Margin Notes

Inspiration for Writer’s Notebooks Part Two


This is the second 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. You can read the first post here.


Amy Krouse Rosenthal chose to write her memoir in the form of an encyclopedia and the final product, Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life, has been one of my favorite sources of writer’s notebook inspiration since I first read it. The entries—sometimes funny and sometimes poignant—are wonderful invitations to observe and document the details of life, no matter how ordinary they may seem at first.


Another source of inspiration for paying attention to the writing possibilities in the world around us is Neil Pasricha’s The Book of Awesome. Like the posts on his blog, Pasricha documents the awesomeness he discovers day-to-day life.


The Art of Noticing: 131 Ways to Spark Creativity, Find Inspiration, and Discover Joy in the Everyday by Rob Walker is bursting with invitations to engage more deeply with our surroundings and to see our world in new ways. The exercises range from quick and easy (find something you weren’t looking for, sketch a room you just left, take a long walk through an unfamiliar part of town) to more complex (make a personal map, donate time, interview and elder).


This trio from Austin Kleon is filled with creative inspiration, invitations, and unique mentor text options. Kleon encourages readers (and writers and creators) to see the world like an artist, looking for creative inspiration even in unlikely places.


On Looking: A Walker’s Guide to the Art of Observation by Alexandra Horowitz is one of my most recommended texts for anyone getting started with writer’s notebooks. It’s a long read, but there are so many fantastic passages that can be pulled out as excerpts. Horowitz walks and re-walks the streets of her New York City neighborhood, observing her surroundings through a different lens each time. Often, she is accompanied by an expert who points out aspects of the route she has never thought to pay attention to on her previous walks. It is a wonderful mentor text for both keen observation and documentation.


A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table by Molly Wizenberg combines two of my favorite things: food and storytelling. Part cookbook and part memoir, Wizenberg reflects on stories from her life by centering them on food.


If you have participated in our annual A 30-Day Writing Habit, you are familiar with Grant Snider’s comics. They make wonderful writing invitations. The Shape of Ideas: An Illustrated Exploration of Creativity is a wonderful collection of comics that share advice for finding or reigniting a creative spark. They are also terrific multimodal mentor texts and options for minilessons.


In Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor, cartoonist and writer Lynda Barry captures activities and assignments from courses she taught in the Art Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Many of them invite students to capture their surroundings through a combination of images and words. The book itself is published in the format of a composition notebook and is a visual inspiration for anyone interested in keeping a notebook.


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