What is a Commonplace Book?

Recently I realized how often I quote movies.  I grew up in the age of an amazing invention:  the VCR.  This meant I could spend hours watching and re-watching any great movie I came upon.   Don't get me wrong.  I was an avid reader as well....of Nancy Drew and Sweet Valley High.  But those books didn't offer much in the way of quoting possibilities.

commonplace book (1)

It wasn't until last summer as I was preparing to speak at a Classical Conversations Practicum that this realization hit me like a ton of bricks.  I began reading N.D. Wilson & Douglas Wilson's Book The Rhetoric Companion and they explained the idea of copiousness.  I have finally learned to slow myself down while reading and define terms that I am unfamiliar with.

Rhetoric - the art of speaking with propriety, elegance and force.

Copiousness - Abundance; plenty; great quantity; full supply.

- Webster's 1828 Dictionary

If I wanted to communicate effectively, I'd need to work on the quality of my storehouses of quotes.  Thankfully, N.D.Wilson offered a solution:  commonplace books.

the rhetoric companion exercise

Many use these in different ways, but I use my commonplace book to write down quotes with the intention of thinking about them more, and using them in discussions on the book, or in conversation with friends.  I'm not saying that it is a bad thing to quote movies - and I still often do - but the furniture of my mind consisted of plastic chairs, when it ought to have been decorated with lovely upholstered armchairs.

So our family purposed to grow in our copiousness.  

commonplace notebooks

When I first began, I tried to keep all notes of one book in one section.  This worked, but I had to finish my notes from one book before I could add another book.

commonplace books

When I plan on discussing a book in class, or in a book club, I try to write down chapters and page numbers so I can either look at the context, or share the reference.  I filled up a whole book last year with the books I read.  While I will continue to outline books as I go, I am reserving my commonplace book for the best of the best now.

I also love to doodle, and have been re-inspired by a fellow blogger to make some of my entries beautiful.  This allows me to contemplate and work on memorizing all at once.  Now I just write down the best of my blues that I have highlighted.

commonplace books word art

commonplace books doodles

My husband approaches his with art as well, but he prefers a blank notebook to curate his quotes.

commonplace books blank journal style

Each of my children also have a notebook of their own, and they all have different ideas of what to put in theirs.

commonplace books son

commonplace books daughter

commonplace books young daughter

My favorite aspect of the commonplace books is that it is a tool for you.  So don't feel burdened to follow anyone else's unless it blesses you in your vision for cultivating a copiousness from which to access as you endeavor to speak with propriety.

Here are some other great resources on creating a commonplace of your own:

What I Keep in My Commonplace Book from Sarah at Amongst Lovely Things

How and Why to Keep a Commonplace Book from Ryan at Thought Catalog

Keeping a Commonplace Book from Theryn at Toasted Cheese


  1. Tammi on February 2, 2016 at 8:15 pm

    I found this blog post from reading your highlighter post. 🙂 Wow! I want my commonplace books to be as beautiful and creative as yours!! 🙂

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