A Writer’s Notebook

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A Writer’s Notebook

In the last few years I have become bored with journaling. Oh, I still journal a bit. But I sure don’t fill the reams of paper I used to. A downside of this is that I no longer have the bulk of material to sift through for possible writing ideas that I once did. Add to that the importance common wisdom places on writers keeping notebooks and is it any wonder I’m starting to feel left behind and guilty because I’m neglecting something that’s important for a writer?

Perhaps that’s why a while ago the blog Sharing Our Notebooks caught my attention. Maintained by children’s poet, author, and teacher Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, the blog talks only about notebooks and how people—mostly writers and other creatives—use them. Through it I stumbled on an entire book about writers’ notebooks. I am learning so much as I get educated, not about journaling but about keeping a writer’s notebook. Let me share some of these things with you.

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What is a writer’s notebook?

“Let’s start by talking about what it is not,” says Ralph Fletcher in his book A Writer’s Notebook. “A writer’s notebook is not a diary”1

Fletcher goes on to give us some ideas of what a writer’s notebook is. He tells us that though writers experience the gamut of thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations like everyone else, they differ from others in that they take notice of their reactions to those things. And the place to collect those reactions is the writer’s notebook. He concludes: “A writer’s notebook gives you a place to live like a writer … wherever you are, at any time of day.”2

Alan Wright, an Australian author and educational consultant would agree: “People who write get to live life twice—in the moment and in retrospect. That’s what sets writers apart. I rarely go anywhere or do anything without the shadow of my writing self being part of the adventure. Every experience provides opportunities to harvest writing ideas.”3 And the things stored in a writer’s notebook only increase in value, according to teacher and naturalist Bill Michalek: “…the diary-type entries become more and more valuable the older they get … let months or years go by, and those entries are time machines.”4

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What do we put in a writer’s notebook?

The list of possibilities is long and includes:

  • Our reactions to life, as discussed above.
  • Things that move, haunt, or inspire us. Fletcher says, “People are different. What dazzles one person might bore the next. The question is: what moves you? As a writer, you need to be able to answer that question and take note of it.” 5 Small, telling details of scenes, experiences, and interactions. The advice from more than one notebook-keeper is to train ourselves to notice details and use all our senses to capture our impressions in precise words (not the room “smells nice” but “smells like vanilla”). We need to look for and note the telling detail of body language and facial expression. Fletcher again: “The world is jam-packed with millions of details to notice; in your notebook you’ll only have room for a tiny fraction. Try to select the ones that capture what’s really important.”6
  • Ideas. The advice is unanimous on this:

Alan Wright: “I never know when an idea might arrive, so I must be ready to receive it, and my notebook is my catcher.”7

Ralph Fletcher: “It gives you a place to write down an idea before it wriggles out of your overloaded memory.”8

Peter Salomon (children’s author): “I have a dreadful fear of coming up with a great idea and then forgetting it, so notebooks are a lifesaver.”9

  • Facts and trivia. One notebook keeper tells how his habit of collecting spider facts led to writing an entire book about spiders.
  • Significant objects. Alan Wright collected a group of objects that was meaningful to him, took a photo, and put it in his notebook as a writing prompt. Some people make sure their notebooks come with pockets so they can collect actual artifacts (ticket stubs, programs, photos, and other memorabilia).
  • Great writing. Though Fletcher felt guilty the first time he put someone else’s writing in his notebook, he later changed his mind. He says, “I’ve learned that if I’m going to write well, I need to surround my words with the beautiful writing of others.”10
  • Idea-sparkers like photos, comic strips, and news articles.
  • Overheard dialogue and arguments between strangers, friends, and family.
  • Lists. All kinds of lists like the books we’ve read, favourite words, rhyming words, cities visited, movies seen, favourite characters…whatever!
  • Ideas for future projects.
  • Doodles and sketches.
  • Memories.
  • Sayings about writing and writers that inspire us and help us persevere.

