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A twist on the writer’s journal: The commonplace book

I’ve never needed a reason to buy a new notebook, but I have one today.

I’ve decided to start a new commonplace book.

My writing addictions list wouldn’t be complete without adding “journals.” I have separate notebooks for book projects, story ideas, my tiny notebook — in case I’m out without a larger notebook — and think of something I must record immediately.

Years ago, I heard a writer speak at a writer’s conference about his commonplace book, and I began keeping my own. Commonplace books emerged in the 15th century. People would note interesting ideas about books they’d read so they could use them for conversation starters. I no longer remember the name of the speaker, but I remember what he said (because I noted it in my commonplace book):

“There was a time when commonplace books were a popular way for civilized men and women to record striking passages they found in their reading. Who can forget the electrifying effect that some thoughts have on us when we encounter them for the first time? The commonplace book is a way of saving these so we can return to them for renewed inspiration.”

Commonplace books are a place to record observations about daily life: thoughts, ideas, fascinating facts. You may want to record details about an event or an experience. Paste pictures — a snapshot or a picture from a magazine.

Do you consider yourself a civilized man or woman? If so, find a notebook and start your own commonplace book.

If you’re slightly less civilized, you’ll still want a commonplace notebook, but you may want to make the “MacGuyver version.”

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