Why I Write…

People write for all sorts of reasons every single day: send a text or email, leave or make a note, finish something for work or school, jot down a recipe, send a letter, balance a checkbook, make a grocery list, etc.

I, too, write America. As a writer and teacher of writing, I’m also excited about the National Day of Writing, which was created by the National Council of Teachers of English and adopted by the Senate every year on October 20th since 2009.

While following #TeachWrite on Twitter for their first Monday of the month chat this week, I saw Margaret Simon’s challenge to share #WhyIWrite.

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1. I write because I enjoy it.

I have so many reasons to write, but this is my number one reason: I enjoy writing. Yes, I’m a writing teacher. Yes, I’m in the middle of writing my first book (revising, actually). Yes, I sometimes have to write.

However, I wouldn’t be where I am now if I didn’t truly enjoy writing.

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I keep a writer’s notebook, and I fill it with my ideas. I love to write in it, and I love the feeling of needing a new one when I’ve filled the current one up!

I enjoy the feel of a colorful pen in my hand, and the gentle sound it makes when it touches the page.

2. I write because I have ideas.

“Where did that idea come from?”

“What are your sources of inspiration?”

There are countless others that writers are asked, but those are probably the top two. The great thing about writing is that ideas can come from anywhere. You can look at a blank page sometimes and start writing.

Some places I search for ideas:

  • past brainstorms
  • songs
  • poems
  • gifs
  • photos
  • life events
  • writing prompts
  • first line prompts
  • quotes

The photo below is from a prompt that said to use a song as inspiration. #FlashFicHive is a month-long flash fiction writing workshop hosted by Anjela Curtis on Twitter. I’ve used her prompts to inspire several pieces of flash fiction, and she has an event all this month!

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3. I write because I read.

It’s true. Reading and writing go hand-in-hand (ask any writer).

Writing about the books you read often help inspire others to read those books, too. I don’t write book reviews often, but I should! I outline them first in my notebook, which helps me show my process when I’m helping my students.

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For the final copy of this outlined review, click the following link: Book Review: Chasing Eveline. Maybe my writing will inspire you to read Leslie’s novel and write a review, too!

4. I write to help and inspire my students.

Speaking of helping my students, I also write with them. We recently worked on a personal narrative, so I wrote one in order to show them how to incorporate the skills we talked about.

As you can see, I purposefully added a lot of “to be” verbs (which is a lot harder than you think) as part of our lesson on incorporating better verbs. Unfortunately, not all of the changes were to stronger verbs, but we’re taking it one step at a time.

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Before we wrote our personal narratives, we created a “Treasure Map” of ideas. This map inspired students to try another narrative in their own writer’s notebook using a different “X” event.

Students are more likely to try something new when they have a model to use. They’re especially eager to try it when they see the teacher trying it, too!

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5. I write because I can.

What better reason to end this blog post? I write because I can. I am capable of writing, and sometimes it’s pretty good.

I can write stories for fun, narratives with my students, or poems because they help me cope with whatever it is I’m feeling.

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We gain freedom when we write, so why wouldn’t we want that?

Why do you write? What is your favorite form of writing? Share with me in the comments!

Resources

National Day of Writing — NCTE link

Join the #WhyIWrite Blog Hop — Margaret’s link

Book Review: Chasing Eveline

As you may have guessed from previous posts, I love Twitter. I have found wonderful writing communities, teaching communities, and people who share my interests, too. Every now and then, interesting tweets will pop up via one of the daily hashtags, and you will have no choice but to acknowledge them.

One such tweet entered my feed in early April from a new author (who also happens to teach and share a similar last name to mine): Leslie Hauser.

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Leslie went on to add: “I place a cupcake in every novel I write!” (Intrigued, yet?)

About a month later, Leslie was asking for readers: a free copy of her novel in exchange for an honest review. Her novel, Chasing Eveline, would debut a few months later (July 2017).

