A few years ago I started a research project. I wanted to learn more about how published authors REALLY used their writer’s notebooks so I could help teachers and students use them in more authentic and purposful ways in the classroom.
Across my ‘Writer’s and their Notebooks’ series, I’ve interviewed several Australian authors to gain insight into how each of them uses this writing tool and today I’m adding another talented author to that list- Jaclyn Moriarty.
I was first introduced to Jaclyn’s books as a CBCA Book Week judge. The 2021 judges in the Younger Readers category raved about her book, The Stolen Prince of Cloudburst (from the Kingdoms and Empires series). Their advice was not to be turned off by the size of the book because it was an easy and entertaining read. I purchased the book straight away, consumed it in a couple of days and LOVED it. Jaclyn sure knows how to write with a strong and engaging voice!
I’ve since purchased the rest of the books in her Kingdoms and Empires series (and also purchased them all for my nieces). They would make terrific class novels for years 4+.
As a fan of Jaclyn’s writing, I feel very lucky to have interviewed her about how she uses her writer’s notebook as part of her writing process. She provides some great gems of advice that will hopefully help you and your students use these tools more authentically and effectively in your classroom.
How do you use your writer’s notebook?
I have a small notebook by my bed that I write in when I get ideas in the middle of the night. These ideas are always pure genius until I wake up the next morning and read them. Then they make no sense—either because I can’t read the writing or because they just make no sense.
I also have stacks of A4 notebooks that I take out to a café, or a bench by the harbour, most mornings. I use them to write ideas and plans.
What types of things do you write in your notebook?
I do a lot of scrawling and scribbling of words, half-sentences, diagrams, maps, lists, pictures and ideas in my notebook.
Often, I feel as if the book I’m writing is hidden inside a mountain of rock. Each time I write at my computer I’m chipping away at the rock, trying to find the story. When I use a notebook, it’s like explosive devices detonating large chunks of the rock.
Do you draw in your notebook?
Yes. I’m a terrible artist but I draw lots of pictures, shapes and squiggles all over my notebook. For my Kingdoms and Empires books, I have drawn pictures of most of my characters eg Bronte from The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone, Honey Bee and Finlay from The Slightly Alarming Tale of the Whispering Wars, Esther and her sisters from The Stolen Prince of Cloudburst, and Oscar from The Astonishing Chronicles of Oscar from Elsewhere.
I never show anyone these pictures but somehow Kelly Canby, who illustrates the Australian edition, captures them exactly as I imagined (and a million, billion times better than my own pictures). Strangely, Karl James Mountford, who illustrates the UK editions, also captures them perfectly—but with completely different pictures to those by Kelly. (I love being illustrated so much!)
Where do you get the ideas for your notebook?
When I take a notebook to a café I look around and watch the people, and listen into conversations, and get ideas from that. When I sit by the harbour with my notebook, the water gives me the ideas (I just stare at it – water is filled with ideas, I find). Sometimes I have the notebook with me, but I don’t write anything in it, I just listen to conversations or stare at the water. It feels like the notebook is giving me permission to do that, and to me it’s an important part of the writing process.
I also get ideas by writing questions in my notebook. So I’ll write, ‘What should this book be about?’ or ‘Why is Bronte Mettlestone so angry?’ and then I just start scribbling answers.
What do write in your notebooks vs directly onto your computer?
I rarely write in full sentences or from left to right on the pages in my notebook. I write words or phrases in the middle of a page, upside down, diagonal or running across double pages. I use lines to connect ideas or write in circles.
On the computer, I sometimes write stream of consciousness because I can type faster than I can handwrite, but mostly I use the computer to write the actual book.
How do you take an idea from your notebook and turn it into a completed piece of writing?
Oh, I create a new document on Word and make separate tables with headings – like a heading for each character name, each theme, each plot thread – then I go through all my notebooks and fill up the tables. I use coloured textas to underline important parts of my notes, and sometimes to scribble extra ideas in the margins, and I add to the ideas as I type them into the document. This feels fun because it’s like I’m watching a puzzle come together before my eyes.
What does your notebook look like?
It is an illegible, scribbled mess. I often cannot decipher my own handwriting (and not just because I’ve written it in the middle of the night). When people ask to see my notebooks my heart sinks because I’m embarrassed by the state of them.
Photos from inside Jaclyn Moriarty’s writer’s notebook related to her award winning book, The Stolen Prince of Cloudburst.
How often do you use your notebook?
What advice do you have for young writers?
Don’t be afraid to break all the rules of writing. Now and then, read books you wouldn’t usually read and write the kind of stories you wouldn’t usually write.
Who influenced you to become a writer?
P.L. Travers, Roald Dahl, E.Nesbit, the school librarian in primary school, my high school English teachers…
What are your contact details (if teachers want to get in contact with you for school visits etc)?
Thankyou so much for sharing your insights Jaclyn! I absolutely love your metaphor of the writer’s notebook being the explosive device that detonates the rock around a story idea. It’s a quote that certainly resonates for me.
What were your takeaways from Jaclyn’s interview? I’d love to hear you thoughts in the comments section below! What other questions would you like to ask published authors about their writer’s notebooks?
Related Blog Posts:
- Writer’s and the notebooks: Meg McKinlay
- Writers and their notebooks: Trace Balla
- Writers and their notebooks: Jodi Toering
- Writer’s and their notebooks: Claire Saxby