Sunday, January 13, 2013

Quotable Writers and Finding the Right Words

When I was a child I fell head over heels in love with Golly, the nanny to that bratty little spy Harriet. I wanted a Golly. Someone who could quote the brilliant minds that had come before us with poignance and clarity, solving my every problem with another's words. Someone who would feed me the words of Lewis Carroll and Einstein with my tomato sandwiches.

This soon became an obsession. Those who knew me in high school may remember notebooks full of quotations. I wrote quotes from books and song lyrics on the margins of pages. I wrote them on my friend's arms, on their shoes. One friend sported a line from "Practical Magic" by Alice Hoffman on the left leg of her favorite jeans because of me.

I love smart quotes.

I've had enough conversations with other writers to know that this is something of an occupational hazard. Andre Dubus III spoke at the college I attend last fall and he said he has been asked why he quotes others so often. I can't remember his exact response but he basically said, "I think all writers do that."

Something in a writer's brain causes us to grasp words, to attempt to store them in our minds so that we may produce them later at the right moment. For me this is often a loose paraphrase of the original sentence, but thanks to the internet I can find the right words with relative ease.

I've been thinking about this today because I'm reading, "Writers on Writing Vol. II." It is a collection of New York Times essays.

Nearly every article includes a quote from another author within it. Geraldine Brooks quotes Henry James. Margaret Atwood quotes A. M. Klein. Everyone quotes John Gardner.

For me I think there are two reasons I quote others. The easy reason is that I enjoy words. Between books, homework, my own writing and social media I am in a near-constant state of reading. I am in love with language and I use quotes because they are available. They are beautiful and they express things well.

The harder answer is confidence. A part of me believes that someone else can say what I want to say better than I can. That I will never be able to find the right collection of words to express my feelings as well as someone else will.

Perhaps one day I'll be able to stand on my own words. One day I'll know for sure that I have the words to say exactly what I want to say.

"One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple." - Jack Karouac

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