I could go on, but I’m sure you get the idea.

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What makes a good notebook?

I purposely put the question of what sort of book to choose after listing the kinds of things that might go into a notebook, because the choice of book will depend on what we’ll collect in it and how we will use it. Some writers have several notebooks, each for a different purpose. Notebooks vary in size from small enough to fit in a pocket, to large scrapbooks with sturdy pockets. Some people like stitched notebooks with beautiful covers. Others prefer coil-bound scribblers. Sketchers and doodlers may want paper with no lines. Those who write a lot of longhand may want a stiff cover that doubles as a writing surface. Fletcher reminds us: “Your notebook is uniquely yours.”11 Only we can decide what kind of book we will use and what we will put in it.

How can we get a writer’s mileage out of our notebooks?

Read and reread it. Poet Naomi Shihab Nye says: “Rereading notebooks is like reliving your life. I think they’re more important than money in the bank.”12

Fletcher suggests that we reread our writer’s notebooks differently than we read a book. “When I read a book or a poem, I am focusing on being the reader. When I read my own notebook my attention is split: I am half-reader and half-writer all at the same time.”13

Here are some questions Fletcher proposes we ask ourselves as we read our notebooks:

“What seems interesting/intriguing to me? What stuff do I most deeply care about? What ideas keep tugging at me? What seems bold and original? Where does the writing seem fresh and new?”14

Mark the ideas/lines/sections you like, choose one, and on a new page of your notebook, work on that idea, clustering, listing or brainstorming around it as you begin to prepare it for prime time.

We need to realize, however, that most of the writing in our notebooks will never germinate into anything. That’s okay too. Because the very act of noticing and writing things down makes us more observant, alert people—all part of the package we need to be successful writers.

Writer’s notebooks are as old as Leonardo Da Vinci. I’m sure they’re not a novel idea to most of us. But if you’re like me and have been viewing your notebook as a place to dutifully keep track of the details of life, or have become lazy about writing things down at all, maybe you’ll join me in making a new start at keeping a writer’s notebook.

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Footnotes

1 Ralph Fletcher, A Writer’s Notebook, Harper Collins, 1996, Kindle Location (KL) 52

2 Ibid, KL 59.

3 Alan Wright, “The Essential Question – Why?” sidebar box on Living Life Twice , last accessed September 17, 2012.

4 Bill Michalek, “Bill Michalek – The Page is a Listener,” Sharing Our Notebooks < http://tinyurl.com/8p4nhyn >, last accessed September 17, 2012.

5 Fletcher, Op. Cit, KL 122.

6 Ibid, KL 265.

7 Alan Wright, “Alan Wright: My Notebook Is My Catcher,” Sharing Our Notebooks, < http://tinyurl.com/94bxujs >, last accessed September 17, 2012.

8 Fletcher, Op. Cit., KL 333.

9 Peter Adam Salomon, “Peter Adam Salomon: More Emory Notebooks,” Sharing Our Notebooks, <http://tinyurl.com/9ebr6w2&gt;, last accessed September 17, 2012.

10 Fletcher, Op. Cit., KL 1101

11 Ibid., KL 94

12 Naomi Shihab Nye, quoted in Fletcher, Op. Cit., KL 720.

13 Fletcher, Op. Cit., KL 1262.

14 Ibid.

This article has been previously published in the November 2012 issue of FellowScript.

Surrounded by songs #BibleJournaling

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I’ve found several Bible verses to go along with my 2017 word LISTEN. One is Zephaniah 3:17:

“The LORD your God in your midst,
The Mighty One, will save;
He will rejoice over you with gladness,
He will quiet you with His love,
He will rejoice over you with singing.”

Isn’t that beautiful? I had to make an entry for it in my journaling Bible.

The image that comes to mind when I hear that verse is a mother singing to her baby. I decided to try doing a baby sketch, but in a tree. A google image search pulled up a graphic that I somewhat copied.

