Wednesday, November 1, 2017

A Good Practice for Writers

Zestful Blog Post #236

If you’re a writer, you’ve got a beautiful field of resources that will take you far beyond books on technique and motivation: the work of literary innovators. Reading literature that you find fabulous / moving / amusing / iconoclastic represents your continuing education. Here’s a good practice for a professional author:

-        Assemble a soft pencil, a sharpener, and a few index cards.
-        Get hold of a book you’re interested in.
-        Read it.
-        Underline passages of special interest and make notes as you go. (You’ll find that soft graphite is easier to erase if you ever want to, doesn’t dig into the pages, and is more pleasurable to use in general.) Write in the margins and on your cards. Make little stars and ticks next to passages you find inspiring, impressive, instructive.
-        If the book is wonderful, reread it, carefully.
-        Make further notes, or expand on the ones you have already.
-        If your book is not made of paper, use whatever digital tools you have at your disposal.

Am definitely a Blackwing fan. Sharpener hinge failed; repaired with duct tape. (Yeah, pink duct tape! Home Depot, I think.) 

Your notes will be different from anybody else’s notes. Your marginalia may express enthusiasm, surprise, skepticism, or humility. You won’t remember everything about the book, or everything about your notes. But here's the thing. The very act of attending to the book this closely will feed and build your inner well of creativity, facility with words, and understanding. This is one of those things that are good to do for the sake of the thing itself. Sure, you can read a book just for kicks. But it doesn’t take much more effort to really learn from it. This is also known as scholarship. And that's all there is to it.

What do you think? To post, click below where it says, 'No Comments,' or '2 Comments,' or whatever.

If you'd like to receive this blog automatically as an email, look to the right, above my bio, and subscribe there. Thanks for looking in.


  1. Caveat...just don't get caught at the library doing this. :) Love this and have enjoyed replacing many a well-written book in my own Personal Library for this very reason.

    1. Ah, yes, we must all lay off library books for this... It infuriates me when someone has done that to a library book!

  2. Marking up a book for many people I know would be considered sacriligeous.I have thought of it as having a conversation with the author. Kind of like beta reading. Hadnt considered cards for notes. One thing writing has done to me is spoiled every book I've read since editing my first one. Can't just read for fun. Everything gets analyzed. Maybe that will change down the line. I hope so.

    1. I like 'conversation with the author.' Good insight, Beej.

  3. I love seeing the highlights and margin notes left by my late father in his books (which are now mine). A sweet connection to someone I loved who's now gone.

    1. Yeah! I have one of my mom's old literature books that she taught high school students from. Seeing her notes is like seeing her in those days... Thanks for contributing here, Pam.


Tell us your thoughts! You know you want to.