When I was in my 20s, I began keeping a commonplace book for the quotes I encountered when I read. I got the idea from Madeleine L’Engle in her book, Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art. She wrote:
“(A parenthesis here about quotations and credits. I was taught in college how to footnote, how to give credit where credit is due, and in the accepted, scholarly way. But most of the writers I want to quote in this book are writers whose words I’ve copied down in a big, brown, Mexican notebook, what is called a commonplace book. I copy down thoughts upon which I want to meditate, and footnoting is not my purpose; this is a devotional, not a scholarly notebook. I’ve been keeping it for many years, and turn to it for help in prayer, in understanding. All I’m looking for in it is meaning, meaning which will help me to live life lovingly, . . . )” (p. 29)
I’ve filled several journals like the one pictured above with quotes (as well as a few Word documents). I use them much the way L’Engle did: paging through them when I am stuck on a problem in my life, hoping for a glimmer of insight. These tools were enormously helpful when I wrote my last two books (A Generous Presence and Write-A-Thon), as I had a rich collection of quotations to use as I chose each chapter’s epigraph.
I keep those commonplace books on a shelf, together with other collections of quotes that have inspired me. Every so often I select a quote to write about for my daily writing practice.
Try this: Select a favorite quote and use it as a writing prompt. If you don’t have any, here are three from my book to inspire you. Feel free to share your favorite quote in the comments below.
Without anxiety life would have very little savor. —May Sarton, The House by the Sea
The best way out is always through. —Robert Frost
Maybe God should be a woman and have to wash the dishes more often. —Sarah Willis, Some Things That Stay
Challenge: Create your own commonplace book.