Thursday, April 19, 2012

Rebecca Kai Dotlich: Let the Pen or Marker Play

I keep lots of notebooks, journals, and diaries.  All kinds of them.  Seems I can't stick to just one until I've used all the pages.  Oh, no.  I must fill a few pages helter-skelter here and there.  One day in one, the next day in another.  I hardly ever seem to write in linear fashion. I naturally scribble and jot all askew, catty-cornered, twisted, upside-down, you name it.

I keep my notebooks at home, but when I'm traveling I'll take very slim, thin ones along.  My favorites seem to be black Moleskines, but I am beginning to love the harder, larger sketchbooks with no lines - for doodles.  I think of them as doodle-dumps and scribble-sparks.  I have always doodled as I'm thinking (my dad did, too), and even though these never become a poem or the meat of a picture book, they might switch the lights on.  More than anything?  It's terrible-fun to go back and look at these pages years later.  I do keep small diaries that are more personal, but often they don't have anything to do with the writing process.

When I was a teenager, I wrote in a small pink diary with a lock and key.  Who knows what  happened to it.  I do still have a blue one that I used in college.

A published poem is very rarely ever started in a notebook.  In fact, I would have said never.  But going through all of them randomly, I found two brainstorming pages; one did get cobbled together to become a poem.

Notes from an Elephant Poem that Never Came Together

Poem from SONG AND DANCE, selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins
Published by Simon & Schuster

But for the most part, my poems just come from an idea or a word, and I start each on the keyboard.  I used to use lots of yellow notepads, but I don't anymore.  Unless I'm doing research for a poem, and then I will.  But those don't usually stay as a complete pad.  I end up tearing off the pages and scattering them around to see all the notes as I write the poem.  These are some of those pages I used for a poem in CASTLES.

Typically, my writer's notebooks are filled with words I hear, see, read, think up, love. I often play with color words, sound words, words I like the look of; I mix them up, melt them together, try out different combinations.  Any one notebook might include lists (favorite TWILIGHT ZONE episodes), jots, maps (I love maps), childhood names, street names, possible character names, random thoughts, childhood memories, details, passages from favorite books, words I clip from magazines and tape in (I did this when I was young), doodles, webbing, comic strips.

I tape into my journals lots of things like comic strips, old postcards and photos, magazine pictures that just capture my curiosity, overheard conversations, etc.  The things I write in my notebooks are not terribly important and more than not, they are scattered, one image or word not relating to the next (at the time), but I don't think of that.  I just let the pen or marker play.

I love to take peeks into other author and artist notebooks; we all dream and doodle differently on the page, and I am amazed by that.

Rebecca Kai Dotlich is a poet and picture book author of such titles as WHAT IS SCIENCE? (a 2006 Subaru SB&F prize finalist), and LEMONADE SUN (an American Booksellers "Pick of the Lists").  Her picture book, BELLA & BEAN, received the Golden Kite Honor Award as well as a Bank Street's Best Book of the Year award,  Rebecca's work has been featured on READING RAINBOW, and it her poems have appeared in magazines such as LADYBUG, HIGHLIGHTS, and STORYWORKS, as well as numerous anthologies, textbooks, and collections. She is a frequent speaker and promoter of poetry at conferences and workshops around the United States.  Rebecca is a word-keeper-collector, a mother of two grown children, and a grandmother of four.  She lives with her husband in Indiana, and you can visit her website here.

Rebecca has generously offered a hardcover copy of her picture book, BELLA AND BEAN to a reader who comments on this post.

And Boyds Mills Press has offered a paperback copy of LEMONADE SUN!

Please leave a comment below to be entered to win one these books!  The drawing will take place next Monday evening, April 23.

Congratulations to Natalie for winning the giveaway from Laura Shovan's post.  Natalie - please send me your address to amy at amylv dot com so that we can get you your book!


  1. I love your notebooks! And especially the way you think of them as "doodle dumps" and "scribble sparks". Thanks for the inspiration.

  2. I thoroughly enjoyed this peek into Rebecca's notebooks. All those scattered research pages made me nervous, though, for even if my to-do lists consist of crumpled/scribbled-on post-it notes flying around the computer, actual research and notes for writing must be neatly ordered or my brain can't focus. But yet, I find her methods appealing! :)

  3. I especially like the notebook entry for Rebecca's "Tucking-in Song" poem. I love how you circled the words and then to see your final version and how it began as your musings and word-catching. Something wonderful to show to young writers. Often you hear, "I don't have anything to write about" from the reluctant writers who do not write frequently. A teacher can share with them how a writer's style and writing life may evolve the more they write. It ties in beautifully with helping children reflect more on the idea that practice in any craft often leads to strenth and change. It is so nice to have this site as a teaching opportunity, too! So thank you to Amy. I would like to know a bit more about how Rebecca works at the keyboard as in keeping drafts of her poems so I will head to her site again.