I found simple bird sketches in The Complete Guide to Bible Journaling and penciled them in freehand, then inked over all the pencil lines with Pigma Micron pens (I have three: .01, .03, .05). I used pencil crayons to do the coloring.

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Entry for Zephaniah 3:17 (Photo © 2017 by V. Nesdoly)

A little sequel:
Last week was my birthday. The morning after, as I lay in bed, the thought came to me: I forgot to spend some birthday time with the Lord yesterday.

As I breathed my “So sorry Lord” prayer, it was like He said to me, “That’s okay. I still have a present for you. It’s the music that I sing over you.”

About an hour later, hubby and I were in church at our early morning prayer meeting. We start that time with worship and this morning our leader, Joel, began with the beautiful song “No Longer Slaves” (Bethel Music). It starts:

“You unravel me with a melody
You surround me with a song
Of deliverance, from my enemies
All my fears are gone…”

{{Shivers}} What a birthday present! Thank you Lord!!

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Complete Guide to Bible Journaling (review)

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Complete Guide to Bible Journaling: Creative Techniques to Express Your FaithComplete Guide to Bible Journaling: Creative Techniques to Express Your Faith by Joanne Fink

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Before I got this book, I had only a vague idea there was such a thing as Bible journaling and no idea how to go about it or what a movement it had become. But now that I’ve read it, I’m a convert!

What a comprehensive and gorgeous guide this is!

Six sections take the reader through:

Getting Started: An explanation of what Bible journaling is and how to begin.

Tools and Techniques: A walk through many Bible journaling techniques including lettering in different styles, tracing, using stamps, drawing, coloring with colored pencils, preparing Bible pages for paint, painting with watercolour and acrylics, the use of washi tape etc. The book is lavishly illustrated with colour photos that show processes step-by-step and display the finished designs.

Artist Profiles: An introduction to eleven Bible journaling women who have connected and attracted a following on the internet (through their websites and social media). Their stories are as varied as their styles, which go from demurely decorative illustrations filling the margins of journaling Bibles to scrapbooked Bibles chubby with bold whole page paintings and attached memorabilia.

Gallery: An embarrassment of riches here, featuring 20+ pages of Bible journaling reproductions in full colour, organized by themes (“Patterning,” “Coloured Pencils,” “Line Work” etc.).

Resources and Index: In addition to an index of the book, here you’ll find lists of resources—artist websites and the favourite social media hangouts for Bible journalers.

Bonus Section: A final 30+ pages feature examples of lettering styles and simple graphic items as ideas and to copy, stickers and traceable line drawings printed on see-through vellum.

I was impressed by the artistry and beauty of the work with which these women (no, there was nary a man to be found in the pages of this book—pity, I’ll bet some guys would enjoy this as much as the girls) illuminate their Bibles.

The purpose of Bible journaling—to get individuals to interact with God’s word—gets lots of emphasis in the explanations by the authors and the stories of the profiled artists. I appreciated that.

Over and over the authors remind readers that the object of this activity is not to achieve perfect art. The tone is accepting of any effort and a celebration of the wide variety of styles and personalities that come through in the artists’ works as they dig into the Bible. The book makes you feel like you can do it too.

In addition to people who journal in their Bibles, I can see this book being useful to anyone who scrapbooks, as well as to those who enjoy crafts like making cards and wall hangings.

Perhaps not surprisingly I’ve picked out a journaling Bible (Bibles with wide lined margins, especially designed for journaling) in my favourite version and can’t wait to get started. I’m sure my Complete Guide to Bible Journaling will soon look quite used.

I received the Complete Guide to Bible Journaling from the publisher (Design Originals, an imprint of Fox Chapel Publishing) as a gift for the purpose of writing a review.

