For the final 30 years or so, I’ve saved a sort of “Commonplace E book”**—a group of writings, something from a sentence or two to a few paragraphs, that I had come throughout and located notably well-constructed, or expressing some notably attention-grabbing or profound concept in a particular manner, which I copied out and saved in a collection of notebooks.
** The time period “Commonplace E book” is sort of historical, and comes from the Latin locus communis, or “frequent data.” Aristotle and Cicero each mentioned the apply of gathering and organizing sententiae, or “sensible sayings” or quotations from philosophers, poets, dramatists, and the like, and the checklist of nice writers and thinkers through the years who’ve assiduously saved their very own Commonplace books is spectacular, together with e.g. John Milton, John Locke (who went so far as publishing a information to the apply, entitled “A New Methodology of Making Widespread-Place-Books), Thomas Jefferson, Erasmus and Charles Darwin, Emerson, Thoreau, Mark Twain, Virginia Woolf, Thomas Hardy, . . .
Considerably to my shock, it turned out to be very useful for my very own writing; the apply of merely copying out well-written passages, just like the apply of memorizing texts, forces one to dig a bit of deeper into, and to assume a bit of bit tougher about, precisely what the creator is doing and why the passage works in addition to it does.
I’ve nicely over 500 entries in my e-book, and, skimming them over just lately, I discovered a substantial amount of attention-grabbing stuff in there that I believe can be enjoyable to share. So over the following few months I will pull one thing out and publish it each few days, maybe with a (temporary) commentary on context, or on what I discovered notably alluring in regards to the excerpt. I believe—or a minimum of I hope—that a few of you’ll find it attention-grabbing and illuminating.
This looks like a superb place to begin:
The fantastic Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1996, was, from 1968 to 1981, the (nameless creator) of the Literary Mailbox column within the Polish journal Literary Life. It was a sort of “Expensive Abby” recommendation column for aspiring poets and novelists, during which she would reply readers’ questions on writing or, extra steadily, touch upon excerpts that that they had submitted. A bunch of her extra trenchant (and sometimes hilarious) responses are collected in Easy methods to Begin Writing (and When to Cease). I believe that is my favourite:
To the Creator of ‘The Pianist’s World’:
We advise you—for a number of months a minimum of—to learn solely the good humorists. You will not be losing time: such exercise gives relaxation and recreation for a thoughts worn down by its personal lyricism. It additionally demonstrates, by the way, the folly of extreme self-importance. After this course of remedy, you will note your poems in a different way. The temper of ‘The Pianist’s World’ will strike you as contrived, and the metaphor “life licks us with a tongue of contrasts” will now not fill you with writerly delight.