In the early eighteenth century people began to keep “commonplace books” as an information management device which stored quotations, observations, thoughts, and definitions a person wanted to remember. Scholars have expanded this usage to include any manuscript that collects material along a common theme by an individual. "Commonplace" is a translation of the Latin term locus communis (from Greek tópos koinós) which means "a theme or argument of general application”. Commonplace books are not diaries, travelogues, or journals, which are to a great extent chronological and introspective. They are similar to a writer’s notebook, but are much more inclusive. They become a reflection of the person we are and what made us such.
Commonplace books (or commonplaces) are a way to compile your knowledge. They can become a writer’s scrapbook filled with items of every kind: recipes, quotes, letters, poems, tables of weights and measures, proverbs, prayers, legal formulas. Commonplaces are used by readers, writers, students, and scholars as an aid for remembering useful concepts or facts they have learned, and each commonplace book is unique to its creator's particular interests. Every writer has “pieces of things” they want to remember, quotes that are significant, or inspiration that has been jotted down on random slips of paper. I just went through my files and compiled my own commonplace book. After reading through what I included I was surprised at the eclectic bent of my collections. For instance:
“Even if you are a minority of one, the truth is the truth.” Ghandi
“I have spent my days stringing and unstringing my instrument, while the song I came to play remains unsung.” Tagore
I wrote the lines or stanza’s of poems that impressed me and songs I wanted to remember. Bits and pieces of dialogue I heard spoken and thought I might use in my writing one day. Great lines from books I have read, “coffee as strong as mulatto’s kiss.” Or “We don’t serve our country as a democrat or republican, but as an American.” Or “ many of us are more concerned about conquering space than about conquering ourselves.” A Chinese proverb that says “When the winds of change blow, some people build walls and others build windmills.” And one of my favorites –the thoughts we entertain after we turn out the light have a profound effect on the rest of the night.
Start your own “Commonplace” book as a writer.
1. Get a notebook, preferably hardbound.
2. Gather all those scraps of paper you have scribbled thoughts and ideas on and copy them onto
the blank pages of the notebook. They don’t have to be organized or in particular order.
3. Carry the book with you and add to it on a regular basis.
· Take it to a writing conference and take notes on what you can use.
· Write your thoughts on a book you recently read that changed your “perspective”.
· Record unique or unusual words that might be used to enhance your writing.
· Share the lessons you have learned from experiences you have had.
4. Make your commonplace book a remembrance of you for those you leave behind.