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Having already been interested in her writing, I agreed! Although I didn’t share how many times cupcakes were mentioned when I reviewed her lovely novel, I will share the review I wrote:

Book Review as it appeared on Goodreads

(I received a free copy of this novel from the author in exchange for an honest review. I do not know her, nor have I ever met her personally.)

Book Review: Chasing Eveline by Leslie Hauser

Single parent. New best friend. Lost identity. Ivy Higgins has a lot to learn in Leslie Hauser’s new YA novel Chasing Eveline.

Ivy, a 16-year-old who still doesn’t know where she wants to go for college, is lost after her mother walks out of her life. She seeks answers in the lyrics of her mom’s favorite band, “Chasing Eveline,” a (fictional) 1980s Irish rock band.

After seeing her dad slowly become a new person these last two years, Ivy decides that she must reunite the band if she wants to find her mom, which she hopes will also reunite her family and help her father.

Ivy draws you in with her determination to put her family back together, a determination that drives her spontaneous decision-making. Some choices she makes are only half-heartedly supported by her new best friend Matt, who is still obsessing over his former girlfriend Charlotte.

One of Ivy’s wild ideas leads the duo on a dangerous path through the Internet, a place that isn’t as safe as she thought. Their adventure takes you on a spontaneous ride, complete with 1980s music and movies, tears you don’t see coming, and laughter, specifically at a hilarious – albeit slightly disturbing – zoo fundraiser.

Hauser hooks you from the first moment Ivy speaks of finding her mother, and she keeps you reading throughout Ivy’s journey of self-identity and discovery.

I recommend Chasing Eveline to readers who love to be surprised, who love music and movies, who are making new friends, and especially to readers who are trying to find a piece of themselves when a piece is missing.

Connect with the author:

I hope you get a chance to find all the cupcakes in Leslie’s new novel! Here are a few ways to follow her, too:

Website and Blog: “Writer of YA Novels”

Twitter: Leslie Hauser

Goodreads: Author Page

Facebook: Author Page

Have you read Chasing Eveline? Tell me about it in the comments!

5 Steps on the Journey to the First Draft — Author Tool Box

What can I share for this month’s Toolbox? What can I write about that could be even slightly helpful to other writers?

I’ve been trying to answer this question for a few weeks in preparation for this post, but I still didn’t have an answer until recently. Someone suggested I write a brainstorm about zombies… Well, zombies aren’t on the agenda this time; however, brainstorming was a great idea!

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This month’s toolbox will be dedicated to brainstorming, plotting, outlining, and all the little details that go into planning for a first draft — that is… if you’re not a pantser (someone who dives into the first draft without prior planning).

I’ll walk you through the planning process I took with my (yet to be published) first novel. Planning, like the writing process, is recursive — the appearance of linear steps doesn’t necessarily equal a fluid process, but a few steps do help…

1. Start with an idea.

No matter what your next step is, the first step is to have an idea. This idea can come from anywhere. You may have seen a cow while driving down the road or heard lyrics that spoke directly to your imagination. Maybe you were talking to your best friend during lunch and something at that moment stuck out to you.

Grab it! Take hold of that idea. See where it leads. My idea came from a poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, a poem asking a question.

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2. Take that idea and see what shape it takes…

That would make a great novel! I have an amazing story idea!

How many times have those words come out of your mouth? How many times have you remembered your idea over the next few days before it faded into the everyday world that is life, into the abyss?

Don’t waste any time! Write it down! Take that wonderful idea to your writer’s notebook, and see what you’ve got. Free-write as much as you can about all the possibilities swirling around in your mind at that moment. It doesn’t matter how ridiculous they sound — write them down.

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That is just what I did. On October 12, 2014, I wrote down the story idea that was zig-zagging its way around my brain.

Would I use everything I wrote on this page? No. I have no idea who “Darren” is anymore since he’s not part of the current round of revisions I’m on, but he was important at one time, which is all that matters. The idea is written.

3. Choose a direction… a path…

Now what?

