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The Power of Notebooking and Journaling

Way of Living – Literacy

June 1, 2021

Stephanie Affinito, a literacy teacher educator, joined us for a Way of Living conversation about the types, benefits, and joys of notebooking. She illuminated how notebooking is an activity that can be tailored to our interests, needs, and hopes, ultimately supporting us to grow closer to the person we aspire to be. She provided strategies to start over and incorporate writing into our lives as well as how to use literacy to start over our physical, emotional, cognitive and creative well-being.  

What Is Notebooking?

A notebook is simply a book of paper which we fill with notes. Notebooking, as a verb, is the act of keeping a notebook (or journal/diary). Notebooking is an opportunity to fill pages with the notes of your life, details you can carry close, that are significant and meaningful to you.

People often think of notebooking as journaling and keeping a diary, but there are multiple kinds of notebooking to fit personality, purpose, and the benefits you are seeking.

Why Does It Matter? (The Incredible Benefits of Notebooking)

When you invest in your writing life, you are investing in an act that has physical, mental and creative benefits. The act of sitting down to write can yield the below positive effects.

  1. Physical
  • Just the act of sitting down and writing makes us calmer, more still, and lowers blood pressure
  • Research indicates that writing at night, particularly to reflect upon your day, can improve sleep quality because whatever we are preoccupied with is off our mind and on the paper. 
  • Additionally, writing to process your day boosts your immune function, which is particularly relevant and positive news while we’re all living through a global pandemic. 
  • Research also suggests that writing boosts liver function and has a positive impact on asthma and autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis.
  1. Mental/Emotional
  • Writing to process what is happening in your own life, to reflect upon your day, or to think about your goals boosts emotional wellness because you are thinking through the events of your life and making sense of them. 
  • Particularly those who write about gratitude self-report being happier, healthier, more productive, less stressed, and more capable of managing anxiety. Focusing on gratitude has also been shown to help people who are experiencing depression
  • Keeping it analog – writing with a pen and paper – has added benefits by keeping your memory sharp as you remember information and assimilate it into the large context of your life, utilizing both the left and right side of your brain.
  1. Creative
  • If you use a notebook to explore creative possibilities, which includes – a list of ideas, a bucket list, inspirations, affirmations – your overall feelings of creativity will expand and heighten, broadening what you believe is possible for your life. 
  • Creative notebooking gives you space for your own life and the opportunity to tell your story in your own way
  • Notebooks can function as fascinating historical documents, providing primary source material for later generations who try to deduce what life was like at this time. In addition to documenting this historical moment, you have a personal archive of your life

Research confirms that by writing just 15-20 minutes a day, 3 to 4 times a month, you can glean these positive impacts to your overall wellness. This amount of time is eminently doable – an achievable goal with some stunning effects.

Stephanie recommends that you carve out that time according to your own personal schedule. If you’re a morning person, you can set your alarm a bit earlier. If you’re a night owl, you can wind down by heading to your notebook. If you need to sneak it into your day, you can write during your lunch break or a commute. What matters is that the time you write suits your particular needs and fits within the rhythm of your day.

Which Kind of Notebook is Right for You?

The benefits of notebooking are clear, so now it’s time to consider which kind of notebook is best suited to your needs, but keep in mind, there is no right way to start a notebooking practice. You don’t need special materials – you can go to a dollar store to purchase a notebook and use any pen that still works. All you need to reap the benefits of writing is to put pen to paper; however, if you indulge yourself and choose a notebook that speaks to you, you are more likely to use  it regularly, unlocking all the myriad physical, mental, emotional, and creative benefits that writing can offer.

Below are some questions to ask yourself when selecting a notebook:

  1. How large do you want your pages to be?
  2. Do you prefer blank paper, dotted paper or lined pages? Strong preference for one over the other?
  3. Where does the spiral edge suit you? 
  4. Do you need pages to be removable? 
  5. If travelling with you, does your notebook need to fit into a particular bag or purse?
  6. How durable does your notebook need to be? 
  7. Do you prefer pages and utensils or digital paper and a stylus? 

3 Main Categories of Notebooking (And 3 Ways to Start Today!)

Below are the 3 main categories that most notebooking falls into, but ultimately there are myriad uses. These examples simply illustrate how flexible, individualized, productive, and joyful notebooking can be.

  1. Reflective writing – this category of writing is the most common. It is an opportunity to record the events of your day and process what happened. You can write down the feelings you would like to transfer from your heart and mind over to the pages in your notebook.

Reflective Exercise: The Brain Dump

Open to a new page and write down everything that is weighing on your mind, from big things like the pandemic, the state of the world, or your career path to your kids leaving laundry on the floor again. Then, get a different color pencil or pen and circle the items that you can control. See what remains on your page, scan through the circled items, and pick one thing you can do something about. Decide on a small step you can take tomorrow to make the one thing you selected a little bit better. 

This reflective writing has a productive aspect that may appeal to you, as you can empty your mind of worries and have them live on the page. You can do this exercise as often as you need, whenever you’re stressed and cannot quite get a concern off of your mind.

  1. Productive writing – this category of writing enables us to proactively plan for positive things to happen. This category includes to-do lists, weekly goals, jotting project ideas, bucket list, grocery list – it’s any kind of list, writing, or jotting to capture an idea that can make tomorrow smoother or qualitatively better. If you want a functional notebook, one which helps you move closer to the person you want to be, this is the category of writing for you. 

Productive Exercise: Gratitude Practice 

Write down at least 5 very specific things from the past 24 hours that you feel grateful for. This will help you train yourself to think in a positive way. To glean the most benefits from a gratitude practice, try to narrow down the source of your gratitude and be really detailed, so you don’t repeat yourself every day. The keys to this practice are timeliness and specificity.

The daily act of writing 5 things you are grateful for can alter how you see people, the world, and how you assess your own happiness. It trains you to look for the good in your life. This type of writing is potentially transformational. It does not matter if the source of your gratitude is grandiose or a tiny moment within your day. It all counts. It’s also another fantastic way for you to record and capture who you are in this moment – you’ll have documentation of the happenings of your life at this time, filtered through a positive, thankful lens. 

  1. Creative Writing – this category expands the very conception of writing because it’s not just about text – you can bring in pictures, drawings, use colorful markers, stickers, tape. It’s a chance to make your notebook a more artistic and creative experience. It’s an outlet to explore the depths of your creativity and see what is possible.

Creative Exercise: Sketch Noting 

Use a combination of text, image and structure to convey whatever you are writing about. This kind of writing allows you access a different side of your brain to help you process your emotions. You can write positive phrases, draw something detailed, or doodle all over the page. Potential prompts include: sketch noting something that happened during the day, something that matters to you, a personal passion, or you can select a different topic. They will all help you to access more creativity. 

Whichever of these categories or exercises resonates, you can use them to get started with your own, personal writing practice and over time, see how it and you evolve. Happy writing!

Stephanie has written two education books titled Literacy Coaching: Teaching and Learning with Digital Tools and Technology and Leading Literate Lives: Habits and Mindsets for Reimagining Classroom Practice. You can find her online at stephanieaffinito.com or on Twitter at @AffinitoLit, and her blog can be found at alitlife.com.

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