Friday, January 22, 2016

Toynbee on Writing and Note-taking

Arnold Toynbee tells us in Experiences (New York and London: Oxford University Press, 1969) that he began by making notes in the margins of his university texts in minute handwriting with "a triple-H pencil" (94).

But then "work" underwent a significant change. His main focus was no longer reading, but rather "writing or preparations to write" (97). He reserved the hours between brakfast an lunch entirely for this task.
This change in the purpose of my reading led me to make a corresponding change in my way of taking notes. I had begun ... by making notes in the margins of my Greek and Latin texts, and this scholiast's way of taking notes had been the most convenient as long as the interpretation and understanding of texts had been, fro me, an end in itself. Now, however, I had learnt to use texts as materiale for making something of my own, and for this new purpose I needed to have my notes insome handier and more accessible repository. From about 1933 onwards I started to take notes in notebooks on points in books I was reading, which seemed to be likely to come in useful for something that I was going to write. Usefulness in writing had now become my criterion. ... By this year 1969 I have more than thirty of these notebooks, full to the brim. They have, long since become the my most immediate source of the information I need for writing." He says that from the note in a notebook he can easily go back to the original (100)

He e claims "the right and healthy purpose of acquiring knowledge is to make out of it some work of one's own" (98), and he offers five pieces of advice:
  1. Don't plunge in precipitously. Plan first.
  2. Act promptly and write as soon as you feel your mind is ripe to take action.
  3. Write regularly, day in and day out at whatever time of day you write best. You can always revise your first draft.
  4. Don't waste odd pieces of time (like when you have just finished something, start right away with something new).
  5. Always look ahead —a "sixth sense" is good.
His work is not entirely free of the defects that come from "note-making," as discussed in the previous post.

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