Monday, June 5, 2017

Linda Rief: Keeping a Notebook Makes Me Pay Attention

Notebook Shelf

Don Murray used to carry around laminated cards about the size of a bookmark, that said, “Nulla Dies Sine Linea—Never a Day Without a Line.” He gave them to anyone and everyone who asked him about writing. It was his mantra—and the most important advice he gave to all of us, the reminder to put our thinking down every day, or it would slip away.

Every day Don wrote in his daybook. “The most valuable writing tool I have is my daybook… All the writing in the daybook is a form of talking to myself, a way of thinking on paper….The daybook stimulates my thinking, helps me make use of those small fragments of time that on many days is all the time I have to write. There is no sign of struggle. I’m not fighting writing. I’m playing with writing. …The daybook also keeps my writing muscles in condition; it lets me know what I’m concerned with making into writing; it increases my productivity….(it’s a place) where you can do all the bad writing and bad thinking that are essential for those moments of insight that produce good writing.”

Influenced by Don, I keep a Writer-Reader Notebook. I have more than 25 years worth now, and I can trace every piece of writing I have ever done either personally or professionally, to these notebooks. I admit that I don’t write in my notebook every day —and I realize so many things I wanted to remember are gone. Still, what I have, gives me a lot from which to work and with which to play.

Every note I have ever taken at a workshop or conference, every passage I have wanted to remember from books I am reading, and all the pictures, sketches, and random notes I just didn’t want to forget, reside in these notebooks. The notebooks hold the nuggets of ideas I have saved that help me remember my thinking. In most instances I have no idea where or when I will use some of this writing, some of these sketches, or some of these professional notes, but they are there waiting patiently for the right moment—the moment when I need them.

I have moved from lined spiral-bound notebooks to large bound notebooks with blank pages. These work best for me—inviting sketching and leaving me room to set up the page in any way I choose. 

My students are prominent in my notebooks. My grandchildren have crawled, toddled and walked their way in also.

As we were watching the Anne Frank movie in class, I was sitting behind my students, watching how reverent and shocked they were throughout this movie. 

Sketch of Students
(Click to Enlarge)

On my oldest grandson’s graduation from high school I found pictures of him picking apples at our house, wanting to remember those little hands that have now become those of a young man. 

Photos of Hunter
(Click to Enlarge)

I have been teaching myself drawing—practicing what I read in journaling and sketching books. What have I learned, just like writing—practice, practice, practice--the more I sketch, the better it becomes. Sometimes the sketches lead to writing. Other times they simply allow me to slow down, take a breath.

I sketched Rye Ledges on a marine biology field trip with our students after several years of trying to get rocks looking like rocks. 

Postcard of Rocks
(Click to Enlarge)

Sketch of Rye Ledges
(Click to Enlarge)

As I was working at my computer one day I watched a squirrel at our bird feeder, grabbed my notebook, sketched and wrote. 

Bird Feeder

I ask students to sketch their thinking as readers and do it myself when the book creates images in my head. As I was reading The Great Gatsby I wrote out my frustration. 

Joy Sketch
(Click to Enlarge)

Reading A Separate Peace, there were so many passages I wanted to capture that I thought they had to be written on that tree I kept imagining. 

Tree
(Click to Enlarge)

And as we were reading and discussing “Nothing Gold Can Stay” from The Outsiders I kept thinking about how quickly the years go by and put together my thinking with images and writing from being a grandchild to watching my grandchildren. 

Circle of Life
(Click to Enlarge)

Painting & Reflection
(Click to Enlarge)

When I go to conferences and workshops I take notes in this notebook. Sketch notes from a workshop with Kylene Beers and Bob Probst last December in Maine. 


Workshop Sketch Notes
(Click to Enlarge)

Penny Kittle and I gave a presentation at the New England Reading Association. She asked us to draw our hands after showing Sarah Kay on YouTube saying her poem “Hands.” This has stimulated lots of stories for me, some of which have become longer pieces. 

