I don't just research for my present project; I read for a lifetime of writing. So whether I'm reading a biography of Da Vinci, a weighty tome on investing, or a technical journal on ethnomusicology, I index it for ideas, quotes and stories.
First, I underline or put a mark beside the paragraph. Then, in the back of the book, I jot down a reference:
- "quote, p. 76, contentment"
- "joke, 103, saving money"
(Note for those who can't stomach writing in their books: A recent visitor to John Adams' personal library [over 3500 volumes] noted how Adams wrote throughout his volumes, asking questions and adding his own thoughts. See http://www.johnadamslibrary.org . I also seem to recall that Adler's classic, How to Read a Book, advocates writing in your books.)
It may be months or even years before I put these in my illustration databases, both at www.character-education.info and www.youth-ministry.info , where I keep over 3600 illustrations. As I harvest the illustrations from a book, I put a check mark beside each reference so that I know it's in a database.
Additionally, I copy and paste ideas from e-mails and online reading to files in my computer.
I love collecting illustrations as much as anything I do. I've become a useful resource to educators, pastors, missionaries and fellow-writers. While some may begrudge the time spent typing in illustrations or summing up people stories, I see it as a way to get much more out of my reading. We remember so little of what we read. By taking time to harvest the good stuff, I remember multiples more than if I'd merely read it and set it aside. And what I don't remember, I can always find in my databases.
So I begin writing an article or book. As I write, I draw from my databases, computer files, and the back of unharvested books for my illustrative material.
On Finding and Crafting People Stories
Readers will remember my stories long after they've forgotten my witty sentences or ten point outlines. I spoke on the importance and use of people stories at a character conference in St. Louis and wrote an article based on that seminar here.