Friday, June 18, 2010

A Writer's Notebook: A Book for Kids about Writing

If you are looking for a good book for young writers, A Writer's Notebook by Ralph Fletcher has so many great ways to explain writing to kids. In the introduction he writes:

What is a writer's notebook, anyway? Let's start by talking about what it's not. A writer's notebook is not a diary: "Today it is raining. We have a substitute teacher named Miss Pampanella. She seems very nice. We are going to have gym right before lunch."

It's not a reading journal in which your teacher tells you to summarize the main idea of a book, or write a letter to a character. A writer's notebook is different from any journal you've ever kept before.

Writers are pretty ordinary people. They have favorite songs, favorite movies, favorite TV shows. Writers have Evil Big Sisters (and, occasionally, sweet ones). They get good or not so good grades, take vacations, paint their houses. . .

Writers are like other people, except for at least one important difference. Other people have daily thoughts and feelings, notice this sky or that smell, but they don't do much about it. All those thoughts, feelings, sensations, and opinions pass through them like the air they breathe.

Not writers. Writers react. And writers need a place to record those reactions. That's what a writer's notebook is for. It gives you a place to write down what makes you angry or sad or amazed, to write down what you noticed and don't want to forget, to record exactly what your grandmother whispered in your ear before she said goodbye for the last time.

A writer's notebook gives you a place to live like a writer, not just in school during writing time, but wherever you are, at any time of day.

A few years ago I was walking in Wheeling, Illinois, and I saw a rainbow so enormous it seemed to stretch from one horizon to the other. But there was something wrong with it-the topmost arch was missing. I came back to my hotel room, took out my notebook, and wrote:

The skies are so huge in the midwest! They just don't make skies like this back east. Today I saw a rainbow, beautiful and damaged, the top part washed away, gone. Never seen anything like it. Wonder what makes that happen. Had the winds swept away the highest clouds? Months later I began writing a series of love poems. I reread my notebook and found that entry. The words-a rainbow, beautiful and damaged-seemed to jump off the page. I used that phrase like a piece of flint to spark this sad poem I wrote:

First Flight

All the way home
I tried to forget
how your lip twitched
how your face flinched
I walked alone
under a huge rainbow
beautiful and damaged
upper arch worn away
just two broken pieces
dangling from the sky

What does a writer's notebook look like? There's really no right answer for this except that your writer's notebook should reflect your personality. Some writers prefer a pad small enough to stick in a back pocket. Others have beautiful notebooks with wildflowers on their covers, and others with plain brown covers. My wife's notebook has unlined pages because she likes to sketch in it, as well as write. My notebook is really supposed to be a business ledger, with lined, numbered pages. It has a hard cover and a very sturdy binding, which is good because I drag it with me wherever I go and it gets banged up a lot.

A notebook doesn't even have to be made from paper, really. Often I work on my "notebook computer" while I'm flying from one city to the next. But a notebook doesn't have to be expensive or fancy-a plain notebook from the stationery store will do just fine.

The book is a paperback with 11 short chapters, 138 pages in all, filled with "suggestions" for ways to use a writer's notebook "to sift and collect important things from your life, stuff that may prove valuable in later writing." It is written with younger writers in mind, but I think this could be a valuable tool for pre-teens and teens as well as adults.

Take a look inside on the Barnes & Noble website

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a wonderful book for all young writers to read.

This is a great blog. I enjoy reading the posts.