Monday, March 28, 2011

When You Run Out of Good Ideas...Run to Bartlett's

A version of this post appeared here in June, 2009:

I wanted to use the quote, "No good deed goes unpunished," in a story, and it occurred to me that although I use the phrase from time to time, I had no idea of its origin. I pulled my copy of Bartlett's Familiar Quotations from my bookcase and found the phrase first in the index under "unpunished."

When I followed the page reference back to the quotations, I was disappointed. The source is anonymous. That piqued my interest, however, and I found almost twenty pages of song verses, sayings, proverbs, and rhymes for which the authors are not known.

These seem especially relevant for the times:

"Keeping up with the Joneses."
.....Popular saying

"A fool and his money are soon parted."
.....English proverb

"Use it up, wear it out;
Make it do, or do without."
.....New England maxim

"You can't use tact with a Congressman! A Congressman is a hog! You must take a stick and hit him on the snout!
.....Remark -- Made by an unidentified cabinet member (possibly Secretary of the Interior Jacob Dolson Cox (1828-1900), quoted by Henry Adams, The Education of Henry Adams, ch. 17.

"It is a newspaper's duty to print the news and raise hell."
.....The Chicago Times (1861)

If you have a copy of Bartlett's Familiar Quotations in your own reference library, you can find a lot of good article and essay material. For instance, did you know that Henry David Thoreau is credited with this:

"Nothing is so much to be feared as fear."
.....Journal [1906], September 7, 1851

But in similar words, so is the Bible (Proverbs), Montaigne, Francis Bacon, Wellington, and then, finally, Franklin Roosevelt.

You can brainstorm new articles or stories from any of these quotations. For instance, articles on personal finance and why people should pay attention to those old sayings. Perhaps an essay on fear, or simple truths that survive centuries of change. Or a political blog about congressmen who need to be smacked on the snout. That one should be pretty easy, no matter where your political sympathies lie.

Have you ever used a famous quotation as the basis for a blog post, short story, or magazine article? Tell us about it.


Margot Kinberg said...

Pat - Thanks for the tip about Bartlett's. I wouldn't have thought of it as inspiration, but it's quite true; it certainly could be! I like those quotes that you shared, too!

Besides being a writer, I'm also a music person, so quite often, my blog posts are inspired by or related to lyrics from songs. In fact, I often use them as blog post titles. So I can certainly see how one could be inspired by a quote...

Arlee Bird said...

I have used quotations in my posts--but I don't think as a basis that I can recall. I keep my Bartlett's within arms reach of my desk. I have a few other quotation books on my bookshelf when Bartlett's doesn't seem to be enough.

Tossing It Out
Twitter hashtag: #atozchallenge

Jan Morrison said...

I do use quotations - in my posts, in my books and so on...
One I like is from a Bruce Cockburn song "The trouble with normal is it always gets worse."

Patricia Stoltey said...

Hi Margot -- I've recognized your song title bits for blog post titles. It's a great idea.

Arlee -- I need all the inspiration I can get. Some days I draw a complete blank, so I start reviewing my blogrolls to see what others are writing about.

Perfect quote, Jan. Ain't it the truth!

Talli Roland said...

Ooh! I need to get this on my shelf. Great idea, Patricia!

Patricia Stoltey said...

Talli, I received a gift card for a local bookstore one time and used it to purchase my Bartlett's. It was a great choice.

Jemi Fraser said...

I love quotes!! I've definitely used them for inspiration for blog posts - but not for my writing. Yet. I'll have to think about that :)