The Power of Copying a Text
The power of a text is different when it is read from when it is copied out.
Only the copied text thus commands the soul of him who is occupied with it,
whereas the mere reader never discovers the new aspects of his inner self that are opened by the text,
that road cut through the interior jungle forever closing behind it:
because the reader follows the movement of his mind in the free flight of day-dreaming,
whereas the copier submits it to command.
Want to learn from your reading? Start copying.
Just as countless scholars and thinkers have done through the centuries, use a simple commonplace book to capture ideas, thoughts, and phrases from the books you read. Commonplacing is a time-tested method for absorbing concepts and ideas. Famous people such as Cicero, Marcus Aurelius, Shakespeare, Thomas Jefferson, and John Milton diligently copied in order to learn or to gather ideas as food for thought. You can browse through some of these commonplace books at the websites of the British Library (Renaissance Commonplace Books exhibit) and the Library of Congress (Thomas Jefferson’s books are particularly interesting).
Long before I knew it was a standard, well-known practice, I was keeping quotes in little notebooks. As a teen, I gleaned quotes from the Reader’s Digest, scripture, my well-loved copy of 101 Famous Poems, favorite novels, and more. One quote that I transferred from book to book for many years was Ardis Whitman’s succinct admonition that “Freedom is not in doing what you want to do, but in becoming what you want to be.” It served as a reminder to me that the way I chose to spend time had the power to shape my life.
Copying as part of language arts
Charlotte Mason recommended copywork as part of the language arts curriculum, and I second that suggestion. Copying a text is a powerful way, not only to practice writing mechanics, but also to absorb the cadence of an author’s prose, the fluidity of each sentence, and most of all, the deep meaning of the passage. If you want your students to memorize anything, the first place to begin is by having them copy it.
I learned the power of copying when I did calligraphy for hire. Writing out a text gave me time to reflect on meaning, prose style, and more. Poetry and verses that I copied have remained with me, even decades later. Copying is a relatively simple activity that can make your student a better writer. I hope you’ll try it!