How a quote book can change your life

If you’re anything like me, you have expended your fair share of drool looking at the bullet journal trend that threatens to put traditional planners out of business. Images like these:

Bullet Journal Essentials | Play More | The Minnevore

Why I Bullet Journal | The Minnevore | Play More

fill me with equal measures of awe, jealousy, and anxiety.  My point is, don’t worry, I’m not going to suggest you take up bullet journalling. I only blog about what I actually do and am able to consistently keep up with and have found to be unequivocally beneficial. If I can do it you can do it blah, blah, blah.

Instead, I propose a very simple Quote Book. Originally called daybooks, they were kept to record one’s thoughts throughout the day. Similar to a journal, but the distinction is that the thoughts were normally a collection of things read, heard, or seen rather than unprompted meandering musings. These were often filled with inspiring quotes or passages from books or lectures. Sometimes they would double as scrapbooks where pictures or ephemera could be pasted in.

My own daybook has been a phenomenal addition to my life. A simple Moleskin notebook and non-scratchy pen (a must! Anne of Green Gables fans will understand) is all I use. Since I have begun to read more non-fiction lately, I find myself struggling to incorporate, or even just remember, all the nuggets of wisdom I come across. Like Radagast in Lord of the Rings, I always have the perfect quote (or stickbug) right on the tip of my tongue for any given situation, but could never quite remember it, or where I read it/heard it.

Now, whenever I am reading something of value or listening to a lecture of podcast, my daybook is not far from hand.

How I use it:

Before adding a source to the hallowed Table of Contents page, I read enough to know whether it’s worth it. In my early days of daybooking, I kept tiny post-its and made a deal with the book I was reading: if you give me 3 or more post-it-worthy quotes before page X, you get a spot in the daybook. Otherwise, it goes the way of all the Atul Gawande books I tried to get through. I’m sorry Atul, but your super-human qualifications just didn’t cut it for the table of contents.


This is the complicated part: every time I come across a passage that would be worth shaking my husband awake for, or I could imagine myself throwing down like a gauntlet in my imaginary book club with Dorothy Parker, I …. write… it … down! In it’s entirety. I don’t simply reference the book and page number (although I do that as well), I actually copy out the whole quote. You cannot imagine how meditative it is to do that kind of copy work. There is some kind of magic that happens when you write out the words in your own hand. When my son was younger, part of our homeschooling routine was copying out passages of classical literature. The idea was to provide a kinesthetic way to improve spelling, penmanship, grammar, and style by making the hand “think” like a great writer. Turns out, there is no age limit on this. Copying out words of wisdom or pithy quotes may not be the same as creating them yourself, but it is certainly closer to that act of creation than simply skimming them over with your eyes.

I’m sure there are really great ways of “tagging” your selections: color coding, indexing, etc… I keep it very low-maintenance. If something is worth copying out word for word I will indicate this with quotes. If the idea is important, I will simply jot that down. If it is particularly jaw-dropping, it will get one star next to it in the margin. Life-changing gets as many stars as I can fit in the margin. I only write on the right hand side of the journal so that I can save room on the left for jotting down my own thoughts on the left if needed.


This has been the closest I’ve come to consistent journalling. I review my entries often and find them to be surprisingly self-revelatory. Why, for instance, did that particular passage strike me as a “three star”? It has made me far more engaged with the books I’m reading than I used to be. I haven’t officially tried this with fiction or poetry yet, only with non-fiction books and podcasts. Speaking of the latter, because podcasts are ongoing, I record them based on the day I heard them, rather than organized by title (though of course, I record the title and date of airing as well).

Finally, I recently added a tab for fiction quotes that I wish I wrote myself. I am currently reading Colson Whitehead’s masterpiece The Underground Railroad and when I got to this line: “Stolen bodies working stolen land. It was an engine that did not stop, its hungry boiler fed with blood,” and “…crossing a single street transformed the way people talked, determined the size and condition of the homes, the dimensions and character of the dreams…” since I couldn’t pass them off as actually my own because … copyright, I did the next best thing and copied them out in my hand.

This is a very low-cost investment for something that has given me such high returns. As these daybooks fill up, they serve not only as a record of wisdom I have come across, but as a record of my own life; what I was reading and when, what mattered to me, how I reflected. We assume we will always remember the things that matter to us, that inspire us. But we don’t. Just like that adorable spoonerism your kids used to say every day when they were five that you’ve now forgotten, a quote from a book that you read exactly when you needed it may find itself competing with the ever-increasing flotsam in our minds. Write it down.

If anyone is already doing this, I’d love to know how you organize your daybook. What sections do you include?


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