Sketch Notes, Hand
(Click to Enlarge)

And what are the last two pages in my current notebook? An article cut from the newspaper pasted into my notebook with notes from Anthony Doerr after hearing him speak at the Portsmouth Music Hall, written in April. The cover of the latest book from one of my former students, Abby Carroll, and notes from her reading. Then nothing—until two emails from today that I did not want to forget. Jotted down—and dated. So much to remember.

Anthony Doerr Notes
(Click to Enlarge)

Book Cover, Notes, E-Mails
(Click to Enlarge)

One of the greatest pleasures of keeping a Writing-Reading Notebook, and asking students to keep one also, comes from hearing from one of them every now and then. Four years after having Lil in 8th grade, and having heard nothing from her for four years, I received this email:

Wednesday, January 17   9:51 PM

“Mrs. Rief,  I counted my journals tonight. I have written 21 since eighth grade. Thank you!”  Sincerely, Lil”

Keeping a notebook makes me pay attention to the world. It slows me down. It lets me breathe. It makes me a deeper listener, a stronger observer. It lets me think. It captures what I want to remember. It gives me a place to think, and think again.

Here's something to try.  Watch “Hands” by Sarah Kay on YouTube. Then, read the text of "Hands." Ask the students (I would suggest 8th grade and higher) to find a line they like and write off that line for several minutes. At another time they could trace their hand, as I have done and put some dash facts on each finger that remind them of a story that has to do with hands, as I did. They can go back to any of these pieces and extend the quick write to a more developed piece. This summer, carry your notebook with you. Sit in front of a painting at a museum and sketch it. Take it to the beach, sit by the lake or ocean and sketch what you see, write what you are thinking.


Linda Rief is the author or coeditor of five Heinemann titles, including Inside the Writer's-Reader's Notebook, The Writer's-Reader's Notebook, Adolescent Literacy, Vision and Voice, and Seeking Diversity , as well as the author of 100 Quickwrites. She is an eighth-grade teacher at Oyster River Middle School in Durham, New Hampshire, and an instructor in the University of New Hampshire's Summer Literacy Institute. She is also a national and international consultant on issues of adolescent literacy. In 2000 she was the recipient of NCTE's Edwin A. Hoey Award for Outstanding Middle School Educator in the English/Language Arts. Her classroom was featured in the series Making Meaning in Literature produced by Maryland Public Television for Annenberg/CPB. 

Linda and Heinemann are generously offering 2 giveaway books, so we will have two winning commenters on this post. Please leave your comment by Thursday, July 29, 2017 to be entered into a drawing for one of two of Linda's books: Inside the Reader's Writer's Notebooks or Read, Write, Teach.  I will announce the winners in this space on Friday, July 30, 2017 as well as on Twitter and at The Poem Farm Facebook page.

Inside the Writer's-Reader's Notebook pack

Read Write Teach

Please know that Sharing Our Notebooks welcomes all kinds of notebook keepers - of any age and interest - to open up their pages and share their process.  At the present time, I am accepting all notebook entries and am especially hoping to receive some entries from boys and men who keep any kind of notebooks.  If you are interested in writing in this space, please contact me, Amy, directly.  I took a little break from this blog to write Poems Are Teachers: How Studying Poetry Strengthens Writing in All Genres (Heinemann, Fall 2017)...but I'm back and welcome you!

Please share a comment below if you wish.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Congratulations to Linda Ashman...Book Winner!


Congratulations to Linda Ashman, winner of Austin Kleon's SHOW YOUR WORK!  Please drop me a line at amy at amylv dot com with your snail mail address, and I will kindly send your book to you.

Much gratitude to Tim Needles for opening up his fabulous notebooks for all of us.  If you have not read his post yet, please don't miss it!  You can find it HERE.

Know that Sharing Our Notebooks is full of blog posts and writing ideas....have fun poking around and trying new things.  And if you keep a notebook or know someone who does, I am always interested in featuring all kinds of notebook keepers.  Just let me know...

