Writing Outside the Margins

I once asked a student writer at the CWE, “Do you dialogue with the text—writing comments, asking questions, taking notes and making observations in the margin?”

He answered: “The margins aren’t big enough.”


As shown above, the margins have never been big enough for me either. I believe in reading critically, actively marking texts, underlining, putting notes and comments all around the inch or so available at top, bottom, left and right. But, an important part of my writing process has to go outside the margins.  I keep paper by my bed, so if an idea dawns with break of dawn, I can write it down. I find notes in my pocketbook and MSU tote bag.  I send myself text messages with ideas for a paper throughout the day, or a longer e-mail if I am really brainstorming. My car is the perfect place for a pad of paper, since genius seems to rev along with my engine and the songs on the radio always provide inspiration.

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If the margins in a book aren’t big enough for you—widen them. They can literally stretch as far as your imagination can.






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  • Vanessa says:

    What a great response from the student you were working with! I love to make cartoons and doodle in the margins when I take notes in class or in my books. It helps me remember whatever I’m learning about!

  • Janet says:

    I often wish I could draw better…I think the visuals of doodles etc. are great inspirations for writers.


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