Going through my notebooks, I find a driving force in my life is asking questions. It's a strategy I've returned to across time and genre. Check out these notebooks...see the sticky tabs? They mark the pages where I'm asking questions. Questions are one of the lifelines to keeping my notebooks alive.
I ask questions to get to know characters. Sometimes they are specific, in order to get close to the bones of a character. Other times they are broad, using questions to interview one character to get to know another.
Sometimes the questions are whims, ideas that pop into my mind with no noticeable plan for the story, but keep tugging on me. For example, I ask myself, What responses to grief are unique to adolescents? or Do swans grieve? These kinds of questions often lead me to research.
I ask questions about notebook pages I've made. I'll ask questions about maps I've sketched or images I've gathered. These questions force me to dig deeper into the world.
Sometimes I fill the page with questions that are scrambling my brain. Then I leave them there...maybe I'll answer the later, maybe they just need to be out of my brain and onto the page.
When embarking on a research project, I'll make lists of questions. Some of them are interesting. These are the ones I follow.
Other times when I'm stuck on plot, I'll ask questions to jump start my understanding of the action. I think it's okay to just have a page devoted to a single question, especially if it is a question that is loitering in my mind, taking up space and almost becoming bothersome. I like my notebooks to have a little whimsy. It helps my thinking. So when I find this kind of question, I get it onto a page of its own. This question is one I've been picking at for months. It's moved from question status to a fierce wondering.
When questions become fierce wonderings, then I know I'm onto something. As a writer, I cling to fierce wonderings. They fuel me, driving me to write, motivating me to find the answers. The more I'm aware of the questions knocking around the edges of my brain, the more likely I am to find fierce wonderings. Here is my happy place as a writer, because I know I'm on the brink of discovery. In a world where we are supposed to know all of the answers, writer's notebooks provide the refuge we need to ask questions in order to find our own fierce wonderings.
Ruth Ayres's mission is to change the world through story. Ruth's story. Your story. His story and her story. She does this in her professional life as a K-12 writing coach for Wawasee School District, a presenter about teaching writers, and a blogger at Two Writing Teachers. She does this as a writer, playing with many writing projects, and on her blog Ruth Ayres Writes. She does this as a person in ordinary life, collecting words and photos in order to remember the tiny moments that add up to big living. All of this leads to lots of notebooks filling up the spaces of her life.
You can order DAY BY DAY: 180 DAYS OF REFLECTIVE PRACTICE, written by Ruth and Stacey Shubitz through Stenhouse. And you can have another look at Ruth's notebooks here.