Commonplace Book Ideas

Throughout my life, I’ve made various efforts to keep a journal or diary of some sort. Sometimes, I was at a crossroads and needed a place to think through my plans, goals, needs and wants. Sometimes, I just wanted to be able to remember who I met and where I went. Today, so much of our lives is documented in someway digitally– Facebook, Instagram and Twitter catch bits of our thoughts, photos and memories– but I still yearn for something tangible.

I found 10 Commonplace Journal Ideas on Quinn Creative and love the ideas that were recommended to jump start a commonplace book. Quinn recommends documenting the weather; the foods you eat; the music, film and other media you consume; how much things cost; maps; quotes and ideas as well as looking back over previous years to see if your ideas or opinions or tastes have changed over time. This seems like such a simple way to keep track of a few moments in your life without committing to writing lengthy, soul-searching entries that might require carving out hours from each day to accomplish.

I’ve actually been employing some of the ideas mentioned in my Hobonichi this year but Quinn’s suggestions gave me a few more ideas to add to it.

The Commonplace Journal Ideas post lead me on a hunt for more information and other ideas about keeping a commonplace book and there are pages of search results on Google. Some focussed more on the more traditional use of a commonplace book which is seen to be a place for writers and poets to collect quotes and fragments of story ideas to be used later.

I found a post that talked more about a system to organize a commonplace book on that seemed to integrate some of the same principles used in the Bullet Journal system (indexing, page numbering, etc).

If you have the passion and/or the time to write or draw or document at length, I would not discourage doing something bigger but, sadly, most everyone I know says they never have nearly enough time to do all the things they want to do. So, maybe a commonplace book is a good way to capture the flavor of each day without requiring an excessive amount of time?

Do you keep a commonplace book or something similar? What do you record in it?

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12 comments / Add your comment below

  1. After pulling together all of my blank and half-started notebooks into one place, I realized that I’d BETTER GET WRITING in order to use them up before I…uh…”move on.” Love the idea of a Commonplace book. I used to record quotes all the time, and I STILL like going back into that tiny notebook that I filled up decades ago. You’re right…so much is digital now but can’t be counted on to last. I’m going to buckle down (in a fun way) with my books and inks and pens. Thanks for sharing this.

  2. I use a Clairefontaine 11×17 cm 96 sheet notebook as a commonplace book but I call it Miscellany. Its my 2nd one and 3/4 full. I put in things I find on the internet I want to to remember, things I research like new windows, quotes, short recipes. Things I want to look up later. I use the first 3 pages as an index. As I use a page(s) I enter in the title and page number,otherwise, how do you find things when you get deep into the pages? It just takes a few seconds to put it in the index. Oh yes, I have to number pages, I number every other page, when I have a minute. I do not sit and number them all at once. Next Miscellany book, I am shooting for something with numbered pages, fountain pen friendly only tho’.

  3. I keep a scribble book with me at all times for idea and inspiration capture. Anything can go in the scribble book. I keep a commonplace book at home, which is the repository for the best-of scribble book entries and other bits of wisdom or information or life events/lessons. I use tags in the commonplace book so I can find things later. At the back of my commonplace books is a tag-based index. The tags have become a well-curated personal taxonomy of my life and interests. Great article Ana!

  4. I’ve kept various types of commonplace books over the years, but this year I finally made my own. A “log” is in the front part — just an inch or so of space to note unusual weather, particularly good (or bad) meals eaten, books read, movies viewed, friends I saw, places I’ve sketches, etc. Then the rest of the book is for freeform journaling on anything I want to expand on at length. I usually only write in that section two or the times a week, but I log something every day. And if I do expand on something noted in the log, I just put a page number next to it, so the log is its own index (I use Leuchtturm notebooks, which have prenumbered pages). My blog post includes photos:

  5. I found these great Decomposition Books at a college bookstore a couple years ago, and just fell in love with them. I use one for work as a running to-do list/note keeper. Those I go through about every 4 months. I also keep one as kind of a Commonplace Journal (I had read about this on Austin Kleon’s blog). I typically do a page a week and I try to keep everything in there positive. Things that I did, ate, attended, tried … I do a weekly-ish blog post on good things that happened during the week, and I include a picture of that week’s page. I have really liked this way of journaling.

  6. I use a Hobonichi as kind of a visual diary–I note the day’s appointments and events, track my health stats, write reactions to the books I’ve been reading or movies I’ve seen, vent about my troubles, & celebrate my victories. I use washi tape and stickers and pictures that I’ve printed off the web, and draw little characters that comment on what’s happening or how I feel.

    I also have a little Moleskine that is strictly for story ideas & anything pertaining to writing. Each page has a number and title, and is indexed at the start of the book. The index is what makes them so useful, year after year.

  7. I’m a Mechanical Designer and I am always on the lookout for a better way to solve a design problem. Mechanical design is more of an “everything is a remix” pursuit rather than “lets invent something” type of job. To this end I have dedicated a Field Notes Brand notebook to be “The Good Solution Book”. When I come across a design worth remembering it gets added to the book for later reference. I have pages devoted to sexy topics such as “linear motion”, “angular indexing” and “limit switch mounting”. It is probably a pretty limited application of a Commonplace Book but it works for me.

  8. I have also kept a Commonplace Book for years. Early on in a sprial flipbook. In the last few yrs. I have graduated to Rhodia Webbies which are a bit more formal and classy. My CP book is a collection and random. I keep everything from lyrics, quotes, recipes, factoids, scriptures, jokes, movie dialogue, and a place to document other hobbies…no limits. Yes, mine is vade mecom, although I have no system for retrieval. This can be a problem. I am reading others’ methods of keeping track with appreciation. Another reason I enjoy my CP book is that it provides a place for me to use my fountain pens and inks every day. It was always a source when I taught. Occasionally, I will sketch in it. I think that I should do more of that. Commonplace Books come highly recommended from me.

  9. A blank book of any type. Actually, it’s easiest for me to write in a book that is not so “precious”, which means I am using my nice fountain pens with not so nice paper sometimes. The nicer blank journals I tend to want to draw in. My writing tends to be a short log of how I am feeling each morning, sometimes with notes on what I would like to accomplish in the day, or how i will approach my schedule. I prefer the toothier books for drawing. I am always keeping an eye out for fun new books to make marks in, whether for project notes or these daily journals.

  10. Thank you for this wonderful post, Ana, and thank you to all of the previous responders. I can’t believe that I had never heard the term Commonplace Book before – or if I had it did not stick in my memory. But this is exactly what I want to start. I have always failed at journaling that involved a lot of introspection and a lot of daily writing. The Commonplace Book ideas I’ve been reading about seem perfect for me, and what a wonderful opportunity to use my fountain pens and try out different types of paper – which is why I am going to start with a simple spiral notebook.

  11. I use a Topps Focus notebook (Cornell ruling) in a leather Cambridge cover. I keep it open when reading to rewrite lines that catch my interest (to increase my awareness). Only later does a pattern emerge. Blog posts are red, I keep changing other colors. Color, place on page and date help with ecall.

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