Please don't miss so many generous notebooking ideas from all kinds of folks! Find them at the tabs above, or click HERE for starters, to get your own autumn notebook rhythm.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Tim Needles: I Begin Each Page With An Open Mind





I’ve lived most of my life attached to a sketchbook.  As an artist and writer I’ve found my creative process has evolved over the years but it nearly always begins in the book.  I have a closet full of sketchbooks from the last 20 years.  I’ve digitized a few pages from a selection of books and posted a few on my website but for the most part these pages are for me and are generally only seen by my art students, a few select friends and acquaintances.  As an artist I feel that these books may represent the most pure artistic creations I’ve made and are some of my greatest successes as an artist.  The irony is that these books are rarely seen and have no audience.


I like thicker, heavy paper so I use Canson sketchbooks and keep a few pieces of scrap paper underneath a page as I work on it for notes and to prevent bleeding.  I also use smaller Moleskin watercolor sketchbooks for when I travel or when I’m temporarily between books.  I often complete the 108 pages in under a month but in general I use a book between 1-3 months.  I also will film my creative process in creating work with short videos and share it via social media.



I write, draw, take notes, and paint in my book daily and I’ve been working in them so long my process itself has become something of a meditation.  I’ll write down and sketch out ideas, paint over it, glue, layer, collage, and see what happens.  I use words and images but the two often meld together and I let the work choose it’s own direction.  I often begin without any set idea or intention by putting a pen or brush to the page.  I’ve become confident in this practice that once may have caused doubt or fear.



I work each page until I feel satisfied, whether it’s complete or not.  The more I work the less I try to control the process.  I begin each page with an open mind and no idea of what I’m going to do.  Over the years I’ve noticed certain trends and I understand that my work has some fluidity but I try to push it further and innovate.Most of all I create for myself. As an artist I try to be authentic, in the moment, and enjoy the process of making art.




I also participated in the sketchbook project last year and that book which was focused on creating portraits each day throughout the month of October is available to view online.  The video below shows the process of creating one of the pages.  The project asks artist and writers to create a sketchbook with a theme that can be shared online and housed in their headquarters at the Brooklyn Art Library in Williamsburg, NY.  You can learn more about it here at The Sketchbook Project.


My philosophy is that every day is another opportunity to be creative.  I began drawing and writing for myself and that is what I try to do each day.  I think creating art in any form is a wonderful thing.  As an educator I encourage everyone to create and find what gives you a sense of meaning and let it be a beacon in your work.  Don’t worry about your audience, create first for yourself.  The most important advice I give to my students is simply to work, regularly and diligently- each day if possible, it is the only universal secret to success.

Creative Challenge: Use this image from my sketchbook as a writing or art prompt. If you want to share it via social media add the hashtag #terpart which I use for my annual month of creative challenges.  This is an ongoing challenge, so you may share at any time.


Tim Needles is an artist, writer, performer, and educator from Port Jefferson, NY.  He has been teaching art and media at Smithtown School District in NY for 17 years as well as working as an Adobe Education Leader, a PBS digital innovator, an educational consultant for The Japan Society, and as an adjunct college professor.  His work has been featured on NPR as well as in The New York Times, the Columbus Museum of Art, SVA Gallery, the Talks With Teachers podcast, and LitReactor.  He is also the recipient of the National Art Educators Association AET Outstanding Teaching award and the Robert Rauschenberg Power of Art award at the National Gallery of Art.  He is active on social media guest hosting education chats and sharing his thoughts on arts and education-you can find him at TimNeedlesArt on Facebook or @timneedles on Twitter and Instagram. You can view a few pages and covers of some of Tim's sketchbooks at his website, Tim Needles.

Sharing Our Notebooks is offering a giveaway of a book Tim recommends - SHOW YOUR WORK! by Austin Kleon - for a reader of this post.  Please leave a comment by Sunday, November 20 to be entered into this random drawing.  Please be sure to leave a way to contact you in your comment as well.