  4. I have two of your books for inspiration, Rebecca. Your poetry is breathtaking! Tucking in Song is gorgeous! It's so interesting to learn about your methods. Thanks for sharing!

  5. I love the way you have such a jumble of papers and collecions that give you the background for the work. As you said, I am fascinated too by the different ways that people who keep notebooks or journals "keep" them. I love to show the unique ideas to student to help them see that their own ideas for worthy, will give them strength in the writing, no matter what they do. So, thanks for the photos as well as the words. Your "tucking into bed" is beautiful.

  6. That was mighty informative. I love how Teach (that's what I call Rebecca for she is my mentor) collects words like one would collect seashells at the beach. I also love looking at the pages of handwritten notes on CASTLES, one of my favorite of her books. Thank you Amy and Teach for this post.

  7. Wow! I love this peek into your notebooks! I am fascinated by the thinking and organizing and collecting of writers. It is refreshing to know that you have random words, pictures, etc. that make up your notebooks and then things fall together into beautiful poems. I absolutely love the "Tucking-in Song" and the way you showed this in your notebook before it came together as a finished product. Amazing! Thank you for sharing!

  8. Rebecca is a master of words, choosing the perfect word and then going just to the edge.....and..... before tumbling over, choosing the 'more perfect' word. I would love to see her "scribble sparks" for Midnight Cat....the quintessential poem!

  9. One of the first poets I approach as I begin any anthology is Rebecca Kai Dotlich. She is among the best poets for children writing today. Her use of language is so incredible it is like finding words you've always heard yet never heard before. And she works and works on her craft until each verse has reached perfection. There is poetry thrown around and about these days. Yet there are poets and there are Poets (with a capital P). Working with Rebecca is like working with the masters. She listens, she hears, she
    doesn't write, she rewrites. Few poets can give me goose bumps; Dotlich's work makes my heart beat faster. -- Lee Bennett Hopkins

  10. I love the idea of a notebook as adoodle-dump. I am a doodler too but I usually doodle in the margains of agendas from meetings! I would love to know when you doodle. Do you set aside some time during the day to just doodle and write?


  11. It's amazing to me how all of those pieces of paper and all of those words eventually come together in such beautiful poems! And I'm really glad to hear that real writers have lots of notebooks, because I have about 15 half full scattered all over my life.

  12. Amy, thank you for inviting me on your blog! I enjoy reading so many of your posts -- I am not one who comments often, simply because I've never set up google accts and blogs of my own and so it seems confusing. And sometimes I write a very long comment and it disappears and I am frustrated. I hope this one doesn't. I would like to thank each and every one of you for your comments and I would like to address a few questions if that's ok:

  13. Whoo-hoo, it went through. (I decided to do a half & half post, just in case I lost it.)
    So, back again:

    I do keep most drafts in my Word doc now -- I often revise the poem many times and keep saving it as is, so many drafts are unfortunately lost by deleting and adding ... but just as often, I'll start over with a new doc, print out the previous ones, and tape them up around me as I write my final poem. (Or picture book, whichever the case may be.) I tape drafts down my hallway sometimes, so that I can *see* them visually.

    If I do ever find my drafts of Midnight Stray I will check down the line to see if Amy might want to do a post on the process part of that.
    This particular one is not on my computer. But I lost a lot of files on my old computer, too :(

    No, I never set aside time to doodle. Doodling (for me) isn't something I decide to do; I do it without thinking, often when I am facing a blank page and haven't begun to write yet, or maybe while I'm scribbling some thoughts or thinking of an idea -- I'll start doodling away.

    I certainly am honored by LBH's comment, and will give one back that it is my pleasure and honor and happiness to be included in your books and to call you my friend. Your faith in me means the world, you know that.

    Amy, this has been great fun and I wish I could've taken better pictures for you!
    Get this, I started a blog years ago ... I named it; THE PEACOCK PAPERS or THE PEACOCK SCRIBBLES. I remember changing my mind, and now I can't find either! Have no idea where it is. I've searched the internet. (It had no blog posts mind you, just a title! And the color was turquoise(peacock) of course.)

    As Pooh would say:

    “Poetry and Hums aren't things which you get, they're things which get you. And all you can do is go where they can find you.”


  14. I agree with Sue and Lori; I love your phrase DOODLE DUMPS! Is that a phrase that anyone else uses? How about doing a whole book called DOODLE DUMPS and then you can have a signing with J. Patrick Lewis signing DOODLE DANDIES (and CASTLES)!!

  15. Hey Janet! No one that I knew of. Just something I've always kind of said to myself when looking through my notebooks. But since you said that, I just googled it; looks like there is an online game and maybe a app for a game ... but that seems to be it. Good title idea, the DOODLE DUMPS. :) And pairing with Pat and his DANDIES, of course. Thanks for peeking! R


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