Do you get stuck on this step? I did. I had never written a novel-length draft before, which meant that I had definitely not planned for one, either. How in the world was I supposed to do that? What was I supposed to do next?

Research.

There. I said it. This isn’t the kind of research you’d expect, though. It’s research into different planning processes for building up to your first draft. If you don’t know how to get there, the best thing to do is see how someone else did it. Right?

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So I did. There are so many different ways to plan a novel. Did you know that? Out of the numerous ways I found, I decided to choose Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method because it seemed the most straight-forward for a novice (and it was free…).

It took me quite a few tries with his first step, a one-sentence summary, because I couldn’t decide how old my MC (main character) was going to be.

More research.

Have I mentioned before how much I actually enjoy research? I really do! (Is that weird?)

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Around the time I was starting to plan, I’d read a new YA (young adult) dystopian novel, Rite of Rejection by Sarah Negovetich.  Because of this novel, I thought about my MC… Maybe she should be a young adult… Maybe she should live in a dystopian world… Maybe…

After my research, I decided Macy should be a teenager, but she wouldn’t live in a dystopian world. Instead, she would be the star of an epistolary novel, an idea that came to me during another free-write for ideas (see that recursive writing thing?).

I finally had “step one” of the Snowflake Method.

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4. Start outlining… possibly scene-by-scene…

The snowflake method will eventually lead you through meeting your characters, discovering their motives and end goals, and figuring out why each of them is important to your story.

I didn’t know most of this before I started plotting scenes, however.

Don’t tell, but that means that I didn’t follow this method to the letter. You should know, if you don’t already, that you are not obligated to follow anyone’s method verbatim. You are a writer, different from other writers, which makes your process unique to you. Keep that in mind as you continue.

I did keep a small chart of characters handy, though…

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Anyway, back on track… I did like the scene-by-scene outline. Randy suggested using a spreadsheet, which I love because it allows you to move things around in the future, but I didn’t. This particular time, I used my notebook.

And I started over several times when the story changed somewhere in the middle… See why the spreadsheet would’ve been helpful?

See how many times it changed in such a short amount of time? I even started color-coding after awhile for POV (point-of-view).

I have encountered writers who don’t like the scene-by-scene outline (or chapter-by-chapter as I’ve seen some others do) because they feel it inhibits creativity. I am of the opposite mindset. The scene detail only states what will happen. It doesn’t state the why or how of the situation.

The only downfall to this outline is when characters start changing your story (trust me, they will) — then you’ll find out just how important an editable outline truly is. But don’t worry about that now… This is only the planning stage.

5. Leave a little room for whatever comes along.

Even if you plan, the whole basis of the story could change if one ornery character decides he doesn’t like the backstory you gave him. Or, in my case, he doesn’t want to reveal his backstory to you until you are well into the first draft.

As stated above, characters will change your story for you. They will let you know when something is working or not as you’re drafting, so keep an open mind while you’re planning. Try not to get too specific.

Write down your thoughts as you come to them to see if they get answered during your first draft….

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A great help may even be to write down a list of all the questions you have about your idea: the characters, the main and sub-plots, the action, etc. Keep a running list of things that are important and things that could change.

Sometimes you can even take a break from planning and learn some new words that relate to your idea: MC’s job lingo, vocabulary related to setting, etc. Since my idea revolves around nightmares, I dove into a couple terms related to that, which may end up having nothing to do with my novel in the end, but they’re good to have anyway.

What if I get stuck?

Don’t worry! Is it writer’s block that has you worried? Or do you simply need some ideas to push you toward the next step? I don’t have all the answers, but I can offer you a few methods that could help:

  • make lots of lists: characters, plot bunnies, settings, conflicts, etc.
  • draw a plot diagram: where do you imagine the story going, where is one particular character’s story going, etc.
  • free-write: whatever comes to mind, a scene you’re eager to see on paper, a letter from your character to you, etc.

What about you? What do you do when you get stuck? How do you plan for a first draft? I’d love to see what your strategies are in the comments below!

