A Writer’s Notebook: Seashells, Sand Dollars and Sketches

sand dollarA writer’s notebook is a storehouse of ideas, memories, treasures, or seeds as Anne Elliott calls them. In the past, I often provided my students with notebooks to collect their thinking, more of a learning log than a writer’s notebook really. If I knew then what I know now! I would show them my own, show them I struggle. I would not cripple them with prompts. When you walk down a beach, you grab a stick … to write messages in the sand, to turn over seashells or rocks and examine them more closely, to coax crabs out of their holes. But those fragile sand dollars, you handle with care. A pencil is like that stick, turning over your thoughts and ideas to determine which ones you’ll harvest and others you may discard as you stroll through your notebook pages.

Propelled by the pressure of knowing our literacy team intends to poke and muck about in writing in the coming year, I packed a fresh notebook to El Salvador, fully intending on writing while I was there. In addition, two novels made the cut and were packed in the suitcase.

At least two things I learned about myself while I was away:

  1. When I read, I escape into the pages, fully engaged. When I travelled to El Salvador, I could not pick up a book as I found it distracted me from reading the world I was immersed in. Further, there wasn’t really opportunity through the day to sit and read anywhere. You’re always moving or finely tuned in to your surroundings. By bedtime, I was still replaying the day’s movie.
  2. When I write, it is still a painful time-consuming process. When I travelled, I tried to grab ideas, photos, business cards and tickets, quick jots about what I observed, lists (things not to do in El Salvador). My notebook acted like more of a holding tank for the fresh catches of the day.  I hoped that I would return to sift and select those sand dollars to share with others.

I am slowly working away at drawing out the reflections I have in that scrapbook of ideas, however, today I thought I’d share a sketch I’d drawn after a day of driving from San Salvador to La Playa Esteron. The only reason I chose to sketch was because it’s a means of thinking and recording ideas that is completely foreign to me. I wanted to try it despite my lack of artistic skill because I can appreciate its value to students and adults. I had seen amazing, thought-provoking sketchnotes that captured the essence of a talk or a timeline. A former colleague, Cindy Little (@littles84), is still an artistic marvel to me in sketchnoting. Her notebooks burst with visual renderings of her thinking while she listens and observes. My supervisor, Sue Bruyns, blogged about sketchnoting earlier today: http://www.susanbruyns.com/.

el salvador sketchnoteMy sketch is mostly a stylized map, but when I look at it, I’m reminded of not only the journey, but the creation of the sketch, what I chose to include, what each image meant to me, where I was sitting when I created it. Words alone would have filled pages. I found a quote on twitter today that called a sketchnote a zip file for knowledge (@cwodtke).



One thought on “A Writer’s Notebook: Seashells, Sand Dollars and Sketches

  1. “My notebook acted like more of a holding tank for the fresh catches of the day. I hoped that I would return to sift and select those sand dollars to share with others.”
    I’m certain that as more time goes on, the sifting will continue. I’m so glad that you created a system to catch your thoughts, even if it wasn’t used as intended.


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