On Writing

On Keeping Words-Notebooks, Quotebooks & Journals

The whole universe was stilled as tho’ listening for a voice. For the space of one heartbeat there was peace on earth…Existence rested against the heart of God, then sighed and journeyed again.     Elizabeth Goudge, “Green Dolphin Country.

I enjoy saving and savoring words—new words, old words, your words.  Although I am not endeavoring to write a dictionary, I have quotebooks and notebooks of varying shapes and sizes containing all manner of language within their covers.

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Words with more than one meaning—like ‘make’ and ‘take’ or ‘pitch’ and ‘frequency’–all go in my ‘Defining Moments’ journal. (I got the idea from Kel Rohlf, who wrote a little volume on words and their meaning, devotional style.)

I have a small Moleskine of other words that are new to me, the meaning of which I have yet to learn, set aside for my own dictionary work. Words like ‘mimesis’ and ‘amanuensis’ via the book I’m reading for the season—“Waiting on the Word—a Poem a Day for Advent, Christmas and Epiphany” by Malcolm Guite.

When I happen upon a particular verse in Scripture that I want to meditate on for a while, I write that in a thin volume with blank pages to add a little embellishment next to the words.

And then there are favorite quotes I’ve been collecting.

Years ago I found an old-fashioned Record Book at the Thrift Store and began a scrap booky kind of collection. I’d gathered phrases I liked from magazines, church bulletins, calendars, what-have-you, and started gluing them into the pages of the book.

Some favorites:

The writer is an explorer. Every step is an advance into new land.  Ralph Waldo Emerson

That’s what storytellers do, Mrs. Travers. We restore order through imagination. We instill hope again and again and again.  Tom Hanks as Walt Disney, in “Saving Mr. Banks”

My readers are no doubt familiar with the quotation bible, Bartlett’s Quotations, a volume first published in 1855 by John Bartlett, “a small, thin volume of 258 pages set in a single column with an index which ran to a full 36 pages.” (from the preface to the 13th edition, 1955).

The copy I have of the 1955 Bartlett’s belonged to my stepfather, also named John. It is the only possession of his which I have, making it all the more valuable. But the real meaning to me is knowing we both shared a love for words with rich meaning, colorful and creative language. His hands once turned the pages of this book, an image that spans the years like a bridge between us, bringing me not a little joy.

I am no Bartlett but I also have written down my own quotes over the last few years; I have 42 pages filled so far in my drugstore notebook.

Some of the latest entries:

God wants to give us our hearts desire—God just needs to work on our hearts a little. Debbie Blue, Consider the Birds.

Idolatry has two faults. It is not only a slur on the true God; it is also an insult to true things. Robert F. Capon, The Marriage Supper of the Lamb.

On my shelf there is also a separate journal dedicated to entire books cataloguing passages and phrases I want to remember.

Eugene Peterson’s A Long Obedience in the Same Direction

The Journal Keeper by Phyllis Theroux,

Green Dolphin Country by Elizabeth Goudge

Ann Voskamp’s  One Thousand Gifts

I’ve written before about how the things we keep, keep us. These collections of mine will be added to as long as I’m able to gather words, perhaps to pass on to my own children or grandchildren. Like a written snapshot of what made my heart sing or moved me to tears, left me in awe or touched me deeply, they are a record of who I am.

Tell me, reader, where do you keep your words?

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8 Comments

  • Nancy Ruegg

    Such a beautiful post, Jody. I drank in your words so thirstily, I must now go back and really taste them–especially some of those quotes. They made my heart sing, too. And as I reread, I’ll grab my quote journal and record them, with credit to the original writer, and credit to you, collector-extraordinaire! Love your tender heart, Jody, holding dear that copy of Bartlett’s. I, too, turn pages of family Bibles, my grandmother’s journal, etc., knowing their hands turned and wrote upon the pages. Precious possessions, indeed. P.S. Oh! To answer your first question, just this morning I filled my well with a meditation on the word “peace,” in Isaiah 26:3. Peace is the outcome of trust. (May that be my first thought when the next difficulty occurs!)

  • Carol Wilson

    Reading this was like drinking a “delicious” cup of hot chocolate. There’s lots of delicious in this world. Your writing falls into that category. From another word & quote collector, Thank you.

  • Natalie

    I, too, collect words, although I struggle to be very orderly about it. I have good intentions, but soon I’m back to jotting quotes on scraps and envelopes to be rewritten later. You mention authors that are on my to read list. That Spurs me on! And the idea that what we keep, keeps us? Love it.

    • Jody Lee Collins

      Natalie, one of these days you’ll have a few more windows of time in your day….then you can gather those scraps of paper into a drugstore notebook and, voila! There’s your keepsake.

  • Laurie Klein, Scribe

    It fills my well today hearing you mention Elizabeth Goudge! Smiling to think that we share this, too. I’ve reread “Pilgrim’s Inn” and “The Dean’s Watch” many a December. And “The Scent of Water” is another favorite.

    • Jody Lee Collins

      Ahhhh, we’re connected by a bridge of books! I’ve read the Goudge titles you mentioned; looking forward to another one in the new year. Thank you, friend.

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