Why You Must Have a Commonplace Book As a Writer

A commonplace book is a resource or collection of idea’s, quotes, and observations. Commonplace books are believed to have been around since antiquity. Guides to writing a commonplace book, date back as early as the 17th century. The purpose is to keep hidden gems for use later.

The commonplace book does not have to be a notebook but could be a series of index cards. The project is as individual as the writer. It could even be a board on Pinterest if you enjoy technology.

I prefer to take notes and then add them later, you might have another method. Again this is down to the individual choice.

Famous People Who Kept Commonplace Books

Bill Clinton, from his 20’s, kept a Rolodex of contacts. This commonplace book provided a network he could rely on when he was elected.

Thomas Jefferson has a very famous commonplace book. This has recently been printed for us all to share. In his book he kept details of politics, he copied excerpts and abstracts from books. He jotted down his philosophical matters

It isn’t only politicians that adopted a commonplace book. Darwin first came up with his natural selection theory when he was 29. From then onwards he read contrasting ideas and theories. Throughout this, he jotted these down in his notebook. When he was 50, he had finally amassed enough information to write his full theory.

How To Keep a Commonplace Book

Whichever method you choose to record your thoughts, is individual to you.

Read widely. Mark passages and quotes that interest you. Reading a variety of subjects helps gain a rounded knowledge. Collect wisdom as well as facts.

As mentioned previously you might like to write this as you go along or you might keep notes and then update them. I would advise, that you don’t leave notes too long without writing them up.

You can make your book as artistic as you wish. Some people may choose to use colour, some may not. It is also an individual choice, to what you record in your notebook.

My book is dedicated to writing information, story ideas and quotes I admire.

One of my favourite facts in there is the fact that Einstein’s first invention was the atomic bomb. The design was later stolen from him.

Advantages of a Commonplace Book

The main advantage is the resource the commonplace book will provide you for years to come. Ideas are all stored in one place, so it is easier to find them.

Over the years you have created a record of thoughts and ideas throughout your life. Going through older commonplace books can provide a nostalgic trip back. Jefferson’s record became a hugely historical document.

As nostalgic as the book can be for you, our children could inherit them. They will provide a record of your life. A personal resource, never seen before. I truly wonderful memory for our children.

Whichever form you choose for your commonplace book I hope you have seen what a valuable resource it is.

I would recommend old school versions, such as notebooks and index cards. Again though the process is individual. If you prefer technology then go for it. I would, however, recommend regular backups.

Come up with a personal system and create a commonplace book today. I guarantee after six months you will be addicted to this brain dump.


Sam H Arnold is a UK writer and mentor. To follow all her work find her on Facebook. To receive regular writing tips join her Email List or join Twisted Tales for fiction and poetry.

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