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Abundant Rain Journal (Review)

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Abundant Rain Journal: A Devotional Journal for Writers of FaithAbundant Rain Journal: A Devotional Journal for Writers of Faith by Marcia Lee Laycock
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Marcia Laycock’s Abundant Rain Journal is a devotional journal that will be of special interest to Christian writers. Each of the 30 one-page meditations deals with some aspect of the writer’s life.

Laycock’s own experience as a writer makes her very aware of the discouragement, creative paralysis, tendency to procrastinate, and feelings of “what’s the use?” that can easily overtake those who work with words and ideas. She has used that knowledge to create a book of readings that will give Christian writers everywhere an inspirational shot in the arm.

Each devotion is paired with a short question and a blank ruled page inviting the reader to interact with the ideas just read.

As a writer myself I found many of the entries both a challenge and an encouragement. I like how Laycock uses typical writerly experiences like waiting for a shipment of books to arrive, or getting a rejection as illustrations. From her experience of writing in a variety of genres, she is able to relate to the writer of fiction, non-fiction and poetry alike. Though I read the book quickly the first time around, I plan to go back and respond to many of the journal prompts. Some of my favorite quotes:

“The gift of language is God’s instrument in our hands” – p. 46.

“As writers, we have all been given a spur–the gift of communication–to use for the sake of others and for the sake of our most faithful God” – p. 50.

“We borrow language, words, images, the stuff of writing. It’s up to us to acknowledge the original owner, to offer back to Him what we have done with what we have borrowed” – p. 54.

If you’re a Christian writer who is looking for a devotional that is sympathetic to your avocation, you’ve found it in this volume. For those seeking to establish a habit of  writing regularly, the journal question that accompanies each meditation could function as a writing prompt. As well, I think this book would make an excellent devotional component for Christian writing groups.

I received a gift copy of Abundant Rain Journal from the author for the purpose of writing a review.

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Flex Your Spirit (review)

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Flex Your Spirit (Fit for Faith)Flex Your Spirit by Kimberley Payne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In Flex Your Spirit—Discover a New Way to Express Yourself with God Through Journal Writing and Stretching, author and lifestyle coach Kimberley Payne promises to “…unite physical and spiritual health to help you lose weight and develop a deeper relationship with God” – Flex Your Spirit, p. 5.

She explains how this can happen in three sections of the book. Chapters 1-3 deal with physical stretching. Chapter 1 (“Stretch Your Body”) answers the question what are stretching exercises, lists their benefits, and explains how they differ from warm-ups. Chapter 2 (“Stretching Strategies that Work”) describes how to get the most out of stretch exercises (though it doesn’t give details on specific exercises). Chapter 3 (“Stretching Goal Planning”) lists five questions to ask ourselves as we set exercise goals.

In the second section (Chapters 4-6) Payne talks about spiritual journaling, something she suggests will benefit us spiritually in the same way physical stretches help our body. In Chapter 4 (“Stretch Your Spirit”) she describes what journaling is and how it equates to stretches. Chapter 5 (“Journal Writing Strategies that Work”) and Chapter 6 (“Journal Writing Goal Planning”) list journaling tips and suggest journaling goals.

The third section (Chapter 7-8) is a review of all that we’ve learned (Ch. 7 – “Test Your Knowledge”) and (Ch. 8) an “Action Plan” of how to actually fit regular stretches and journaling into our lifestyle.

This book is short—only 24 pages of content. But in that small amount of space Payne manages to say plenty. Her writing is always easy to understand. With efficient simplicity she dispenses information, encouragement, and inspiration. The examples and worksheets she includes show us how to move forward with the “Flex Your Spirit” program.

This little booklet would be an excellent manual for women’s groups, whose goal it is to develop more than just a toned body. It would also be a great addition to any personal library, and a fine companion to that list of New Year’s Resolutions we re-construct yearly.

I received Flex Your Spirit as a gift from the author for the purpose of writing a review. Visit Kimberley Payne’s website to see other lifestyle materials Kimberley has authored and is offering as books, e-courses, and free programs.

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