-made journal when you can design one yourself.  There are many ways to do this.

I took a class one summer from an established writer at a writer’s conference who began the class with a lengthy discussion of notebooks and pens. I remember wondering what difference it made what I wrote in or what pen I used.  I was soon  convinced to spend some time selecting my writing materials.  I chose a grid composition notebook and Pilot Precise V5  rolling ball pens in black.  I use the notebook not just for daily comments but for all the work on my novels.

In school I have my students create a writer’s notebook.  I like to encourage them to buy an artist’s sketchbook but a regular spiral notebook will work.  Some students need lined paper, but I think they can be more creative with blank space.  Then I encourage them to collect clippings or download images from the computer that relate to them.  (See post on Writing Workshop.)  After gluing them in randomly throughout the notebook, they will have prompts that can encourage them to begin to write.  Also they can clip words or slogans from ads that inspire them.

Many students prefer to draw rather than write, and I think art and writing belong together.  One of my favorite books about journaling is Erin O’Toole’s Create Your Own Artist’s Journal.  It is mainly a book that teaches how to sketch scenes, but along with every drawing are words that describe the artwork.  Students who are artistic are often more willing to keep a journal when they know they can also draw in it.  In class, I encouraged those students to begin with a sketch and then write about it.  They often drew ocean scenes or people or objects, using them as prompts for a story or descriptive paragraph.

I believe there are great advantages for people of all ages in keeping a journal.  It’s a record of your life, the good and the bad, the funny and sad moments, the anxieties and triumphs we all have.  So spend some time in the journal section of a bookstore.  Then also go to an office supply store and look for notebooks with plain or lined paper.  Select a special pen.  My students loved to write in colored ink, mainly because all work to be graded had to be in blue or black ink.  I just make sure they don’t use a light-colored gel pen that is hard to read.

The cover of a plain notebook or artist’s sketchbook can be decorated to reflect the writer’s personality.  Photos, colorful print ads or magazine pages can personalize the simplest notebook.

After creating the notebook, the next challenge is to create a time in the course of every day to write in it.  It needs to become a habit.  Moments slip away from us all too quickly.  Young people can benefit greatly from looking back over their journals to discover how they have changed and grown, how those events that seemed so disastrous at the time of writing turned out to be less significant as months passed and strength to handle those challenges grew.    The same is true for adults.  I look back at the journals I kept when my children were younger and see an entirely different person then than I am now.  Would I have remembered all those times without the journals?

Teenagers today do write a lot in the course of a day, but they use technology to do it.  There isn’t anything wrong with that.   In fact, it’s crucial to keep up with advances in technology today.  They text, e-mail, and twitter.  The problem is that those words aren’t preserved the way words are in a journal.  Those words are often about mere moments in a day that are fleeting and soon become insignificant.  Words in a journal can be revised, edited, and added to.  Journals give us all a chance to be more reflective, to slow down our thinking, to use as many words as we want.  They record our lives forever.  What a wonderful gift they are to those who come after us!

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