Author Toolbox

This post is part of the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop, which is dedicated to helping writers become stronger and more confident in their craft. Click here for more information, to continue hopping through other posts, or to join in!

Nano Blog and Social Media Hop2

Resources:

Snowflake Method by Randy Ingermanson

“The 8 Habits of Highly Successful YA Fiction Authors” by Noal Feeny

Parental archetypes in YA fiction

Camp NaNoWriMo

Avoiding Writer’s Block in 4 Steps

We’ve all heard of the mysterious writing condition that strikes writer’s at the most in-opportune moments: Writer’s Block. However, not every writer suffers from this epidemic. Some find their way around it before it even starts.

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How can they possibly overcome it before it starts? Do these ideas work after it’s started? I am a writer who has never had writer’s block. I do struggle sometimes with plot points (especially in the novel I’m writing), but it’s not a block. I have 4 steps to avoiding it that may help you, too.

1. Set achievable writing goals

What? Writing goals? I briefly mentioned these in The Wonderful World of Writer’s Notebooks. If you have goals, you are more likely to write. This is true even in my classroom – my students have writing goals every grading period, and they work to achieve their goals all six weeks.

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I have several long-term goals: write a memoir, keep up with my blog, read 25 books this year, stay in touch with my pen pals, and publish my first novel.

These goals won’t be reached in a single step, so I have to figure out how to get to the end. What I need is a plan. The planner above is where I create weekly goals that will take me one step closer to my ultimate goals. (You can’t see the right-hand side, but it has crochet goals, too.)

The only thing missing above is the actual plan. I don’t set aside specific days, though, because I know that I will miss one or want to work on something else that day. These are achievable weekly goals that I can work on anytime I have the opportunity during the week. My biggest struggle here is making sure not to set too many.

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As you can see by this week’s goals, I took out the memoir pages and added revisions for my novel as part of Camp NaNo. We also had family in this week, so I had to make sure that any goals I set could still be achieved this week.

That’s the key: achievable goals. What’s the point of setting goals that can’t be reached? Where will it lead other than downhill? It could even lead to writer’s block, which will not help anything.

2. Open to a blank page and write any words (maybe even draw a picture)

What? What do you mean write any words? What kind of words? Anything! I mean it. Write in any format, too. Here are a few things that may fall out of your pen when you start writing:

  • Your feelings: It’s okay to vent your frustrations. They may be holding you back from writing.
  • A poem: It’s okay if that’s not your goal. Anyone can write a poem, and who knows, it may even let off some of your emotional steam.
  • A list of words: That’s right, make a list of words that you could use for something. Use that dictionary or thesaurus to stretch your vocabulary.

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  • Learn a new word: Speaking of vocabulary, maybe you’ve heard or read a word recently that you didn’t recognize. Let that word fall out of your pen, and then discover it.
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dictionary.com
  • A new idea: Yes, even a new idea may form on your no-longer-blank page. It’s okay if it’s not something you’re working on, let it happen anyway (you don’t want to block creativity).
  • Anything: Simply see where that blank page takes you. (This is where drawing comes in. Even if you’re not an artist, you could still sketch whatever is on your mind.) It is not your enemy.
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“Dardo” is an idea I have for a dragon story. He’s still in the works…

3. Read something

Is there a book you’ve been wanting to read for a while but haven’t had the time? Pick it up and read. Maybe you have a Goodreads reading goal that needs attention.

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How does reading help you avoid writer’s block? It seems like it’s an easy way to avoid writing, doesn’t it? Nope. Reading offers your brain a break from your world while you peruse someone else’s world. Take advantage of the opportunity to learn from other authors:

  • How are plot issues handled?
  • What is the MC’s motivation?
  • How is the setting introduced?
  • Why are supporting characters in the story?
  • How is each chapter leading to the central conflict?
  • How is dialogue used to enhance the story?
  • Are the characterizations consistent?
  • Can I learn anything from the grammatical structures used?

