A Reader Wants to Know

January 29, 2006 @ 3:55 am | Filed under: Quotes from this week's reading

“So what’s with the copywork? Do you mark passages during the week and save them up? Is this something you’ve been doing for a while, or is it a new practice?”

Good questions. Over the years I have made many attempts to collect intriguing or inspiring quotes from my reading in various notebooks. Creamy-paged blank books with lovely covers; cheap, functional spiral notebooks; mottled black-and-white composition books; you name it, I’ve tried it. Jefferson did it, Milton did it; “commonplace books,” for recording passages from one’s reading and notes about what one has learned from the reading, have been around a long time.

But my attempts to maintain one have always failed for one reason: I hate to write by hand. It hurts my wrist; it always has. Perhaps I have a faulty pencil-grip. Perhaps I press too hard. Whatever the reason, I have never found it easy to write more than a few short lines on paper. A thank-you note with my perfectly wonderful fountain pen, a gift from my indulgent mama and daddy—that much I can manage. But a long Charlotte Mason quote? Forget it.

My writing hero, the great Fred Chappell, used to scoff at poets who would let a typewriter come between themselves and the words. On this point I must respectfully disagree with my esteemed mentor. I would never have completed a short story—much less a novel or ten—without the help of my trusty computer.

Many people have begun to use blogs as a form of commonplace book, a place for collecting passages we want to remember and for organizing our thoughts about the reading. What I do now is stick a large Post-it in the back of each book I’m reading. During the week I jot down page numbers on it for the passages I wish to record. Then, when I have a chance on the weekend, I can type them up all at once. I’ve been keeping a file of such quotes for myself, but recently it struck me that it would be fun to share them here, where I might have the pleasure of hearing others’ thoughts about the ideas expressed. And I am delighted to report that it worked: already one reader has chimed in with more food for thought. (Thoughts I’ve been chewing on all night—thanks, Ann—I’ll respond in the comments thread.)

Please do add your thoughts to the copywork discussions as they unfold!


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