If you’ve ever wanted to start keeping a commonplace book you are in the right place. Here is why and, more importantly. how to start one.
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What is a commonplace book?
A commonplace book is a central place to collect what you found interesting in books, movies, poems, social media, podcasts, or personal insights that you want to reflect on later. A commonplace book is a great place to copy down quotes or scriptures. Unlike other journals, it can combine “genres” of journaling because it is part personal observation, diary, and part external inspirations.
It’s name comes from the fact that all of these ideas are collected in one place…the commonplace book! It makes it easy to look back on wisdom from various places that you have come across. A commonplace book can come in a variety of different formats as well, described in more detail below.
Who uses a commonplace book?
Anyone can keep a commonplace book. Historically it was the most popular among deep thinkers like Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, Francis Bacon, John Locke, Thomas Jefferson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Mark Twain, and Virginia Woolf.
So what if you don’t find yourself in the category of an amazing writer, thought leader, or philosopher?
It is still for you! I keep a commonplace book out of necessity to organize and capture my thoughts, memories, plans, wisdom learned and dreams. I happen to come to this method of journaling as necessity after becoming a busy mother. It helped those important ideas get captured to refer to later on. I even keep cute phrases my kiddos say, and quotes I’m learning from, scriptures that are inspiring etc.
5 benefits of keeping a commonplace book
1. To look back on what has personally inspired you
With as much information as we are taking in these days through podcasts, audiobooks, social media, books, videos, etc. It can seem almost like a lot of information is in one ear and out the other. Having a central place to write down ideas that are important to you is hugely helpful in making meaning of all of this information because it isn’t lost. You can look back and actually implement be inspired again.
2. To increase efficiency
Having a central place to write down the most interesting tidbits you come across can actually boost efficiency, since it isn’t required to thumb through books and old posts for that one quote you came across. When writing or speaking about a topic you can quickly go to where you’ve already been, and put that wisdom into practice.
3. It turns into an awesome keepsake
Unlike the common diary which might be littered with irrelevant details. A commonplace book is actually a wonderful keepsake for you or future generations. It is quite literally a lifetime of wisdom from external sources or experience that is curated into a book that can be quite useful and meaningful as the years go on.
4. To connect important points and information
Keeping a commonplace book will be highly individual since we are all inspired by different people and sources. Sometimes these interesting points come from widely opposite places. Putting them together may allow you to see connections and commonality amount why they were meaningful to you. Which can essentially “put all the pieces together.”
5. Makes you more intentional about what types of media you consume
Keeping a commonplace book gives you a reason to seek certain inputs. This naturally will make you more critical to your media choices through books, podcasts, shows, movies, etc. People who commonplace are often looking for wisdom or meaning, which isn’t often found in poorly crafted media.
How to start a common place book
A commonplace book can be started in a variety of different ways. This important thing is to actually get started! Don’t get hung up on the particulars of “how” here are some tips though for how to get started TODAY.
- Read a lot. Reading gives you wisdom to commonplace about. Passages that stuck out to you as relevant or interesting are a great place to start. Keep in mind that commonplacing isn’t a place to write down fact but rather insights. Looking back at wisdom is typically much more useful than just facts.
- Read widely. Read poems, quote, song lyrics, fiction, non-fiction, classic books, modern books, etc. Having multiple types of literature can make your commonplace book more interesting and valuable.
- Develop a note taking system. You won’t remember those pieces of wisdom if you do not write them down, underline, or highlight them immediately. You can always transfer them into the commonplace book in the future (although I wouldn’t wait too long!) Just develop a system that works for you. Since I listen a lot of audiobooks, I like to take quick notes in the notes app on my phone, so I can refer back to them later.
- Make it a habit. If you are new to keeping a commonplace book, don’t be discouraged if you do it for a few days then fall off. It takes intentional habit training to actually capture these inputs in a meaningful way.
Pick a format (ways to keep a commonplace book)
The format that you keep a commonplace book in doesn’t matter. You may find that you try a few different styles before settling on what is the most useful for you.
A journal is a classic way to keep track of important ideas. Many people like the physical act of writing out quotes, and passages because it is cathartic and sticks into the memory better than typing or copying and pasting. A journal is a great ways if you are not interested in later grouping ideas gather and categorizing your commonplace collections to use for writing projects.
This customizable monogram real leather journal is amazing because inserts can be taken out and put into storage.
Writing down important ideas is a great way to commonplace if you are planning on using these ideas for a later project because they can be organized in photo organizers into categories for easy reference later. Again, writing the ideas onto paper is helpful for some people.
These heavy 4×6 index cards are perfect because they fit great in most photo organizers. That makes it easy to stay organized.
Digital methods for common placing are becoming increasingly more popular since there are many great note taking apps and software tools. Commonplacing digitally might be fore you if you read a lot of audiobooks, or don’t often carry around a way to take notes (pencil, paper, or journal). Sometimes it might mean a hybrid of the two that work for you.
With digital media from podcasts, videos, and audiobooks being more common, using a digital notetaking app can be helpful. For some people, it is important to to physically write in a common place book, so later transferring these ideas is a better fit. I personally use a hybrid model since I listen to some audiobooks. It is easier to write down an idea in the notes app and then, copy it down into my commonplace book later.
Start reading and curating ideas
Start reading far and wide, and looking for interesting ideas to capture. Commonplacing like other habits takes time to develop. Stay consistent and watch how it will change you thinking and your life!