Use this brain break to further your knowledge of writing as a reader. After you’re finished with a book, you have another writing opportunity: write a book review. Authors love to hear what you have to say about the books they’ve spent so long writing, so tell them and tell the world.

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Outline for book review: Chasing Eveline by Leslie Hauser.

Reading offers up so many possibilities for you as a writer. Reading in your genre helps you see what’s going on in similar worlds. Reading outside your genre helps you see how other authors create their worlds, characters, plots, etc. compared to what you’re used to. The advice I’ve seen is to try to read from as many genres as you can.

4. Take time for your hobby

As you’ve already seen, my hobby (one of them, anyway) is crocheting. It is often neglected because I’m either reading or writing, though. If you’re experiencing writer’s block, or even just need a brain break before you continue that difficult scene, take some time to work on your hobby.

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2017 Temperature Blanket – updated to the end of May

While you’re invested in your creative task, you may find your brain wandering back to your writing, which could lead you to an epiphany about your plot, character, or any part of it. Let it happen. Let your mind wander. However, if your hobby of choice requires saws or drills or the like, make sure you pay attention to your work while your mind wanders… You may need those fingers to write.

I’ve tried all of that… Now what?

Maybe something is keeping you from writing: stress, work, family, etc. Take some time away from the cause of your writer’s block, and enjoy the free time. You don’t even have to write: bask in the sun, read a book, catch a movie, go fishing. Do something that will help clear your mind and prepare you to write again.

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Don’t be afraid of that blank page or that novel that needs revised. You are there to make those pages better. You are there to turn those empty pages into something wonderful. You are there to fill those empty lines with your next big adventure.

After you clear your mind, go back through the list and see what you can achieve. You can overcome this “temporary condition.” You can.

How do you overcome writer’s block or avoid it altogether? Let me know in the comments!

Resources

Online Dictionary and Thesaurus

Camp NaNoWriMo

Goodreads

Book Review: Chasing Eveline by Leslie Hauser

Overcoming Writer’s Block- Writer’s Digest

Overcoming Writer’s Block- Jeff Goins

The Wonderful World of Writer’s Notebooks

Teaching writing to middle school students has taught me many things, but one lesson screams the loudest: writer’s need to write.

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I already knew this, right? I’m also a writer, so I had to already have known this. Of course I did, but it was never more true for me as a writer as it is now that I’m a writing teacher.

The one thing that writers need (whether they are students or not) is the freedom to write. This is where writer’s notebooks come in. They offer that freedom and so much more.

What is a writer’s notebook?

A writer’s notebook is a blank book waiting for a chance to hold your imagination within its pages. It can come in many different styles and can serve many different purposes. Some writers decide to have multiple notebooks: each serving a separate purpose.

For students and writers alike, a writer’s notebook offers a sort of playground for the mind.

  • Store your ideas
  • Build on your ideas
  • Collect new ideas and mentor pieces
  • Learn and practice new skills
  • Play with ideas
  • Model proper writing for others

A writer’s notebook is not a journal or diary. Diaries are a great place to look for ideas to add to your writer’s notebook, but it’s important to know that they’re not the same thing. Those are for writing about your day, usually in the order it happens. Writer’s notebooks are not as neatly organized: they tend to be quite chaotic.

How do I start a writer’s notebook?

Do you want to start a writer’s notebook? Are you wondering where to start? Before I give you my seven steps for starting your own, let me tell you something first: there is not only one way to start one or keep one. These are the steps I use and the steps I teach my students:

