How to use writer's notebooks with students

Writers And Their Notebooks: Jodi Toering

Jul 19, 2020

Jodi Toering is a Victorian author and primary school teacher who last year released her stunning debut book, Mallee Sky. As soon as I read this book, I fell in love with Jodi’s exquisite word choice and memorable imagery. I can’t wait to see what she produces next!

As a part of my writer’s and their notebooks series (which includes interviews with authors Trace Balla, Lian Tanner and Claire Saxby), I took the opportunity to ask Jodi a few questions about how she uses her writer’s notebook. Here is what she had to say:


How often do you use your writer’s notebook?

Every single day! Writing is a craft. Great writing starts with great ideas first. No idea – No story.


How do you use your writer’s notebook?

I use my writer's notebook as a file to store writing ideas, but sometimes, I practice writing small snippets in different ways. I suppose, you could almost say that I use my writer’s notebook not only as a tool to capture and store ideas, but a place to work on little writing exercises and practice my craft as a writer. 

Jodi with her book Mallee Sky


What types of things do you write in your writer's notebook? 

I write down random thoughts, funny things that happen that might make a great story, ideas that pop into my head at 3:30 am that I know I will forget if I don't write them down right away; ideas that are ethereal and unformed, just floating mist-like, waiting to be fleshed out at a later date. 

I use my notebook to record new words I have discovered or phrases I am working on that I really like the sound of, such as “Dawn paints water-colour light across the land”. These words and phrases often make their way into my manuscripts in one way or another, so my writer’s notebook is an incredibly important tool.


Do you draw in your notebook?

Yes. I draw doodles, characters, storyboards to gain clarity, melancholy fish sitting in armchairs… (Now there’s an idea for a story…)

A quick drawing from inside Jodi's writer's notebook


Where do you get the ideas for your notebook? 


Don’t tell anyone, but I often get writing ideas from my neighbours or from interactions with family and friends. When my children share anecdotes with me in the car on the way to and from school, I always find myself saying “That would make a great story!”

Nature is another resource that keeps on giving, particularly coupled with the senses. Holidays, outings and conversations all present rich ideas and material for my writing. Ideas surround us all the time. But it takes focus to tune in to these ideas and recognise their potential.


What do you write in your notebook and what do you write directly onto the computer?

I write words, ideas and brief snippets which become the bones of a story. I write about the senses. I write observations. Then, I trawl my notebook to find an idea I would like to develop and craft it into a story either on the computer or in a writing book.

I never write a full story in my notebook. That's just a special place for the seeds of a story. But I do use it to practise exercises (which I think is a critical thing for students to do to practice authorial focuses and the craft of writing).


How do you take an idea from your notebook and turn it into a completed piece of writing?  

For me, the process involves a lot of mulling over. I take long walks in the bush for several days or weeks, just thinking about my idea before I even put pen to paper. Then I take the idea, rough out a plan and finally start to write after a long process of thinking first.


What does your notebook look like?

I have three! My paper notebook, my notes on my phone when I don't have a pen or my notebook, and my teacher notebook (to teach students how to form ideas). I use a lot of the ideas from Jennifer Seravallo’s The Writing Strategies Book.

A few of Jodi's notebooks and entries. Including her paper notebook and her digital writer's notebooks.


Can you share an example of the teacher notebook you use with your students?

Note: I have annotated the photos Jodi has shared to highlight how she has used this with her students.


Thankyou to Jodi Toering for sharing your insights.

You can follow Jodi on Instagram: @Joditoering Twitter: @jodi_toering or on her website:



Wow! What a terrific insight into how another published author uses their writer’s notebook. There are a few key points from Jodi’s responses that stood out for me:

  • The time Jodi gives herself to incubate ideas- unlike many students believe, ideas do not automatically pop into your head and come flowing out of the pen every time you sit down to write, they often need time to marinate. (Self-reflection question: does the way you currently teach writing honour this incubation/marination time?)
  • Jodi’s honed ability to notice, watch and remain in ‘idea collection mode’ constantly throughout her day and her life. Ideas are all around us- we just have to learn to recognise them and teach our students to do the same.
  • Once again, there is no one ‘correct’ way to use a writer’s notebook. Jodi puts some notes on her phone and some in her notebook- it’s all about catching the ideas before they fly straight past us and are lost forever.
  • Even published authors use strategies such as those in Jennifer Serravallo’s books to guide and prompt thinking for their notebooks. (Don’t forget to check out the free Oz Lit Teacher Writer’s Notebook Strategies resource to learn about more ideas or share your own).


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