A Commonplace (book/blog)

Have you ever stumbled upon an idea that moved you into action? This last week I did in a minor way after listening to an episode of the sketchnote army podcast with Austin Kleon. In that episode he mentioned the way he was using his notebooks and within a day, I had picked up a new notebook to experiment. Perhaps this idea will inspire you into action as well. Or maybe not.

Creating a commonplace book

Austin shared how he had started carrying a pocket notebook and logging various elements during the day. Later he’d go back over those pages and highlight the key items and ideas. Eventually, they might turn into a blog post or a book. I had heard him talk about similar notebooking techniques before when he called it a commonplace book. This inspired me to go out, buy a new a6-ish size moleskine and record. I had already been doing something similar at my work desk on pages of A4, but the pocket book had the advantage of being with me not only at my desk but also on the train, when in bed and basically everywhere.

There’s something charming about keeping an analogue notebook in an increasingly digital world.

commonplace book quote

the digital commonplace

Of course, the natural extension of this new notebook was to start sharing some extracts online, specifically on micro.blog. It reminded me of the charm of early blogging. When it wasn’t so serious, when you didn’t need a specific goal or career from it and mistakes were useful and a sign of growth. You didn’t (and don’t) have to present yourself as an expert in something you just started out in.

This digital commonplace book or adversersia had some obvious advantages such as linking to music or videos online as well as sharing items. Even though analogue tools have a charm, digital tools provide some extra functions. Of course, we don’t have to choose one or another, we can have both.

por que no los dos

The need to dig deeper

Keeping this notebook has made me really appreciate deeper content and devalue shallow, entertainment focused items. I want to be clear here, I’m not saying entertainment is wrong, I’m not saying you should do or feel the same, this has been my reaction. When reading a book or something of greater depth, material is provided for the commonplace book. A quote here, an idea there, a beautiful graphic to copy. When the material is shallow, repeating the same talking points, then it’s much rarer for my book to see any difference. I’ve almost gamed myself to want to read more books than blogs.

I had actually been feeling guilty or FOMO about not being to keep up with all the micropodcast that have been starting up (especially with starting one myself. How can I expect people to listen to my own if I don’t listen to theirs?) but this notebook has helped me deal with that.

We can’t do every great things, and trying to have it all, result in having nothing.

By trying to keep up with all these podcasts and blogs, I’m missing out on reading great books. So I’m making a commitment, to fill my adversaria, to read great books and go deeper.

Chris J Wilson @ChrisJWilson