In an era of Instagram feeds and Pinterest boards, keeping track of creative ideas often feels like a solely digital practice. But while the majority of us reach for our phones to snap something inspiring or set a bookmark on our laptop, some of the world’s most successful individuals are using a different kind of documentation; one that uses pen and paper. Often confused with a journal, a commonplace book is essentially ‘ a creative ideas book’. Described by Wikipedia as ‘a way to compile knowledge, usually by writing information into books’, the commonplace book differs from a journal in that there is no chronological or narrative thread. Instead, there is no specific intention or purpose behind recording entries, they are simply a way of recording a piece of information that strikes a chord with you. They may contain clippings, images or sketches alongside written entries and they are an ‘inward facing’ object; a private record to be read by the author only.
‘Commonplacing’ first appeared in Early Modern Europe, specifically in Italy during the 14th century and known as the zibaldone, which roughly translates as ‘a heap of things’. Written in cursive script, they contained authors sketches alongside text. By 1685, commonplace books were becoming increasingly prevalent and in 1685, English philosophies John Locker published his book ‘A New Method of Making Common-Place Books’ in which he laid out his ideas for indexing and organising a commonplace book. His method continued to be widely used by students, scholars and academics for the next 100 years and essentially served as a way of personalising their reading experience.
Famous commonplace book keepers from the past include Leonardo da Vinci, Lewis Carroll and Virginia Woolf. To this day, commonplace books are used widely across the globe. Whether it’s to preserve inspiring information, or improve general knowledge, these books are used by everyone from prize winning authors to successful entrepreneurs, including Bill Gates and and Richard Branson.