Friday, January 18, 2008

Consuming Words Like Some People Eat Chocolate

When I read, I have a hard time getting through books as quickly as I'd prefer. My reading speed has always been fairly swift. However, I'm completely infatuated with words. To me, a word is a vibrant gem that injects reality into the pages at hand. It is a building block, creating and strengthening human understanding across the diversity that is life. Without the right combination, a novel could not convey the story the author hopes to tell.

Words… the smallest and simplest of things. Yet, they have the power to enact large-scale change and influence emotions, to forge relationships between strangers and enhance communication -- sometimes in the form of stories passed down through the ages, the likes of which continue to color our world, deeply ingrained within the hearts and souls of the inhabitants of its societies, despite strife and transformation. Without the gift of words, delicately strung together in romantic ballads, or heavily cemented into the legal documents that structure our governments, our world would be chaotic and meaningless.

So, as I feel their vibrations upon my lips and the way a smoothly crafted sentence stirs my spirit, I can't help but wish to pluck each one from where it rests and drop it into my repertoire.

My usual practice is to keep a highlighter or felt-tipped pen handy and mark the words that really jump out at me. Then, I try to remember to go back through the book and gather the words into a list (I'm not always successful at completing this task). I write down the jargon that I'm not familiar with to later look up, as well as even more common words that I would enjoy using in my own writing, because they inspire me. My best intentions are to store these all in a large notebook, so that these words can be my source for writing prompts later on, and then to insert them all, over time, into my daily writing practice; but, so far, this is more of a "wouldn't that be nice" kind of idea that makes me feel cozy to contemplate.

I try not to let my passion for consuming words onto themselves detract from my enjoyment of the entire story, and the only ways to make this so are the highlighting and underlining I already mentioned, as well as jotting words (and sometimes uniquely put-together phrases) down in a small notebook I carry with me, or typing them into my iPhone's Notes application when all else fails. So I'm good at being the curator of the words I love, but, so far, I haven't found a viable way to organize them into one useful database or similar system. I did use the Web 2.0-style site, Wordie, for a while, but even that didn't seem to be fully featured enough to meet my needs. Does anyone else share this malady? I'd love to hear your thoughts on this or suggestions.

I've always entertained a courtship with words -- accompanying my dad in his tasks on our Alabama farm, as I scribbled entire notebooks full of elementary poems as a kid, winning first-place in the school spelling bee in ninth grade, continuing to be an insatiable reader, and finally, achieving my goal to attain the military occupational specialty of print journalist in my service to the Army.

So, please be aware, if I pass on one of my already read books to you there's a 99 percent chance it will marred by hastily scratched marginalia that only means something to me, and cherished words lovingly handpicked and stored away for a rainy-day writing session.


John McGrath said...

Hi happilycoupled, great post.

I'm the guy who built Wordie. You're just the kind of obsessive that Wordie was intended for, so if you have suggestions for features that would make it work better for you, please let me know (john[at] I'm always tinkering with it, and I'll try to add them.

David Niall Wilson said...

Well, I am someone who has very often found a phrase turned just so, or a thought I wish I could hold onto, only to lose it in the next flurry. Maybe I need to go find this wordie also...

Of course most of the time I'm just guilty of stacking blocks on the mountain of words...that's an obsession as well.


Rebecca said...

Hi there,

Beautiful post! Have you thought about just building a database in Excel? What are your needs?