Abstract painting of a beach by Samuel John Peploe

The Sands, Barra, Samuel John Peploe

My Commonplace Book

Quotes, witty turns of phrase, and insightful points from my reading

Abstract painting of a beach by Samuel John Peploe

The Sands, Barra, Samuel John Peploe

Good Writing is Lean and Confident

Don’t say you were a bit confused and sort of tired and a little depressed and somewhat annoyed. Be confused. Be tired. Be depressed. Be annoyed. Don’t hedge your prose with little timidities. Good writing is lean and confident.

Overcome Writer’s Block by Lowering Your Standards

William Stafford said, “I believe that the so-called ‘writing block’ is a product of some kind of disproportion between your standards and your performance….One should lower his standards until there is no felt threshold to go over in writing. It’s easy to write. You just shouldn’t have standards that inhibit you from writing….”

Write Without Notes

Donald M. Murray counseled writers to write a first draft from memory without consulting their notes. “Put your notes aside and write the first draft from memory. Follow the instinctive flow of the story so that you make unexpected connections as well as expected ones…”

Say One Thing

According to Donald M. Murray, “Effective stories have one dominant message. You may have to write a first draft to discover the message, but there should be a single meaning that has priority over all the other meanings in the story…”

Keep a Notebook

Donald M. Murray advised would-be writers to maintain a continuous dialogue with themselves about their work by keeping a notebook.

Take Time to Notice

Anna Kodé said, “Phones, with their ability to transport you to other worlds, want to convince you that the one you’re stuck in doesn’t have anything worth paying attention to. But through my journaling, I realized something…”

Poetry and Divine Revelation

David Taylor said, “Poetry is a native language of God and of the people of God. It is a mother tongue of the Word Incarnate on whose lips the psalmist’s words came naturally…”

The Vividness of the Past

In The Memory of Old Jack, Wendell Berry wrote, “His vision, with the finality of some physical change, has turned inward. More and more now the world as it is seems to him an apparition or a cloud that drifts, opening and closing, upon the clear, remembered lights and colors of the world as it was…”

The Pain of Remembering After a Loss

In The Road, Cormac McCarthy wrote, “Maybe he understood for the first time that to the boy he was himself an alien. A being from a planet that no longer existed. The tales of which were suspect. He could not construct for the child’s pleasure the world he’d lost without constructing the loss as well and he thought perhaps the child has known this better than he…”

Parents, Your Tone Matters

Bessel Van der Kolk said, “One thing is certain: Yelling at someone who is already out of control can only lead to further dysregulation…”

Living in the Present

Blaise Pascal mused on our inability to live in and enjoy the present: “We do not rest satisfied with the present. We anticipate the future as too slow in coming, as if in order to hasten its course; or we recall the past, to stop its too rapid flight…”

Disordered Emotions and a Tiered Psychology

Matthew LaPine said, “The problem with not distinguishing higher from lower appetite is that a person must identify deviant emotion as volitional, and therefore subject to the same sort of moral censure as a deliberate, external act…”

Burying the “Unclaimed Dead”

"Martirosyan and her colleagues spend three years investigating a case before relinquishing the deceased to a communal gravesite, a last resort in the county cemetery."

The Unsharability of Pain

Elaine Scarry said, “Whatever pain achieves, it achieves in part through its unsharability, and it ensures this unsharablity through its resistance to language.”