Quotations: Diamonds in the Hand
Updated: Jul 25
I had a lot of fun designing my business cards, once I discovered that I could have multiple versions of the reverse side of the card printed at no extra cost. What I needed to consider was what I could put on the card reverse that would be worth viewing (like photographs) or reading. As an editor designing business cards for my editing business, perhaps naturally, I wanted to use words. But which particular words should I use?
When I was writing and designing the layout for my honours thesis, I included one quotation at the beginning of the first chapter. My thesis was about teachers' reading practices, and the quotation I used was: "There is nothing special about reading, apart from everything that reading enables us to do" (Smith, 1982, p. 1). To me, Smith's point was that the value of empowering readers is greatly underestimated. I felt that Smith's words were a perfect introduction to my thesis, as it was (and still is) my belief that the upper-primary school teachers I interviewed during data generation for my research were empowering their students through their reading-related teaching practices: reading aloud to students, providing dedicated "silent reading" time, and engaging their students in "book talk." By their dedication to these practices, these teachers were helping to turn most of their students into keen readers. What a gift!
By the time I wrote my doctoral thesis, my resolve to use quotations to support my research and writing had clearly grown, as, at that time, I included three quotations prior to Part I of the thesis, and one at the beginning of each chapter. The quotations were from the literature, my participant interviews, or elsewhere, and were selected for their fit with each chapter's purpose or theme. For example, as an introduction to my review of the relevant literature, I chose "The possession of knowledge does not kill the sense of wonder and mystery. There is always more mystery," by Anais Nin, and for my epilogue, I used Henry Miller's: "One's destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things," which I thought fitted my new understandings.
"A fine quotation is a diamond in the hand of a man [or woman] of wit and a pebble in the hand of a fool." Joseph Roux
Clearly, however, not everyone thinks quotations should be liberally plastered here, there, and everywhere, as suggested by James Baldwin, who said, "When one begins to live by habit and by quotation, one has begun to stop living," and Dorothy L. Sayers, "I always have a quotation for everything—it saves original thinking." Despite Baldwin's and Sayers' misgivings, I believe that sometimes another speaker or author has said or written with such elegance, beauty, or wit that he or she is worth quoting, and so that's what I do.
Anyway, back to my story about designing my business cards ...
I scoured the Internet for quotations about editing and writing, and found some that I enjoyed enough that they eventually made their way onto the reverse side of my business cards. Not all of them are attributed, and for that I apologise.
I hope that my sense of humour comes across in my choices, and that you get some enjoyment from those that made the final cut.
On the craft of writing:
"The beautiful part of writing is that you don't have to get it right the first time, unlike, say, a brain surgeon." Robert Cormier
"Words are sacred. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones, in the right order, you can nudge the world a little." Tom Stoppard
"One should not aim at being possible to understand, but at being impossible to misunderstand." Quintilian (Marcus Fabius Quintilianus)
"Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass." Anton Chekhov
"My gratitude for good writing is unbounded; I'm grateful for it the way I'm grateful for the ocean." Anne Lamott
"I hate that awkward moment when I spell a common word correctly, but it looks so wrong that I stare at it forever, questioning its existence."
"I avoid clichés like the plague."
"Easy reading is damn hard writing." Nathaniel Hawthorne
On punctuation and writers' and editors' punctuation preferences:
"Punctuation is a fabulous tool for controlling your reader - you even get to control where they breathe. That's what I call power!" Nicola Morgan
"I like cooking my family and my pets. Use commas. Don't be a psycho."
"You can have my Oxford comma when you pry it from my cold, dead, and lifeless hands."
"Fact No. 79: Every day, 1.6m apostrophes are brutally, needlessly, forced to make words plural."
"Every time you use an apostrophe to make a word plural, a puppy dies."
"(An unmatched left parenthesis creates an unresolved tension that can stay with you all day."
"People who do not use punctuation deserve a long sentence."
On the relationship between the roles of writer and editor:
"You write to communicate to the hearts and minds of others what's burning inside you. And we edit to let the fire show through the smoke." Arthur Plotnik
"It's perfectly okay to write garbage—as long as you edit brilliantly." C. J. Cherryh
"[Good editors are] like tinsel to a Christmas tree... they add the perfect amount of sparkle without being gaudy." Bobbi Romans
"If being addicted to proofreading is wrong, I don't want to be right."
"Proofread, proofread, proofread. Then ask someone to proofread for you."
Smith, F. (1982). Understanding reading. Sydney, NSW: CBS College Publishing.