Thursday, July 19, 2012

Deb Lund: You Must Write Lots of Bad Stuff

Notebooks! Don’t you love them? I do, but I write books for kids, so maybe I can’t help myself.

I have friends who keep one notebook, so they can easily find anything all in one place. I love that idea. But it doesn’t work for me, at least not right now.

I use several notebooks, each for their own purpose…

The big notebook under the pile of smaller ones is actually a hardcover sketchbook. I mostly write in it, but once in a while I doodle something (you’ll discover one of those doodles soon). I meet with two amazing friends each month to write about whatever is on our minds. That’s what mostly fills that big notebook.

The spiral-bound black notebook is for another group. We’re a quintet of writers, each working on vastly different projects. I’m the only children’s writer in that group, and I write notes and ideas that come up in our meetings as we support each other in our writing lives.

The small book with shells on the cover was a gift from my sister-in-law. It’s the perfect size to jot down a writing idea on each page. It’s also the perfect size to stuff in a bag or my purse.

I’ve saved the plain old green composition book for last because it’s filled with first drafts, fun phrases, lots of doodles to go with stories, and more lines, crossed-out phrases, arrows, and margin notes than you can imagine. But, why should I make you imagine it? I promise to show you a couple of pages from that book, but first, let’s talk about those “special” notebooks. The ones you get for gifts. The ones you buy as souvenirs when you’re on vacation. The ones that are so pretty you hate to mess them up with your scribbles. Guess what? They’re not special at all until part of you is in them. But maybe that’s why I used a composition book for my messiest word play. I’ll show you a sloppy copy from that book in a moment.

These red and green journals are blank—but not for long. They’re gifts from an amazing woman who writes for PBS kids’ shows. She’s one of my creativity-coaching clients, and she sent me these books because they reminded her of me. She said she couldn’t pick between the two of them and had to get me both. I’m so touched and honored she feels this way about me.

Remember that big black sketchbook I use for a journal?

When I do school visits, I often tell students about my inner critic, who hovers above me and says things like, “Who do you think you are?” Here’s how she appeared in my journal…

At a school visit a few years ago, after telling several classes of fourth graders about my inner critic, a boy yelled out, “You should write about her!”

So I did. And here’s the sloppy copy (and perfect first draft) I promised from that green composition book…

When I meet you someday, I’ll read the final draft of the story to you. Until then, I hope you’ll write lots of sloppy copies. First drafts are always perfect because their purpose is to get the words on the paper. I often don’t know what I’m going to write until I start writing. If you want to write, you must write lots of bad stuff! You have to dig through mounds of rocks to find the gems. So, get a notebook, mess it up, and don’t quit!

Here is a notebook exercise to try:

Set a timer for 9 minutes (it feels much less than 10!) and write whatever comes to your mind. Don't let your pen or pencil stop. Give yourself permission to write the worst garbage in the world. If you don't know what to write, write that! ("I don't know what to write.") When your inner critic steps in with snide remarks, celebrate the fact that you recognize who's talking and that you won't be stopped any more. Call this free-writing your "practice" and do it often!

Let me know how it’s going, okay?

Deb Lund is the author of DINOSOARING, ALL ABOARD THE DINOTRAIN, DINOSAILORS, MONSTERS ON MACHINES, and other picture books. She's currently working on an upper middle-grade historical fantasy and a card deck for writers. She's been a music and classroom teacher, elementary librarian, school founding director, and a teacher of teachers. Deb frequently presents at conferences, workshops, libraries, and schools. You can invite Deb to your school, ask her about creativity coaching, or say hi to her here...

Deb has generously offered to give away a book to each of two people who comment on this post —a copy of DINOSAILORS and a copy of ALL ABOARD THE DINOTRAIN.  To be entered in this drawing, please leave a comment below.  I will draw two names and send each winner a book when I return home from summer camp in early August.  DINOSOARING was just released in June, and you can see and order it here at Amazon.  Thank you, Deb!


  1. Thanks for the reminder about those "pretty" journals and notebooks . . . they truly are not special unless we add our special touches to them. I also needed to be reminded that it is important to write often, even if we think that we don't have anything to write about. Thanks! Deb and Amy :)

  2. I love the different notebooks and the way you explained their use. So one writer's writing can be more like a menu than one flavor! Thank you!

  3. It's so cool that you have friends that you get together and write with :)
    lol I must be an odd one, cuz I never had problems writing in the pretty notebooks- it's the composition books & plain black notebooks that I struggle to write in!!

    1. Anne, I think that makes you pretty lucky! Keep on writing in those special journals!

  4. I love hearing all about your process & the way you use your notebooks. It is great you have support groups for sharing & responding. Thanks for all you showed.

    1. You're welcome, Linda. I love to support kids, teachers, and other writers and artists, so this was a fun guest post to do. And yes, I don't know what I'd do without my support system. They really help me be the best creativity coach I can be.

  5. Hope it isn't too late to enter the giveaway! Love all the pictures you shared of your notebooks Deb, especially the artwork of "Midge, the Critic"!

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  7. One of my favorite "exercises" to do with my elementary-age writers is timed free-writing. We learn about fluency and practice it in reading and with math facts. These timed writes are our way of practicing fluency in writing. We count the number of words written and do the math to calculate a words per minute rate. It's been effective in helping students who stall get over the hump... and since anything goes in the content of the writing, the students learn to think on paper. Your post adds one change — the idea that 9 minutes is much less than 10. For my kids, we'll try 4... since it's much less than 5! Thanks so much for sharing!


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