{Fireside Fridays} 5 Reasons to Write in Books

A while back, I polled you guys with the question “Do you write in your books?” and I received a variety of answers. While the majority said they will to mark quotes, many gasped and chose the “No, that is a sacrilegous desecration that I would never (or, at least, rarely) partake in.”

That was me until about last year. I get it, I really do. But today, I’d like to offer some reasons for why writing in books might not be quite as sacrilegous as it seems. Coming from a former pure-page zealot, hopefully they’ll be objective and helpful.

Book-pencil

{A Disclaimer and a Definition}

Before we start, though, let me make a disclaimer: I am only talking about books that you own. I repeat, I only advocate marking up books that you have bought. Scribbling in library books is just not okay. But once the book is yours, make it your own! Also, while I’m not a stickler about this, I prefer using pencil when writing in books. Maybe it’s a remnant from my keep-books-clean days, but using pens feels a little wicked.

In case you’re wondering, let me explain what I mean by marking in books. I’m talking about thoughtful, purposeful underlinings, bracketings, starrings, etc. because you liked a certain quote, thought it was important to the plot, helped you understand the passage better, wanted to come back to it later, wanted to comment on what the author said, or disagreed with the author. I don’t mean random scribbling, highlighting any word that stands out, or, well, anything like that. I doubt any of you guys do that sort of thing, but anyhow.

Also note that this isn’t intended to be a guide on how to mark up your books. There are many brilliant systems for this that can be very helpful, but I’m merely here to explain why you should do so. Once I convince you (hopefully!), you can research different symbols and techniques on your own—or just do what you want and don’t stress.

{Five Reasons Why You Should Write in Your Books}

Reason #1: It helps you become a better writer. 

I’ll touch on this below, with the idea of slowing down, and I mentioned it before in my For Writers: How to Read post, but it’s worth repeating. When you underline a good sentence or bracket a significant passage, you are paying attention to how a story, a paragraph, a sentence is crafted. This trickles into your subconscious and builds up your store of technique know-how. Also, by adding a physical and tactile aspect to reading, you’re increasing the parts of your brain that are involved with it. This increases how much you absorb.

Reason #2: It helps you slow down. 

Writing in books make you stop reading, obviously. You have to cease reading and switch to writing and then start reading again. This can feel choppy, and it definitely feels slow. But that slowness is actually a good thing. Why?

  • You understand the book better. When you’re pausing to consider what the author means and using a pencil to work it out for yourself, you’re more deeply ingesting the book. You’re probably consciously trying to decipher it, but even the act of underlining and being on the lookout for sections to mark causes your subconscious to get involved in unraveling the story and meaning.
  • You appreciate the writing itself more. As you underline each word, you’re absorbing how the sentence and paragraph is structured, and you’re thinking, if only briefly, about each word. This helps you learn vocabulary and get a feel for how sentences are crafted. Of course, the better the writing the more you’ll learn—but I’ve found that I rarely mark poor quality works.

Reason #3: It helps you find quotes and mark passages for later. 

I don’t need to elabroate much on this point—I’m sure we’ve all been reading a book and come upon a particularly poignant phrase or maybe a thought-provoking statement we want to think about and come back to. I’m also sure most of us will completely forget about the words, or at least where they’re found, unless we write it down somewhere. Yes, you can use sticky notes or a slip of paper to mark down pages you’d like to remember, but those often get lost or thrown out accidentally. I also like the fact that you can mark the specific sentences on a page that stood out to you. I often want to reread a certain scene, and it helps to have it marked so I can find it quickly.

Reason #4: It helps you converse with the author. 

I read somewhere (real specific, I know) that you get the most out of a book when you have a dialogue with the author. Obviously, the author’s not right there with you, and oftentimes they’re dead, but they have laid out their side of the argument, their perspective, through their words. They want you to do your part, to consider carefully what they’re saying, to react to it, to let it change you somehow. I can attest to this as a writer myself. One important way we as readers can do this is by scribbling notes in margins. I do this all the time—but what about this? reminds me of … here’s a verse that backs this up. I disagree because ... and so on. Although the author can’t respond to my comments, we’re still conversing in a unique way that transcends space and time. Not only is this a simply magical experience if you think about it that way, but it does help you learn from and apply books.

Reason #5: It helps you preserve memories. 

So you underline a quote that makes you cry or think or laugh or frown. You scribble a question, a counterargument, a “yes!!” in the margins. You star a remark by a character that perfectly sums up their beliefs. What you are doing is getting the most you can out of the book, learning from it, talking with the author. But you are making memories you can revisit in the years to come.

I love flipping back through books I’ve written in—sometimes the quotes that once moved me don’t touch me the same way anymore, but they bring back the emotions I felt at the time and remind of what I’ve gone through and learned since then. But usually I still love the quote, and often it’s something I needed at that exact moment. I love looking at my remarks—sometimes I disagree with my original thoughts and can see how I’ve matured. Other times I agree completely and nod in satisfaction. Markings in books are a version of journaling.

So—do you agree with these reasons? Do you disagree? Is this a topic of confusion for you? Let’s chat! 

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9 thoughts on “{Fireside Fridays} 5 Reasons to Write in Books

  1. Yesss!!!! ❤ ❤
    One other thing I mark in books for is to look up words I don't know. That way, if one my younger siblings goes to read the book after me (or if, heaven forbid, I should forget), they (or I) won't have to look the words up again. 😉 My copy of the Odyssey from high school is filled with such….
    Honestly, of your 5 reasons, I'm not sure if I can pick a favorite. They are all just so true!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yay, it’s lovely to meet someone else who agrees. =) That is another excellent reason I hadn’t thought of. I used to keep a list on a separate sheet of paper of hard words from books I’d looked up, but actually writing it in the book is a better idea. Thank you!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hmmm, these are all great reasons for marking a book! I have mixed thoughts on writing in books–I love how it allows you to go back and easily find quotes/scenes. But it messes up the prettiness of a nice new book. 😉

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  3. I have always underlined quotes I like in books, but never really thought about writing notes about my thoughts. This is something I may start doing. I feel like it would make me a better writer and reader. Thanks for this great idea!

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  4. One reason I’d add is that leaving notes, at least profound ones, can be an extra for people who will read the book after you. My sister has a really great book on storytelling/plots, but it’s not written from a Christian worldview so it has some ideas which are iffy, and she lent the book to one of her older friends who left some very good notes in it that make me think as much as the book does and point out ideas that contest with the Bible.
    That being said, very few of the books I read I actually own, so I can’t really leave notes in them. xP And if I want to remember a quote or something, I take a picture of it with my tablet or jot it down in a journal.

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  5. These are such great reasons. I’ll have to take them into consideration when I reread my Stormlight copies. I completely agree with #5 especially, since I remember when I was reading my brother’s copy of WoK and WoR, he had jotted “Priceless” or “*grins*” in the margins, which made it fun for me.

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  6. Dearest Abby,

    I have to admit that even in library books if I see incorrect grammar I cross out the word and write the correct word. I guess that is the teacher in me.

    All my love,

    Grammty

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  7. I can understand where you’re coming from with what you say here. But it’s still not something I’m going to start doing. Markings in books distract me from what I’m there for, and I love the pristine sheets.
    That being said, I think you could get a similar effect by keeping a notebook handy to jot down favorite quotes or thoughts or whatever while you’re reading.

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