Notebook Work

Using a Storyboard to Plan Writing

As I detailed in the article on Storyboarding,  this brainstorming work helps students focus on scenes or moments in time that can be developed into a story.

Here’s a sample of how I modeled this thinking in class.

I spent an hour in my chair by the window this morning working in my writer's notebook. It is a regular routine of mine, and it helps me work out lots of thinking so that I can write better. In the bookshelves behind the desk in my office are stacks of notebooks from the past. You can see them next to my guitar in this photograph. You can also see how my notebooks have changed over time. I used to always use a spiral bound notebook (bottom shelf) and now I almost always have a black cover, lined-paper-inside notebook. One notebook lasts about 3-4 months, so there are even older notebooks in other places in my house. I remember writing in one of them as a 12-year-old--when I wrote mostly about boys and basketball.

I also care about what I write with. I used to buy fancy pens--mostly cartridge pens--to write with. Here are the ones that I found in my desk this morning. but now I use felt tip pens like the one on the bottom right of this picture because ink cartridges have been a problem on airplanes and I travel a lot. (Sometimes the air pressure makes ink cartridges leak all over me and once the security people took them out of my luggage because they said they looked dangerous.) I always travel with a small pack of pens and colored pencils so I can work anywhere.












Here is something I was working on recently. It's a map of my neighborhood where I grew up in Portland, Oregon. My high school students are writing practice responses to college admissions essay questions and one question asks about a favorite place. I drew mine and they worked on theirs and then we all chose one place on our map to write about. From this map you're looking at I wrote the story of riding my bike to play tennis every morning with my friends. But there are lots of stories on this map! Every time I draw one with students I find more stories to tell. Try this.

You could play with the voice of who tells the story... what would your dog say? How would your best friend tell the story of your bike-riding adventure? Notebooks are the perfect place to try things out as a writer.
I created a video to tell my high school students about some of the things they might write about in their notebooks. It is here.


My writing notebook is always with me. It holds the lists of books I've been reading and the thinking I am doing as I read. My notebook has photographs and concert tickets and sketches I draw of things and people I love. My notebooks is filled with the words of writers I admire. It is a place to practice my thinking and to tell the stories of my life. Every one of my books has been written mostly in a notebook first. It's where I grow into the best writing I can do.

Click on the map images  for a full-size PDF.