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Saturday, May 18, 2024

Keep sharp with sage advice from Gertrude Mitchell, Mark Twain and James L. Nichols


Above / Summer vacations on my grandparents’ farm provided plenty of opportunities to learn and help my grandmother, Gertrude Mitchell, with chores back in the days prior to indoor plumbing. Before she married and raised her large family, she had earned her college degree to become an English teacher. To keep in touch with my grandparents at other times of the year, I wrote letters to them and my grandmother always wrote back.

Big Picture. Local Focus.

Whenever I sit down to peck out another column for the Daily Herald, my aim is about 600 words. My intentions have been that way since May 1999 when I wrote my first column in the Neighbor section about the one-cent newspaper I wrote, typed and peddled as a kid in Muncie, Indiana.

To keep focused and moving forward, I used to stick post-a-notes on my small computer screen that included inspirational messages and quotes by great American wits.

A quote from Mark Twain has stayed with me, “The time to begin writing an article is when you have finished it to your satisfaction. By that time you begin to clearly and logically perceive what it is that you really want to say.”

Twain was correct. My first drafts always way exceed my word limit and editing begins.

Before submitting my column that appears in print in the March 30, 2016, Daily Herald Neighbor section, it was more than twice its size.  While every writer could always create a better piece, sometimes you just have to let it go to meet a deadline.

In this week’s story inspired by Jim Baumann’s Grammar Moses columns, the DH headline editor titled it Reflections on the importance of proper language.To try to meet my word count, I deleted tidbits of local history that connect to our city’s roots to farming without electricity in the 1940s as well as new-found services in NaperLaunch at Nichols Library.

March 30 is National Pencil Day, an appropriate time to reflect about today’s technology, proper language, civility, fond memories, economics and how they all connect.

The NaperLaunch business startup center, a business incubation program, opened within Nichols Library in downtown Naperville last year.

Thumbing through my books published by J.L. Nichols, Naperville, I couldn’t help but wonder what the company’s founder would think of the Naperville Public Library that bears his name.

You might say the Naperville Public Library has come full circle since it was established here in 1898 with a $10,000 bequest made possible by the success of entrepreneur James Nichols’ many books such as “The Business Guide; or Safe Methods of Business published in 1891.

Nichols died at the age of 44 in 1895.

Books, business and education were the focus of the young professional who had a vision to make books available “for free to anybody who wished them.”

And when it comes to connecting to National Pencil Day, mindful of all the advancements in technology, I’ll bet back in the late 1880s when Nichols wrote his rules on how to keep accounts in “The Business Guide,” he always kept his ledgers current and his pencils sharpened.

—Stephanie Penick

RELATED POST: “I, Pencil” by Leonard E. Read



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PN Editor
PN Editor
An editor is someone who prepares content for publishing. It entered English, the American Language, via French. Its modern sense for newspapers has been around since about 1800.


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