Please know that Sharing Our Notebooks welcomes all kinds of notebook keepers - of any age and interest - to open up their pages and share their process.  At the present time, I am accepting all notebook entries and am especially hoping to receive some entries from boys and men who keep any kind of notebooks.  If you are interested in writing in this space, please contact me, Amy, directly.

Please share a comment below if you wish.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Congratulations to Brenda Harsham! Book Winner!


Congratulations to Brenda Harsham, winner of Mary Oliver's EVIDENCE - please drop me a line at amy at amylv dot com with your snail mail address, and Kiesha will kindly send your book to you.

Much gratitude to Kiesha Shepard for sharing her inspiring notebooks.  If you have not read her post yet, please don't miss it!  You can find it HERE.

Know that Sharing Our Notebooks is full of blog posts and writing ideas....have fun poking around and trying new things.  And if you keep a notebook or know someone who does, I am always interested in featuring all kinds of notebook keepers.  Just let me know...

Please don't miss so many generous notebooking ideas from all kinds of folks! Find them at the tabs above, or click HERE for starters, to get your own autumn notebook rhythm.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Kiesha Shepard: Notebooks for Life


Notebooks have been called different things by many writers. Some writers call the notebook a workbench or a think-tank.  Other writers might call it a sketchbook or a safe place. I believe the notebook takes on meaning and significance the very moment a writer begins to write. It becomes as unique as the writer, living and breathing each day with the thoughts and feelings of the writer.

My notebooks are my special safe-keepers of my thinking and writing life. Keeping a notebook has made my life so much more fruitful. It brings a fullness to my world each day. The notebook helps me pay attention to life by allowing me the freedom to live and write wide-awake.

For this reason, my notebooks are brimming with many types of entries. There are so many ways that I capture and collect my thoughts of this world in my notebooks.


One of my favorite ways to use my notebook is for collecting on topics. I often make lists around a topic. This helps me think of all the ways I have already written about my topic in the notebook. It also encourages me to try out new ways to write about my topic in order to flesh out what I really want to say. I have discovered that this strategy gives me fresh ideas for weaving in new thinking about my topic.

I organize my collections by rereading entries and flagging them with sticky notes. Each sticky note has a label which identifies that entry by subject, topic, or theme. This is a really handy way for me to refer back to previous entries in order to layer more meaning on whatever topic or piece of writing I’m working with.


I also use notebooks to spark ideas for poems, books, and essays. I am always collecting my observations and snippets of thinking in my notebook. Each entry is so important to me, so I return to the notebook often to reread. So many of my ideas for poems and stories that I want to write start bubbling up in my notebook this way. I am always surprised at how my drafts emerge and blossom from the work in my notebook. For me, notebooks are certainly keepsakes forever!






Invitation to Write: You can use your notebook for life, too! Try starting with the little things around you. Write whatever you see right now around you. It could be living or nonliving. Then, narrow your focus to one of those things and write. Allow yourself the freedom to write whatever comes. You might be surprised at where this writing leads you! Often our best writing comes from something quite simple and concrete in our lives. Our notebooks can capture and hold safely all that writing for us. In this way, the notebook is truly a friend for life!


Kiesha Shepard is a Literacy Specialist at Spring Creek Elementary School in College Station, Texas. She has a giant love for writing and the teaching of writing. You can find invitations to write, teaching resources, and some of her poems on her website Whispers From the RidgeYou can connect with Kiesha on Twitter @kshepard_write or by email from.pens.to.paint@gmail.com, and she also welcomes you to follow the amazing K-4 writers at her school’s writing blog  HERE.

Kiesha has generously offered a giveaway of one of her favorite poem books - EVIDENCE by Mary Oliver - for a reader of this post.  Please leave a comment by Saturday, October 1 to be entered into this random drawing.  Please be sure to leave a way to contact you in your comment as well.


Please know that Sharing Our Notebooks welcomes all kinds of notebook keepers - of any age and interest - to open up their pages and share their process.  At the present time, I am accepting all notebook entries and am especially hoping to receive some entries from boys and men who keep any kind of notebooks.  If you are interested in writing in this space, please contact me, Amy, directly.

