The Making of a Novel: Do You Scribble in the Margins?

10/22/2010 10:37 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

I can't write in a book. I just can't. I was raised to believe that books were sacred, and I have never lost that belief. There will be no highlighting, no underlining of passages, no pencil notes in the margin of any of my books. But when I am reading a book that is speaking to me -- as I am right now -- then I have to have a way to keep track of the conversation. Enter, the Post-In note.

I love Post-It notes of every kind -- the giant poster-sized ones you can put on the wall, the classic yellow square one, the jazzy neon upstarts, the little inch-high ones, the brilliant tab-sized ones you can put on manilla folders. Perhaps my favorite Post-It product, however, are the teeny tiny little colored flags for marking passages in books. They come on a hard plastic book-mark backing so you can keep them right where you need them -- on the page you're reading. I peel off a blue one to mark a beautiful passage, an orange one to mark a scene that was written with particular grace, a yellow one at an idea I want to think about or research or refute.

The book I am reading is Ruined by Reading by Lynn Sharon Schwartz, a book I first read when it came out in 1997. I enjoyed Schwartz's novels, and was intrigued by the title of this non-fiction book. It's a very insightful, clever little book. I recently thought of it because the novel I'm writing is about a woman -- a secretary -- whose life is, in fact, ruined by reading. I went to my bookshelf (thank goodness for books on a shelf!), located the red spine of Schwartz' book, and found her words speaking very clearly and strongly to me -- again, though this time in a different way, for different reasons.

And I used the Post-It notes to help me keep track of it all.

Now that I'm writing this, I'm recalling reading a book that my dad read when he was in college. I think it was Rachel Carson's Silent Spring. I remember reading the book, and reading the notes my dad wrote in the margin as a young man, and absolutely loving the thrill of knowing him in that way.

So maybe my devotion to Post-It notes is misguided. What do you think?