  1. Choose your purpose
    • Why are you starting this notebook? Is it for poetry, a novel you’re working on, a collection of ideas, or something else?
    • Determining your purpose can help you decide what kind of notebook to get.
  2. Choose a notebook
    • Maybe you want a smaller notebook for poetry, or a larger one for your novel, or something that is durable to hold all of your ideas.
    • Look around at different stores and figure out what will work for you. There are spirals (I don’t recommend since they fall apart easily), composition notebooks (my students use these), and many other options (I’m currently using a hardcover journal).img_5288
  3. Take ownership of it
    • This is probably the most important step. This is the personalization step: make it yours. Why? You are more inclined to write in it if you feel a personal connection to it.
    • One way you can do this is to decorate it (which is what you see in the photo above – and which I ask of my students to differentiate their notebooks in class).
  4. Create an “Idea Pocket”
    • This is a pocket in the back that you can use to store clippings until you use them.img_5319.jpg
  5. Create an index
    • An index will help you in the future when you are hunting down an idea you had in the past.
    • I’m reformatting the index we use in our notebooks in class in order to incorporate a modified version of the “Bucket System” by Jeff Goins.
    • An index is in the back of your notebook and works from the last page forward. In my opinion it is better than a table of contents because you do not have to save any pages; therefore, you will not waste any space.img_52811.jpg
  6. Create writing goals
    • Writing goals – these change so often that we’re never sure what our current goal is, right? That’s not true. You should create achievable writing goals every so often (weekly, monthly, etc.) in order to achieve whatever writing tasks you have set for yourself.
    • Setting goals also comes with reflections. There is no point in setting the same unachieved goal three times in a row. What will change this time? Reflect on why it wasn’t achieved after the first time, and rework it to incorporate a plan of action.
    • I keep writing goals alongside my students. They need to know that the work they have to do is important – what better way of proving that than to show them?img_5303
  7. Start writing!
    • Self-explanatory!

“Your writer’s notebook needs to become a personal source of pride to you…” -Corbett Harrison

Wait! Start writing what?

Your notebook is ready to be written in, staring at you helplessly empty. Hundreds of pages worth of empty. Hundreds.

Are you feeling a bit overwhelmed now? Don’t worry. This is where the goals you set earlier come in handy. Maybe you set goals that included collecting ideas (start by filling up Bucket 1- the idea bucket)…

Maybe you were hoping to learn a few new words or write some letters… I encourage my students to write letters to me in their writer’s notebooks, especially when they are struggling with a skill, and I always answer them back.

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The letters not only encourage handwriting and formatting skills, but they also encourage writing for a real-life purpose. I keep a copy of their letters in pockets of about eight in order to answer them when I have a chance.

A copy of the answer is made for them personally. I also keep a document in Google Classroom that displays each letter I write back. This allows them to read the answers, which could help with skills they too want help with.

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As you can see on the pocket and photo above, the best part of the letters for my students is that they get to choose their own pen names (again, a real-world experience).

Letters are an amazing tool because they can be used to write out your ideas or incorporate stories. We’ve used letters to write to characters, too. Have you, as a writer, written to your MC (main character) or from your MC’s point of view? That can supply a whole slew of information for you!

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Whatever your idea is, create it! Build up Bucket 1 with charts, lists of your favorites (songs, books, movies, etc.), newspaper clippings, questions, research, etc. From there you can take your writing anywhere. Use those ideas as inspiration and continue on your writing journey!

What do I do when it’s full?

You’ve filled your writer’s notebook? First, let me say: “Congratulations!” You should also congratulate yourself for all the writing you’ve accomplished.

Be sure to keep this notebook since it is not only filled with ideas you’ve used, but it’s also filled with ideas you could pursue in the future. Every now and then, take it out and reread it. See if a new idea is sparked.

Before you start a new notebook, take time to reflect. Did this notebook serve its intended purpose? Why or why not? What could you do differently with your next one?

Based on your answers, you may end up choosing something a bit different next time! Start hunting for your next notebook now, and have another wonderful adventure writing!

Resources

Bucket System – Jeff Goins

Writer’s Notebooks – Corbett Harrison

Article about the purpose of a Writer’s Notebook in the Classroom

Writing ideas – Ralph Fletcher

Writing prompts – Writer’s Digest

Heinemann Writing Strategies Book (page 118 idea used above)