Commonplace Books

Image source: @olaojo15
Image source: @olaojo15

Last Thursday, I got an email from Pocket, a web/mobile application which allows you to save your personal list of online articles that you want to read at a later date. I use the iOS version of this app a lot. The Pocket email stated that I made it to the top 1% of readers in Pocket for 2013. A breakdown of my stats revealed that I had read 2,441,513 words in Pocket this year so far. I was shocked that I read these many words via my mobile devices in 2013.

It is interesting how my reading patterns have changed over the last couple of years. My daily use of a smart phone and tablet means that I read more digital content than print books. This has had an impact on how I create my commonplace books.  I have gone from a print version to a digital one. A commonplace book is a personally curated archive of interesting quotations drawn from the books and articles you have read. In the past, my commonplace book was a big notebook (pic above) in which I would hand-write the key quotes and passages from the books I have read. This was a time consuming exercise.

Pic 2 Image source: @olaojo15
Pic 2 Image source: @olaojo15

In the last couple of years, as most of my reading switched from print to electronic text, I have ditched the commonplace notebook for an electronic version. This has meant that it is easier for me to quickly locate a key quote I copied and pasted into my Notability file (pic 2 above) by using the search functionality of the app. To locate a quote in the commonplace notebook meant I went through the entire notebook until I stumbled upon the quote I was looking for – a tedious process. Both systems are private as you would only have access to  my print and digital commonplace books if I gave you my notebook and iPad.

I have decided to make my 2014 commonplace book public and I intend to use the Tumblr platform for this. I was inspired and influenced by Austin Kleon, the author of Steal like an artist, who I follow closely online. He shares his commonplace discoveries with others via his Tumblr site.

I will post a link to my Tumblr site early next year.

This is my last blog post for 2013 and I am taking a 2 week break from blogging. I will be back again in your email box or RSS feed or social media space on January 6, 2014. Have a Merry Christmas and a Great 2014.

My 2013 commonplace Notability file is over a hundred pages. I have gone through the first 33 pages and selected my favourite 10 quotes.

  1.  ‘I’ve made many millions but they brought me no real happiness. I’d barter them all for the days I sat on an office stool in Cleveland and counted myself rich on three dollars a week” John D. Rockefeller

  2. “I’ve always been pushing that envelope. I want to risk hitting my head on the ceiling of my talent. I want to really test it out and say: O.K., you’re not that good. You just reached the level here. I don’t ever want to fail, but I want to risk failure every time out of the gate.” Quentin Tarantino

  3. “A storyteller is kind of like a ventriloquist.” Francis Glebas

  4. “A story has to have all its moving parts for it to function. But the basic moving part is the character. The character confronts something, struggles with it, usually realizes something and then brings it to a conclusion. I try to tell people that stories are all alike the way snowflakes are all alike, and all different in the way snowflakes are all different.” Jon Franklin

  5. “Habits aren’t destiny — they can be ignored, changed or replaced. But it’s also true that once the loop is established and a habit emerges, your brain stops fully participating in decision-making. So unless you deliberately fight a habit — unless you find new cues and rewards — the old pattern will unfold automatically.” Charles Duhigg

  6. “Readability has a lot to do with what you are interested in reading.” David Carson

  7. “If my idea isn’t worth copying then it’s not a very good idea. If my product or business can’t handle a new competitor, then it’s not a very good product.” Nathan Kontny

  8. “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.” T.S. Elliot

  9. “Equipment will never help you write a lot; only making a schedule and sticking to it will make you a productive writer.” Paul J Silvia

  10. “Your content will only have an impact if it solves people’s needs every step of the way. Try this: Only write content that actually brings value to each person it touches. Your audience is made of people, not credit cards or userIDs.” James Buckhouse

5 replies on “Commonplace Books”

Thank you-very useful article. Learnt something new today; what a commonplace book is and that there’s a digital version. Mine would probably be full of Sheryl Sandberg quotes.

Hey Sean. I will be posting the Tumblr link in my next post on January 6. Watch this space.

Hello Sean. You have an interesting system. You start with paper then convert it to digital in Evernote. I also like to capture things manually on paper and the Tumblr commonplace is an experiment for 2014. I want to open up the process and share it with everyone hopefully some folks will find the things I post online useful and beneficial.

Please share your comments on this post

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.