I’ve mentioned my beloved Commonplace Book many times- I love that thing. I think I could lose my wallet and be less stressed than if I lost my Commonplace. I don’t do it in any wonderful way- it’s just a place where I collect notes and thoughts and quotes and such.
Commonplace books aren’t anything new. For centuries, these personal collections have played a significant role in the way scholars read, learn, and remember. They paint a beautiful picture of an individual’s growth over time- of his or her personal journey of learning and growing.
I’m learning how to take this thing up a notch (more on that in a minute), but for now I thought I’d tell you what I currently keep in my Commonplace Book.
Quotes & Passages
When I run across a beautiful passage or something that moves me, I copy it into my commonplace. Sometimes I draw a line down the middle of each paper and copy the passage on the left and my response to that passage on the right. Other times I just copy down the passage. Writing it out by hand helps the passage become a part of me, somehow. It’s a little hard to explain, but if you try it, you’ll know what I mean.
In my Commonplace book, I jot down snippets, quotes, stanzas. They can be words from a novel, from a poem, from a picture book, from the side of a cereal box. Anything I read that causes me to pause and read again- to stop and savor the words or ponder the message- it all belongs in my book.
This is the heart of my book and what really makes it a treasure, I think.
Mind-maps & Random Thoughts
This is where it gets scary. I’m always coming up with new ideas, but they way they fire off in my head is somewhat… disorderly. A bit untethered, if you will. The worst part is that my brain doesn’t know it needs to stop firing off ideas and contemplations when I’m in the middle of a math lesson with my kids.
I’ll be sitting there drilling a 4 times table or explaining the difference between an adverb and an adjective, and all of the sudden I’m considering what it means if “education is repentance.” I’ll be thinking over something heady that I heard at the latest homeschool conference, or coming up with a great new idea for the podcast.
My solution to this is to keep my Commonplace nearby and just dump it down as fast as I can. If I can take 10 seconds to jot it, then (hopefully?) I can turn my attention back to the task at hand.
Sometimes that looks like a mind-map, sometimes it looks like a list, and sometimes it just looks like a bomb went off on the page.
I’m a bit conflicted about having such wild and unruly thoughts next to the pages with bits of Chaucer or Tolstoy, but then it’s kind of fitting. It’s just like my life- a bit unwieldy with high ideals and a lot of real deal nitty gritty. :)
About taking it up a notch…
I’ve long hoped to improve my commonplacing habit- to do it a bit more intentionally, to have a system of some sort while I’m reading so that I’m able to think well about the books I’m reading. While we were speaking in Denver, I asked Andrew Kern to tell me about his own method for taking notes and collecting quotes and passages while he reads.
I should have known better- this is Andrew, after all. ;) Andrew taught me his methods for careful reading (and color-coded highlighting) in a video workshop.
Then the Scholé Sisters and I got together and chatted up our commonplace books on video- sharing pages, giving examples, and explaining the how and why of commonplacing.
We turned the whole thing into a workshop, and you can register for it here. (It’s $5).
For now, tell me about you- do you keep a commonplace book? What do you keep in yours?