I lie. This isn’t a riveting post at all, but I have had a few questions about how I manage, organize and otherwise handle the material I pull out of books. So I decided to give this topic a separate blog post since it’s a subject near and dear to my heart.
Over a decade ago I started collecting quotes from books. My system was, admittedly, very haphazard. For the most part I would handwrite these quotes in notebooks. This was not a good system for me. I hated the clutter of having different notebooks and it was hard to categorize and/or locate specific information.
Then, for a few years, I would type up a new Word document for every book I read (from which I took notes). This was also cumbersome.
Eventually, I moved everything over to a single master document and slowly digitized all those handwritten notes. It was a big job (and I actually still have a small binder full of quotes – all relating to parenting – that I want to type up at some point).
Last October, after years of wanting to have something I could hold in my hands, I printed off a small book. Four copies – one for me and a handful of friends. That’s it!
I now have a fresh working document that contains all the quotes I’ve gathered since printing off this first compilation.
what sort of information do you record?
Almost exclusively my quotes come from non-fiction, but I do occasionally write down bits of favourite dialogue (including quotes from children’s picture books because they can be surprisingly insightful).
I give a broad first pass because I know that when it is time to make another “book,” I will edit things ruthlessly.
how do you track what you want to RECORD?
CURRENT | I mostly do this by dog-earing or flagging the sections within the book. When I finish reading, I go back through and see if the quote still strikes a chord. If it does, I type it up.
Of the sections I highlight on my first read-through, I’d estimate I keep about 90% of them when I go back through to type up my notes. (Sometimes quotes that seemed deeply insightful on the first reading, were actually more eloquently summarized later in the book.)
2 YEARS AGO | I used to take pictures of quotes – as I went – with my phone and then I would upload the pictures to my computer and then split screens and type them up. This was cumbersome and it also had the unintended consequence of making me more susceptible to spending time on my phone; when I went to take a picture of a quote…it was easy to get distracted by e-mail or WhatsApp notifications in the process. But I can see this still being a great system for other readers.
5 YEARS AGO | I would handwrite the quotes as I came across them in the book. This was cumbersome and interfered with the flow of reading.
How do you organize your notes document
For now, I just list the book title and author and then below that any quotes from their book. If I have picked up on a quote they attribute to another person (e.g. a lot of people quote C. S. Lewis in their books), then I make sure to add the actual person being quoted at the end of that direct quote.
My “book” contained the following categories:
- Words of Wisdom
- Spiritual Growth
- Food + Body
- Marriage + Relationships
- Motherhood + Parenting
- Productivity + Time Management
- Grief + Pain
- Work + Creativity
- Home + Minimalism
- Mental Health
- Insights from Literary Characters
Within those sections, if I had a lot of quotes from a single book, I left the book/author heading.
If I end up having only a single quote or two from a book, then I will add in the author’s name at the end of the quote but not include the book information.
I also will sometimes separate quotes from a book into different categories. Say, for example, I read a book about parenting, but there was something insightful about grief; if I didn’t keep many quotes from that particular book, I might have one quote recorded under the “Grief” category, while a handful might stay in “Parenting”.
This might sound unnecessarily…complicated. But, in reality, I’ve spent a lot of time (happily) optimizing my process until I settled on something that works
Your turn. Do you like to keep quotes, phrases, or memorable bits of character dialogue from books you read? If so, how do you record/track these quotes?