Notebook writing surprises us.
One important gift that notebooks give us is the gift of surprise. Notebook writing surprises us. In A CIRCLE OF QUIET, Madeleine L’Engle writes, “One of the greatest delights in writing is in seeing words we never expected to appear on the page.” When I was in high school, I remember being assigned outlines before papers. I believed then that the outline always came first, that a writer knew what she or he would write before beginning. And it is important to know how to plan a piece of writing before beginning it. Just as there is great value in planning out a trip to San Francisco before getting on the plane. Yet often, it’s what we don’t plan that turns out the best part of all, the quirky little theatre, the off-the-beaten-track candy store…Sometimes the recipe that we mess up turns out to be everyone’s favorite dinner! We just need to be open to surprise, ready to let it in. We can, indeed, write what and when we don’t know.
When our teens were little, they were sometimes each of our children calling, “Mommy, nothing will come OUT!” Still, wanting desperately to avoid midnight sheet changes, I insisted that they try. Sometimes nothing came out. But sometimes we heard that tinkle on water. That’s when we coined the phrase “surprise pee pee,” it’s the kind that takes you by surprise. You don’t even know that something is inside of you, and yet, there it is – surprise!
If you decide to write in a notebook for ten minutes each day of this summer (highly recommended!) there will be days when you know just what you will write. Too, you will have days when you do not know where to begin. But if you commit to beginning, you will find a way in. Maybe you will start with the weather, or maybe you’ll sketch something or copy down a quote or begin by saying how you don’t know what to write about. You might take a walk and then write, inspired by what you see or read the paper and then write, inspired by what you read. No matter how you begin, I promise that you will write some things that you do not plan to write. This is the gift and the reason why I write. We can offer this to our older students in the form of daily notebook writing: writing from a poem, q book, artwork, quiet, music, anything. And as teachers of writing, our own notebooks will help us understand a writer’s struggle and joy more completely.
Donald Murray, in his book, WRITING TO DEADLINE, says, “The art of writing is the craft of becoming, of knowing, of exploring, of learning, of discovering, of thinking itself. Language records and extends meaning, revealing – if the writer is lucky – an unexpected significance, a surprise.” Writing is not just about, as we sometimes think, writing what we know. It is also about writing to find out what we know. For it is often in the act of writing that we discover something, that we realize what we think and care about. We don’t know everything that we or our students will write when we sit down with paper and write.
Remember when you were little and used to find fossils? You’d find a rock, crack it open with another rock, and yell, “Look at all of these fossils!” Our lives are like that too. Yes, sometimes they might just look like gray old rocks, but inside are lots of hidden fossils, just waiting to be found. Ask yourself and your students, “Where did your notebook writing surprise you?” Value that surprise. Stop for it like you’d stop for a big ol’ turtle in the middle of the road.