Reading to Write

I have always marked up books while I read -my Dad used to do this and I loved reading his notes scrawled in the margins.  My marking up takes all kinds of forms (i.e. highlighter, scribbles, symbols, circled words) and has a variety of purposes.  Sometimes I admire the author’s style, or find a bit of dialogue that I want to share with my book club.  Maybe it’s a passage in a book I’m reading with my students that we absolutely have to talk about.  It could be a word that catches my fancy, or a place where I’m annoyed with the writer and wish I could tell her, or him, so.

Recently I find myself marking up places in books where the author has created an image that catches my fancy, that makes me see or feel something in a new, fresh way – all done with words!  I am a bit fixated with descriptions of place at the moment.  Just yesterday I copied an entire paragraph from Jane Gardam’s Last Friends, the 3rd book in the Old Filth trilogy.  The passage describes the sea in Terry’s hometown using words to depict an image of an unfriendly beach with “derelict gray dunes… empty except for knives of grey grasses”, creating a glum mood.

I copied a number of sentences from Marilynne Robinson’s Lila into my journal, including: “They stood there together in the road, in the chirping, rustling silence and the sound of the river.”  How beautiful, and unexpected – the silence felt by two people in spite of all of the noises.  Of course I’ve experienced that.  Or, Colum McCann in Transatlantic describes a wind “that muscled its way into the grass” – I love the use of the word muscled and can totally see and feel the grass rippling.

I am working on my own verbal images to describe place, using these “mentor” texts to spur me towards fresh sensory language.  (Without overdoing it, of course.  But, as our students often do, we sometimes have to go overboard with a new idea before we conquer it.  We’ll see.)

5 thoughts on “Reading to Write”

  1. Your posts are reminding me of how to think more, notice more, put more thought into my writing. I love how you explore the visual (drawing to write) earlier and now use your reading. In my freshman college honor’s English class I learned to write in my books. I do not always read with a pencil in hand nowadays. Your piece will make me get the pencil back, to mark up those mentor passages that I also love.


  2. I have been touched ! I think I should start marking up what I read. You helped me to see the value of trying to use new things that touch in my reading could create better personal writing. Thanks word journey


  3. When I read, I often try to imagine what the author was seeing when she or he wrote those words. Love reading your images captured, and wonder if you will try to draw them?


  4. So interesting to hear about your process. I especially found it helpful to know the context and connection to your father. I also felt like it was important when you concluded and noted that it might be overuse and approximation just like our students.


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