Margin Notes

Inspiration for Writer’s Notebooks Part One


At this time of year, teachers are establishing writing routines to launch a year or semester of writing workshop. Because the writer’s notebook is one of the cornerstones of the workshop, teachers often ask us to recommend texts to inspire students’ writing. This is the first in a three-part series of posts that highlight some of our favorite titles for inviting students (and ourselves) to explore their world and their lives for writing ideas to capture in their notebooks.


The combination of images and text found in both My Inner Sky and Am I There Yet? by Mari Andrew make these a terrific source of quickwrites, especially when you are introducing the notebook and students are beginning to generate lots of ideas to see what bubbles to the surface.


The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green is a collection of brief, thought-provoking reflective essays about life, written in the style of reviews, including a rating system—Halley’s Comet: 4.5 stars, the internet: 3 stars, Canada Geese: 2 stars, Monopoly: 1.5 stars. These essays are engaging mentor texts for students to write their own ratings and rationales.


In the comic memoir The Fire Never Goes Out, author and illustrator Noelle Stevenson shares the highs and lows of a creative life. The book as a whole is an inspiration and many of the single and double-page spreads have the potential to be used as invitations to write and reflect. The comic format demonstrates the multimodality of storytelling. It just may inspire writers to try out a more visual form!


Goodbye, again by Johnny Sun combines personal essays, stories, and illustrations. Ranging from a few lines to a few pages, these texts invite writers to observe their own lives for story possibilities and it models many unique ways to share those stories. One of my favorites is “How to cook scrambled eggs” told through a series of recipes.


The Book of Qualities by J. Ruth Gendler explores human qualities by bringing them to life as people. Stillness meets you with tea and takes you for walks by the ocean, Confidence treats ‘No Trespassing Signs’ as though they aren’t there, Charm is not afraid to wear beauty on the outside, and Boredom can’t stand to be alone. These short texts will inspire writers to create their own versions about qualities they admire (or not) in others or in themselves.


Ashley Perez created Read This for Inspiration: Simple Sparks to Ignite Your Life as a remedy for phone fatigue: “No long paragraphs or giant chapters to slog through—instead, I’ve written digestible thought-starters you can easily dip into. Scoop them up and take them with you to meditate on throughout your day or as you wind down your night.” This collection of colorful images and short texts is overflowing with quickwrite possibilities.


If you have ever found yourself searching for just the right word to describe how you are feeling, you’ll want to check out The Emotionary: A Dictionary of Words That Don’t Exist for Feelings That Do written by Eden Sher and illustrated by Julia Wertz. Writers can use the entries, such as regretrospect (regret + retrospect)- the feeling that if you could do it all over again, you actually would change all of the things, as models for creating their own versions.


Heart Talk: Poetic Wisdom for A Better Life by Cleo Wade is a lovely little collection you can read from cover-to-cover or dip in and out of when you find yourself in need of inspiration or encouragement. The font is unique and many of the poems have an added layer of meaning thanks to underlines, stars, and annotations.


When poet Maggie Smith’s marriage ended, she starting writing daily notes to self—words of affirmation or encouragement—and posting them on social media. These posts became the inspiration for Keep Moving: Notes on Loss, Creativity, and Change. This collection is filled with short, beautifully crafted tweet-sized poems that can be used for invitations to write, mentor texts, and mini-lessons.

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