How Many Notebooks?

Since I can remember I have had a notebook. When I was in elementary school, I would create mysteries. In middle and high school, I composed poetry. In my writing methods course at The College of New Jersey, I used a notebook to learn more about who I was as a writer, the writing process, and the teaching of writing. Since I started teaching, I have used my notebook to collect ideas and draft my sci-fi story, write alongside my students, record beautiful language from YA novels, and brainstorm professional articles and blog posts about teaching. This blog is one of the few areas in my writing that I do not rehearse first on paper. Dr. Famiglietti, my professor at West Chester University, encouraged me to write off the cuff here–to feel a more informal and less processed aspect of my writing. Perhaps this blog is an online extension of my notebook: Something I continue to reflect on as I consider my middle school students’ writing process preferences.

Anyway, during all of these times in my life, I also had “school” notebooks: places I took notes for various class periods or college courses, professional development meetings and conferences, as well as lesson plans and unit overviews.

The last two summers blurred the lines. As I wrote and read, I collected a hodgepodge of information and ideas, which made it difficult to locate things after the fact. With creating a 2020 summer writing and reading camp of sorts for myself, I had more clearly defined lines of what I was going to be writing and what I was going to be researching.

To help me stay more organized, I have one notebook for academic research, reading, brainstorming, webinars, conversations with colleagues, etc. I title the top of the page with where the new information is coming from, and I add the date. On the right-hand side of the notebook, I take notes. Then, I add my own thoughts, questions, comments, and extensions on the left-hand side. There are arrows, drawings, and reminders scribbled to help me remember my train of thought.

My writing notebook is a place where I rehearse ideas for creative and professional writing. When I come to a crossroads in my sci-fi story or find that I am stuck, I write off the screen. Returning to my notebook to list, draw, and/or quick write gets me going again. Before I write a post for the Pennsylvania Writing and Literature Project blog, I hash out my ideas and make sense of what I hope to contribute to the academic conversation. While I start writing on the right-hand side of the notebook, my ideas rarely stay there. The pages reflect my thinking as ideas are called forth from my subconsciousness. I have arrows and numbers directing me to additional ideas. I write across to the left-hand side of the notebook, in the margins, and against the structured lines. The ideas shower down onto the page like the embers of fireworks. There is also space on the left-hand side of the notebook for YA novel lines that I want to remember and save for myself and my students–lines and passages that will inspire word choice, style, techniques, and ideas.

I write on one side of my notebook (the right side) to allow for additional notes and ideas to fill up the other side as discussed above. For anyone who is left handed, I invite you to consider making the left-hand side of your notebook your main writing page. A student of mine many years ago taught me this. Ever since I have this conversation and include this option as part of our September “Setting up your Notebook” mini-lesson.

Notebooks are messy–yet amazing–places to live. I show my students my notebooks to model how they might use the space to create, reflect, and grow. Writing, reading, and thinking–when you are truly engaging in the process–are messy. Through the messiness, we make order from chaos. We find the very inspiration we are looking for.

This July and August, I am helping myself stay more organized by keeping two notebooks. I am more present and focused when inspiring ideas and insights cross my path. I am eager and ready like a child patiently waiting for the first glow of lightening bugs on a summer night.