Sunday, September 6, 2015

So Much Potential: On New Writer's Notebooks

Over time, my life as a writer has changed me. For instance, I have a greater appreciation for the potential of a new notebook.

Every time I begin a new writer's notebook, I find myself swept into this ultra-reflective state of mind. Flipping through the pages of the previous, finished notebook, I make note of the things preserved there--large and small--that I captured and stored away. Brave moments, developing ideas, markings of wonder, complaints, and celebrations. And inevitably, I close that finished notebook and smile to myself about all that filled the pages knowing that most of what is there now, committed in imperfect scribble, I didn't anticipate when I was writing on the first page.

Similarly, I found myself in this position this week when I saw my fifteenth First Day of School. I was ready with a few minutes to spare, and I sat in my too-quiet, too-tidy, too-white classroom, noting the connection between my feelings this morning to those that stir when I open to that first page of a new notebook. "There--at those cleared tabletops, in those empty chairs, on those blank walls--rests so much potential," I thought.

Soon, the quiet was replaced with eager energy, excited students looking and behaving a whole year older. The once empty tables were cluttered again with toppling school supplies.

We went about the business of sorting and storing materials. When I asked the students to hold up their writer's notebooks, something surreal moved through the air. As I gathered the notebooks at each of their tables, I was struck with the assortment and imagined them in the back-to-school aisles of the stores, thoughtful and deliberate in picking their new writer's notebooks. I was overcome by what I know from experience: on this day, they could not know how those blank pages will be filled, what will happen in the days they live as writers, but later they will look back with wonderment of what is there.

And this became the basis of launching writers' workshop with my students, the heart of my impassioned words about the endless possibilities and potential a new notebook holds. I held their stack of brand-new notebooks and talked with unrestrained enthusiasm about how much I wonder about their blank notebooks, and how wonderful and exciting it is to dream of the growing and self-discovery that will fill their pages. I spoke to my writers about the gift of time to write, to wonder, to explore. I spoke of writing imperfectly, taking chances, and the opportunity to revisit and revise. And I spoke about the great privilege that I feel, because I get to journey beside them as a writer, too. Every day. This whole school year.

I told my writers about my ritual of reflecting at the end/start of each new notebook, and I flipped open to the first page of the very notebook I'm writing in now. I read this first page aloud:

It was quiet when I stopped. I had goosebumps. I looked around at their faces, reading the expressions. They were on the edge of their seats, their eyes sparkled, and they couldn't suppress their smiles. So, I did the very most perfect thing to do: I invited them to write, encouraging them to let their first, new, blank page to speak to them.

I returned their notebooks with great reverence, as best I could between uncoordinated attempts to brush away embarrassing tears. But always astute, they noticed, and I heard one student tell another, "This matters so much, she's crying!" The tears were entirely unplanned, but Yes, Dear Writer, your new beginning as a fifth grade writer very much matters.

Once all of the students had their notebooks again, I settled with my own and began drafting this post. Once or twice I made myself pause to observe their stamina and behaviors. Almost without exception, their pencils were moving fluidly.

Before I left for the day, I peeked inside their notebooks, curious what I would find there. Some students had launched into drafting stories, but some had listened for the voice of the blank page, and their voices caught my heart.  
"How can I become the most spectacular writer I can be?" 
Wow, kid. Keep asking. Please.
I love how creatively the blank page "spoke" for this writer.
Moving from grade 4 to grades 5/6 this year, I recognize the growth on these first pages, too. A year later, a year more of life as a writer, and the students aren't as afraid of the blank page. Maybe, just maybe, they see that blank page as limitless much potential.


  1. Melissa,
    I just loved this story of launching notebooks. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Thank you for visiting and reading! I appreciate your support.