I don’t know about you but in this age of media saturation I need a way to sort through the noise and find the useful stuff. And so, for the last several years my remedy has become what is known as a commonplace book. I try to keep mine handy so that whenever inspiration strikes I am prepared to jot it down.
Not that I have anything against journals, but commonplace books are not journals, which are typically chronological and introspective. And I don’t use mine for grocery lists or other random jottings either. Instead, it is a place for capturing thoughts that I want to remember and use later.
According to an article titled “How and Why to Keep a Commonplace Book,” by Ryan Holiday at Thought Catalog, “A commonplace book is a central resource or depository for ideas, quotes, anecdotes, observations and information you come across during your life.”
And Holiday continues, “The purpose of the book is to record and organize these gems for later use in your life, in your business, in your writing, speaking or whatever it is that you do.” I personally use an unlined reporter-style notebook by Moleskine, as pictured above, so I can include sketches in addition to my writings.
As Holiday’s article highlights, many famous people through the ages have kept a commonplace book. For example, “Montaigne, who invented the essay, kept a handwritten compilation of sayings, maxims and quotations from literature and history that he felt were important. His earliest essays were little more than compilations of these thoughts.”
And the Greek philosopher Seneca also suggested recording one’s thoughts: “We should hunt out the helpful pieces of teaching and the spirited and noble-minded sayings which are capable of immediate practical application and learn them so well that words become works.”
The types of treasures I try to mine are usually what I call notes, quotes, and anecdotes. I even transfer my gatherings from analog notebooks to digital files with corresponding names for cutting and pasting stuff into my writing, including this blog. So, consider jotting your thoughts and those of others into your own commonplace book for future reference.