Anything But Common

A couple of years ago a big change occurred for me. Writing in a journal has always been important to me. I like to document things that happen in my life. Everything from births of children all the way down to the date and color of the last living room painting project. But the same thing kept occurring and it would drive me crazy. I would drop off for long periods of time and never write anything. Sometimes it would last a couple of months. It was disappointing because I felt like I wasn’t living up to the purpose of journaling: to document and record.  


In my studies I began to notice a recurring theme when I would read biographies on historical figures. In the endnotes I noticed that a source of information was often that of one’s “commonplace” book. Now, I have known that men in the past have kept commonplace books, but I didn’t always realize what a rich source they were for scouring the depths of a man’s mind. 

What is a commonplace book? Well, it’s like a journal, but way better. It’s more like a book where a person writes random anecdotes about their life. It can really be anything you want…quotes, snippets, anything. Since I began keeping a commonplace book I find myself writing much more often. I will record ideas I pick up in books, magazines, online, etc. I may record a short story of an event that I witnessed. I may record some of my own original thoughts. It’s not in story form and it’s not necessarily a record of what’s happening in the world around you, but it might be described as a record of what’s happening in your thought life. I find myself recording epigrams, quotes, bible verses, advice to myself, etc. I have recipes in my commonplace book. I have some important dates recorded in there. One entry describes my experience sitting in the main reading room at the Library of Congress. Most commonplace books contain favorite book passages. A passage or an idea from a book with the source and page number is something you’ll often find in my commonplace book. 

I tend to not record things in my commonplace book in linear fashion. Ill block out an area for one paragraph off to the side. I may skip a few lines and sketch out a design for a dog house. My preference is to keep it non-linear because it’s much more interesting when I go back and read it. It’s kind of boring to simply read line after line after line of writing. Think about how magazines tend to layout their publications. I do something similar to that, but with a pen. There are now three commonplace books in my own hand and they are chalk full of who I am. I prefer to use moleskin style notebooks but I get the knockoff brand. They are just as good and nearly identical in construction. I am a tight wad in most things. I am 100% against using a digital format commonplace book. I am not against technology; I use it all the time. But a commonplace book must be kept on paper, written in pen, and be portable. You will not regret doing it this way. Digital forms are far too impersonal.  

Most importantly though, you can look back and see how you have changed over time. This very reason is what spurred me to write this blog. When I looked back to see some things I wrote two years ago, I discovered that I had changed in some areas and found that I disagreed with my own thinking from that time. It really showed me that people really do change and grow over time but we hardly notice it because it comes so gradual.  

We all have something to offer the world, so write it down.


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