Short Stories—Lesson 1: The Writer’s Sketchbook

Why a Sketchbook?

A writer, by definition, is one who writes. Even if you don’t plan to be a famous author some day, the best way to improve your writing is to write frequently. We’ll talk more about the frequency of writing and its impact on you as a writer in the next lesson. For now, let’s discuss how to keep a “writer’s sketchbook.”



I like to call it a sketchbook because writing is an art. One of the best ways to make art is by experimenting—or playing with writing.


I’m certainly not the first to see writing this way. Harry R. Noden describes grammatical phrases as brush strokes, and Janet Burroway compares the writer at play to dancers doing improv.


That’s what a sketchbook’s for: improv, technique, art—play.


Your sketchbook can be a lined journal or spiral notebook if you want, but I think the best kind of sketchbook for a writer is the same kind of sketchbook artists use. It leaves plenty of room for the imagination to work outside of the confines of ruled lines. Without lines, your mind is free to innovate. Maybe you can write text in bubbles instead of on lines. Maybe you can draw next to your words.


Here are some examples of sketchbook writing:


Notice how the words and images flow together.


Using your sketchbook

Once you get your sketchbook, you can start building your idea library.


To give you some more ideas on how to use your new sketchbook, I’ve included two videos from a YouTube series I did on writer’s sketchbooks.

Introduction to the Writer’s Sketchbook

Examples from my Sketchbooks

In this video, I show you actual examples from my sketchbooks.

Activity: Find and personalize your own Sketchbook

Do you have a sketchbook yet?


When you’ve got one, personalize it. Everyone is different. Find what works for you, but make sure it’s something that you feel you own. The inside of your sketchbook should be a place where you don’t feel judged, where you can write whatever you want. It’s the place where the writer can write with the door closed, as Stephen King would say.


Most of all, though, your sketchbook is a place to have fun!


Ways to personalize your sketchbook:

  • Name your writing journal based on how you feel about writing. For example, if writing makes you grumpy, name your journal “The Grinch.” Then write a short paragraph describing how your journal got to feel this way about writing. Describe your journal’s personality, its strengths and weakness, and good and bad experiences it’s had in the past. Decorate your journal based on its name and personality.
  • Write your name in a cool font (or type it up and print it)
  • Tape/paste pics of your favorite authors or characters on the cover or inside
  • Cover the cover in doodles and sketches
  • Take paint to it (beware, this one is messy!)
  • Keep it just the way it is (I do this when I find a really nice one)
  • Put the year on the front cover or inside
  • Buy a unique-looking journal
  • Reinforce it with tape (I take my sketchbooks everywhere and work so hard in them that they fall apart)


Past Student Sketchbook Examples

You can see some examples of other students’ work below. Perhaps at the end of this class, your sketchbook will make the list.



This student designed a special cover for her sketchbook (a spiral-bound notebook).


Here’s how she introduces her sketchbook in the opening entry:

My name is Wild Imagination. I called myself that because I like adventures and I think of my imagination as going on an adventure. That is why I will be filled with fictional stories with a lot of imagination flowing through the pages. I like fictitious stories because you can go passed the boundaries of reality and there are no limits where the story takes you.


The sketchbook is a real artist’s sketchbook decorated with sharpies. I’m digging the quill!



Your first writing prompt in your new sketchbook:

You need to start writing in your sketchbook immediately. If you don’t, you may suffer from the intimidation of the blank page. Start with something—anything and keep writing no matter how stinky it may be. Sketchbooks are not places to judge quality. They are idea holders.


Here’s your first prompt:

Write for at least 10 minutes without stopping.

Write a story about a strange creature that lives inside your sketchbook.


Extra Credit

Just because we’re done for the day, doesn’t mean you have to quit. Write about something you did recently that you feel proud of, or write about what you did so far today.


Next Lesson

Many of my students have told me they struggle to come up with ideas for stories. We’ll cover strategies for getting story ideas in the next lesson. See you there!


Class HOME

Unit One

NEXT—Lesson 2: How to get ideas for stories

BACK—Introduction: The writing adventure