Please share a comment below if you wish.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Congratulations to Julieanne! Book Winner!


Congratulations to Julieanne., winner of Orson Scott Card's HOW TO WRITE SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY - please drop me a line at amy at amylv dot com with your snail mail address, and I will get your book off to you.

Much gratitude to Alexandra Zurbrick for sharing her cool notebooks and writing tips.  If you have not read her post yet, please don't miss it!  You can find it HERE.

Please know that Sharing Our Notebooks is full of blog posts and writing ideas....have fun poking around and inspiring yourself!

If you keep a notebook or know someone who does, I am always interested in featuring all kinds of notebook keepers.  Just let me know...

And please don't miss so many generous notebooking ideas from all kinds of folks! Find them at the tabs above, or click HERE for starters, to get your own new-school-year notebooking going.

Next up is teacher and writer Kiesha Shepard from Whispers from the Ridge!

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Alexandra Zurbrick: A Purpose for Each One

Like many other writers, I have this feeling of desire and inspiration when I come across journals. No matter the store, I always end up finding the notebooks. So, when I say that I “collect” journals, I am really expressing that I have little self control when it comes to purchasing them.

I love receiving journals as gifts because each gift notebook has even more meaning to it. The question that then haunts me is: What should I use this journal for? I always fear that the contents I choose to fill it with could somehow destroy the aesthetic.


I consider myself rather creative, but to make such important decisions, like what to write in a journal, I cannot brainstorm alone. I then turn to my friend, Pinterest. While there are so many brilliant ideas on this website/app, it is from my experience, I have learned it is no fun to just copy the ideas displayed. Instead, I allow them to get me motivated to act on my own ideas, so that they represent me!

There are no rules when it comes to keeping a notebook, which is part of the writer’s block that comes with each new journal at times. I recently sat down with all my journals and stared at them. There were so many; what was I going to do with them all? One was from when I was 10 and used it as a diary. Another was and still is being used as a diary. Okay… two down and many more to pick fates for. After much thought, I put sticky notes in my journals to designate a purpose for each one and to feel ready for the journey with each one.

Here is a list of the different types of journals I am keeping:
Diary Style
Photo Journal
Future Journal
Question Journal
Adventure Journal
Prompts/30 Day Challenge Journal
Short Story Journal

By listing these variations without much explanation, it allows your imagination to wander and create your own variations of these journals!


An Exercise:
Sometimes when you are just getting started in your notebook, you begin to feel pressured to fit everything in. Especially if it is diary style! If you wish to try diary style journaling, start by bulleting the things you want to be known in your diary. For example, if you want to run through the day’s events, bullet them. This way, if there is an event you want to give more information about you can refer back, but everything is in there. 

Some people say that after keeping a daily diary, it begins to feel like a job. You CAN avoid this, just keep it simple and keep your diary the way that works for you!

Here is an excellent Pinterest page to inspire any writer!

Alexandra Zurbrick is a 2016 graduate of Orchard Park High school. She will be attending SUNY Oswego Fall 2016 to study Journalism and Creative Writing. Alexandra has written for the Buffalo News and was Editor in Chief of her school’s newspaper. She is on the path to become a fictional author as well as a magazine journalist, hoping to inspire other writers. 


In honor of Alexandra's sharing here, Sharing Our Notebooks will send a copy of one of her favorite books,  WRITING FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION by Orson Scott Card, Philip Athans, and Jay Lake.  Please leave a comment, including a way of contacting you should you win, by Sunday, August 28, to be entered into the drawing.

Please know that Sharing Our Notebooks welcomes all kinds of notebook keepers - of any age and interest - to open up their pages and share their process.  At the present time, I am accepting all notebook entries and am especially hoping to receive some entries from boys and men who keep any kind of notebooks.  If you are interested in writing in this space, please contact me, Amy, directly.

Please share a comment below if you wish.