Mary Amato’s Tips for Keeping a Writer’s Notebook
Find out why it's a good idea for young aspiring writers to keep a journal, and get practical tips on journal writing from children's author and writing coach Mary Amato. She says, don't forget to bring a writing journal everywhere you go!
A writer’s notebook is a place where you can write all kinds of things: ideas, questions, thoughts, true stories, invented stories, rough drafts for poems, songs, or stories, bits of dialogue that you overhear, and more. It’s different from a diary, which is a record of your own life experiences.
Why write in a journal?
If you are interested in being a professional writer, keeping a notebook is important for many reasons. Here are four important ones:
- The more you write about what you see and hear, the more observant you’ll become.
- The more you write, the more your writing will improve overall.
- The act of writing down an idea often stimulates more ideas.
- Writing down an idea “cements” the idea—you can’t lose it if it is written down!
Journal writing tips
There is no right or wrong way to keep a writer’s notebook. Here are some of my suggestions:
- Pick a notebook that you like: a spiral notebook, a binder, a blank book. It doesn’t have to be fancy. In fact, sometimes if it’s too fancy, you might be afraid to write in it.
- Write whatever pops into your head that you find interesting: a story that you hear that isn’t true, a story that is true, a memory, a dream, a conversation, a description of something you see, an idea for a poem, a story, a song, character names, etc.
- Dictate: if you find it hard to get your thoughts or ideas down, ask someone else to write for you. Make sure they use your words.
- Use notes: If you get an idea or have a thought and don’t have your notebook with you, jot a note to yourself and tape it into your Writer’s Notebook later.
- Experiment with rough drafts that you can later develop into stories or poems.
- Try to write as concretely and specifically as you can. If you’re writing a description, use details. If you’re writing about something that happened, describe exactly what happened.
- Look for what I call “shivery” moments–those times in your life when you have a big emotion or realization (maybe you witness an argument between your sister and your mother and it makes you realize something about yourself). These moments are important to document because they could become the inspiration to write a story or poem. Write the actual scene, using as much concrete detail as possible.
- Take your writer’s notebook with you EVERYWHERE.
- Date your entries: you might want to know when you came up with an idea later.
About the author
Mary Amato is an award-winning children’s and YA book author, poet, playwright, and songwriter. Her books have been translated into foreign languages, optioned for television, produced onstage, and have won the children’s choice awards in Ohio, Minnesota, Utah, and Arizona. She teaches popular workshops on writing and the creative process around the country. Learn more at Mary Amato's official website.
Watch the Reading Rockets interview with Mary Amato, where she shares her strategies for teaching writing. .