I want to introduce to you the idea of the commonplace book. It was one of those concepts that when I first stumbled across it, it just clicked with something inside of me. The system was simple and I could totally get on board with creating and maintaining a book of my own for the rest of my life.
You may or may not have heard of them before, I’m not going to go into the history, but essentially they’ve been around forever. Commonplace books a tool of collecting bits and pieces of life––mostly related to words, and curating them into a personal encyclopedic reference system.
To give you some context on why I’m such an advocate; I have an embarrassing amount of bookmarks, notes, google docs, full notebooks; you name it, I’ve probably used it at some point to jot down something I wanted to keep. I also have books and articles to read through and catch up on dating back weeks ago! Sometimes I feel hopeful that I’ll eventually be able to work through everything and organize it, and other times I’m so overwhelmed I just go back to doing what I do best which is searching for more content to add and never get to! *cries* The problem is, I’ll think something is great, take note of it somewhere on my phone or wherever, and then I’ll forget about it or can’t remember the details surrounding why I took the energy to document it in the first place. This is a regular occurrence. As a result, my internet experience started to become overwhelming and overcrowded.
At the end of July, I was going through my notes on my phone trying to consolidate and group them into content I could use for blog posts, when I just decided to say fuck it, bit the bullet and started my commonplace book.
I’m not sure why I’ve always carried around so much hesitancy when it comes to the creation and implementation of structure in my life. As I get older, the desire to piece my life together tugs at me harder. I very much crave routine and things being organized all in the same place, yet I purposely do the opposite? I’m really trying to embrace what I feel like I’m preaching here, and trying to be more mindful of the decisions I make. I also try to keep in mind that this “stress” is completely self-inflicted and that I do these tasks because I find them enjoyable, not because they are required.
Our lives are merely us discovering and picking up pieces of ourselves along our journey and commonplace books can be the paper trail. They are something you create over time with experience. They are proof of a life lived; of independent thought and a value system. There is so much richness and knowledge in other people’s thoughts, I am constantly inspired. I want to be able to use that knowledge as a resource in my everyday as inspiration or as a force to be better and create better.
What I like about the whole concept of the commonplace book is that it is yours, and you can make it what you want and use it however is best suited for you. I think my system will be ever-evolving. Before I made my first entry, I looked into organization methods and systems to create, but ultimately I ended up taking a few good nuggets from articles I found, and implemented them in my own ways.
I decided to start mine digitally on Evernote so that I can access it anywhere. I even downloaded the app to probe myself to write my notes on there instead of taking up my precious iCloud space. I would recommend doing it online, although I have linked some articles at the bottom of people who still used a cue-card and shoebox system. I created notebooks for my personal stuff, the blog, lists I make, content related to public relations, the actual commonplace book and another called the floor––which is just for half finished content before it is sorted into the other notebooks.
I mostly use the actual commonplace book notebook which I chicly titled “I” (because I’ll probably cap them at 1,000 notes per book, so there will be more!). I then logged everything with a tagging system. Tags are the easiest to use and the fastest way to find something.
I use my commonplace book as a depository of quotes, ideas, concepts and information I’ve come across. I highlight and clip articles. I save photos. Evernote’s web clipper makes it so easy to capture everything that I want and mark it up. So far, I’ve worked through *not joking* seventeen offline notebooks, half of them just full of garbage content. I’ll spend about an hour to two hours a day transcribing and sorting notes into my commonplace book. I still have a lot to work through but seeing how much I’ve done really makes me feel good. It’s been awesome. and really worthwhile having a commonplace book. It’s helped me slow down and work through one task at a time. I feel much lighter and more productive since starting.
A few resources to check out if you’d like to learn more:
- Ryan Holiday –– How and why to keep a commonplace book
- Evernote Blog –– Taking note: what commonplace books can teach us about our past
- Reddit thread –– /r/commonplacebook
- Notebook of Ghosts –– A Brief Guide to Keeping a Commonplace Book
- Medium, Writing Cooperative ––Keep a commonplace book for inspiration
I hope this has inspired you! Please, please, please let me know in the comments about your experiences with commonplace books and any tips or tricks you may have!
Featured image: Henri Matisse – Interior with Etruscan Vase, 1940
Second image: Michael Lipsey