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29 September 2014

My Commonplace Book

I got asked, today, how I organize my commonplace book, so I'm sharing my system. This is the same system I've used for years; this notebook is more than1/2 full, and I have another two like it stashed. 

The notebook itself is pretty ordinary. I do sping for the plastic cover, since that's more durable. It's a 5-subject notebook, and I like the big ones because they last. I'm not very good about going through old ones and reviewing what I learned, so I like a big sturdy one that lasts. 
One of the challenges, with a book like this, is organizing it. I decided that, in the top right corner of each page, I'd write the topic and the date. When I run out of room on the back of this page, I turn to the next clean page and label it, and continue as if there was no interruption -- even if there is a huge distance between the pages. Since I tend to have several books going at once, and often other projects as well that get tucked into my notebook, this system seems to work out well.

Figuring out what to put in my book was a bit of a challenge, at first. I learned about it when I was reading The Well-Trained Mind, and then later read this online:

"Commonplacing is the practice of entering literary excerpts and personal comments into a private journal, that is, into a commonplace book or, to use a 17th century synonym, a silva rerum ("a forest of things"). Typically the excerpts were regarded as exceptionally insightful or beautiful or as applicable to a variety of situations, and so as such they are often especially quotable. . . . The practice of commonplacing can be traced back in the European tradition to the 5th century B.C.E. and the Sophist, Protagoras.
-Norman Elliott Anderson, quoted by Lucia Knoles

My own personal style is a blend of literary excerpts, note-taking, essays I write for my blog, and even lists for long-term projects and goals. Since the notebook is large enough to last for several years, it has been a particularly effective place to lists of house and yard projects. It's not, classically speaking, something that belongs in a commonplace book, but it sure works well for me, so I keep it there. It's actually really nice to periodically review what commonplacing is, at its core, about. For whatever reason, the literary excerpts and quotes are easy to let fall by the wayside somewhat. Reading this reminded me that I need to do more of that again.

Here are some pictures of several different pages from my current notebook:

The quote in the box I actually copied from a friend's facebook post, explaining how formality/humility works in Japanese. I'd been studying this for years, and she made it all come into focus in about 3 sentences.  (Ah, the advantages she has for that sort of thing, living in Japan!)

This page is a segment of an essay that I wrote a while back, 7 Lessons From the Bad Guys. That post grew out of noticing a several month pattern in what the Spirit pointed out to me, and then several weeks of trying to coax it into words. I wanted to remember it, even if the blog disappeared.

This one is actually an excerpt and commentary. My sister and her husband gave me a lecture series, The Great Debate, a while back, and because I can't just listen to it, I have to read every single extra reading they list, and that slows down the process greatly. It's slooow... but I'm such a happy camper.

 Several times, in doing the work for The Great Debate, I found that I needed to know more about the geography of the early States. (No fancy markers; I'm pretty sure I just used the kids' crayolas from their art box.) This time, I drew a picture. I found that I couldn't write on the back of the page, and that bothered me, so next time...

I printed and glued in maps. This has some plusses, but also some drawbacks. I may do both techniques again. (Don't you love the Angry Birds Star Wars sticker? It was a gift from my seven year old, who asked that I put it in my notebook.)

This page has both a quote, and a practice art for my scripture journal, with which I get a lot more fussy about the artsy elements.

I love my notebook. I read more deliberately, and remember more consistently since I started using it, and I highly recommend the practice. I don't have too many rules for myself. If it strikes me (and I have time), it goes in. Sometimes I make a point of practicing writing, particularly with the literary excerpts, in a particular style, and in that way I've developed a couple of options for beautiful handwriting. And sometimes I just use everyday printing, or even occasionally all caps. It's very mood-driven. I'm a pen snob (my husband teases me about an over-fondness of the office supplies isle), and so the pens around the house tend to be ones that write well, but other than the pen has to be pleasant to write with, I use whatever pen comes to hand.

Hopefully that helps. Enjoy your own commonplace journal journey!

P.S. I'm so glad you stopped by to read about the adventures at our house! If you want more, "Like" my blog on Facebook to get posts (and the articles n things I wish I had time to blog about) in your feed. Wanna see all the projects and ideas that I may or may not get around to? Follow me on Pinterest. Thanks for stopping by!

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