Saturday, June 30, 2012

Writer's Notebooks

At the end of the school year I received two nice new writer’s notebooks.  I’m writing in one of them now.  (Of course I copied from it for this post.)  One was a gift from a student in my classroom.  She spent the last two years filling up her own writer’s notebooks.  And did she ever fill them up!  She wrote marvelous bits of fiction, memoirs, a biography, craft exercises in which she focused on setting, character development, and making her dialogue real and effective. 

It was such an honor to see her smile at what she had written, laugh at her own funny dialogue, to watch her read a piece to her peers in an author’s circle and hunker down to make revisions. It was a fantastic feeling to edit her piece with her and listen as she read final drafts to the class, to applaud as she finished reading her stories and listen to the appreciations from her classmates as she called on them from the author’s chair. 

It is breathtaking to bear witness to children’s evolution as writers.  And since I was with her for two years I got to be a part of an incredible amount of development and change.  Her writer’s notebooks over these two years are archives; timelines to her growth. It is a record of her development of writing mechanics as she went from large mixed capitals and lower case letters with frequent spelling miscues to tight lovely cursive.  Beyond her mastery of skills, her writer’s notebooks are testaments to her craft development.  From cramped little bed-to-bed stories that reached exactly down to the last line on the page, to lengthy complex stories filled with emotions and colorful characters and intricate settings.

This little girl, my student and my friend, gave me a gift far beyond the cost of the notebook.

My other new writer’s notebook was a parting gift from my student teacher this semester.  She also knows the value of a writer’s notebook.  While she was only in my classroom for a single semester, that is a lot of time to spend in the presence of young children who are growing and changing before our very eyes.  Liz was able to witness the power of outgrowing yourself as a writer by trying out new genres, studying specific aspects of the writing process or cloning a favorite author’s style. Liz was there as children developed their writing voices.  She was able to witness their metamorphosis.  And she had the eyes to see.

I receive lots of notebooks as gifts.  It is fitting as I am a teacher of writing.  Some of these gifts are transcribed so that many years from now, as I fill a notebook and open up a fresh one, I’ll know who to mentally thank.  I’ll remember the face and some stories.  I’ll remember the feeling of having written with that person and sharing what we have written with each other.  I’ll recall some of the time when our paths crossed in a classroom and we were both growing together as writers. 

I can’t say that I haven’t regifted a few that have the first pages left blank absent of personal messages.  They make it to good homes.  But the transcribed ones are the ones I use.  I have to, right?  One of my former student teachers gave me one with a beautiful transcription about how much I helped her on her path to her professional dreams, etc.  I sensed that IT was a regift because it had a bright yellow bouquet on the front cover and flowery designs throughout.  I had to use it, right?  I couldn’t very well cut out the front page and give it away.  It would have been too obvious.  So I used it as my classroom notebook.   The kids didn’t care.  They knew I was in touch with my feminine side.  But when a colleague noticed it at a faculty meeting and riffed on me about it, I covered the front and back with duct tape.  Now it looks really manly.  What can’t duct tape fix?

A new writer’s note is so blank, so empty, so full of promise.  In these pages I could write my best poem, my most meaningful memoir, my finest lyrics, my saddest story.  I could write the draft of a memorable letter or a whimsical fairy tale.  A fresh writer’s notebook is so filled with promise and potential.  The gift of a writer’s notebook is a dare to write, to outgrow yourself as a writer.  It is a little daunting holding this new notebook with it’s flawless cover and spine, and smelling it’s fresh blank pages. 

A new writer’s notebook holds infinite possibilities. 


Unknown said...

That first page holds so much pressure! What to write? Carefully trying to form each letter, word, and line as though this entire volume will be nothing but perfection. Then a few pages in it happens - imperfect letters, scratch outs, and pieces that lead nowhere. I guess that's when these become real writer notebooks. Still, it's painful.

And...thanks for the duct tape!

Chris Hass said...

I'm bad about signing in, I guess.

MYork said...

I am so glad I found this page and blog. It is so true about the growth of the childs mind, esp. due to your teachings. As I speak from experience, Old friend and teacher. Through your teachings I have grown to write poems and am starting short stories. You may not remember me as you last taught me in 1997 @ Lonnie B. Nelson, but what you have taught me has stayed with me in my poems, in the observance of life, and my love for James Taylor. My journals are full of poems throughout the years and are staring a new chapter soon. Thank You.

Tim O'Keefe said...

Michelle! I am so glad that you caught up to me. Of course I remember you. You are one of the most remarkable people I have known. email me -

nik2013 said...

I'm desperately looking for a
hard cover notebook like the above!
I tried google but nothing...
Can you please tell me the source
of the picture? Maybe I could find
where I could buy such a notebook.
I love it so much, it's perfect!
The notebook of my dreams....