Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Commonplace Book or Knowledge Box Note card system

The Commonplace Book or Knowledge Box Note card system

When I was younger I would save magazine articles, write down quotes in my agendas, save random bits of paper I've wrote ideas and thoughts on.
Now I save text files, images, and mhts of blog posts and such, which I then burn to dvds for future reference {since web pages do get removed from the internet sometimes}.

I recently came across the idea of a commonplace book.

1} What is a commonplace book?
"Commonplace books (or commonplaces) were a way to compile knowledge, usually by writing information into books. Such books were essentially scrapbooks filled with items of every kind: medical recipes, quotes, letters, poems, tables of weights and measures, proverbs, prayers, legal formulas. Commonplaces were used by readers, writers, students, and scholars as an aid for remembering useful concepts or facts they had learned. Each commonplace book was unique to its creator's particular interests. They became significant in Early Modern Europe."
-defined by

Most forms of this are moleskin notebooks that many great authors {even the character of Sherlock Holmes} scribbled their ideas, thoughts, quotes, and bits of information.
Many museums have old commonplace books on display

I really like the format used by Ryan Holiday, taught to him by Robert Greene, of index cards in a box to easier move the "thoughts" around to mash them together.
As noted on this form on inspiration keeping works great for idea entrepreneurs or Infopreneurs

Robert Greene's method:
"I read a book, very carefully, writing on the margins with all kinds of notes.
A few weeks later I return to the book, and transfer my scribbles on to note cards each card representing an important theme in the book.
For instance, in Mastery, the theme of mirror neurons.
After going through several dozen books, I might have three hundred cards, and from those cards I see patterns and themes that coalesce into hardcore
chapters. I can then thumb through the cards and move them around at will. For many reasons I find this an incredible way to shape a book."
Robert Greene

"The colors represent categories, you are correct. So, for instance, with the War book, blue cards would be about politics, yellow strictly war,
green the arts and entertainment, pink cards on strategy, etc. I could use this in several ways. I could glance at the cards for one chapter
and see no blue or green cards and realize a problem. I could also take out all the cards of one color to see which story I liked best, etc. It also made the shoebox look pretty cool."
Robert Greene

2} Why should I want to create one?
A commonplace can be applied to the needs of bloggers, writers, students, and homeschoolers.

Imagine having every bit of knowledge you thought was important when you were 8, 10, 16 years old.
Now imagine how much knowledge you'd have on file at the age of 82.

Having some form of a commonplace would be useful for bloggers and infoprenuers, you can keep tips, blog post ideas, and more on hand.
Many writers keep a writer's notebook full of ideas, this is a form of commonplace.
Even Tumblr and Pinterest can be considered a form of commonplace, albeit a temporary one.

3} What are the different formats?
Many people are already using some form of commonplace. The key is to create a commonplace system that you can not only collect data, but be able to easily retrieve it for use.

"This is something people always forget: the reason to save things is so you can look at them later. You need a filing system, not a junk drawer. (Although, sometimes a junk drawer is more fun to sift through…)"
-Austin Kleon, author of Steal Like an Artist

Here's a list of the different formats:
a. notebooks
b. binders
c. notecards
d. files on harddrive
e. writer's notebook
f. Pinterest + Evernote

I currently use a combination: a notebook to copy notes from books, index notecards for my commonplace system, Pinterest as a bookmarking/sharing system, Firefox bookmarks, I save files on my hard drive which I burn to DVD for backup.
I've had many sites and blogs that I liked over the years that have since been removed from the Internet, so I try to save everything I think is cool.

4} How to create each format?
a. notebooks
Grab some blank notebooks, and start filling them with thoughts ideas. When you read take notes by coping down the things that you like, sure to cite the source by your notes to give credit where it's due.

b. binders
Write out info on paper and put in binders.
Can be a bit more organized than notebooks, since you can shuffle pages around and use dividers.

c. notecards
Decide what your personal table of contents will be- the categories for the cards.
Write each idea of information on its own index card {or equally sized slips of paper}. **link how to organize 11,000 ideas**

To me this is the best system for the bulk of your commonplace.
The main benefit of writing each idea on it's own index card is that you can mix and match ideas for different projects of work.

To help with organizing the notecards:
"In addition, Phaedrus designed five special categories to make the system as personal and flexible as possible: “Unassimilated,” a category for spur-of-the-moment thoughts and ideas; “Program,” a category that contained instructions for processing the other slips, a kind of software package for the computer of his mind; “Crit,” a category that listed all the slips that could be destroyed (the category also provided a mandatory waiting period to guarantee that no slips were destroyed in a moment of extreme anger or frustration); “Tough,” a category for ideas that were unique or just didn’t belong in any other grouping; and “Junk,” a category for duplicates of previous slips or ideas that needed more refinement."
Robert Pirsig {}

d. files on hard drive
This is a good method for saving the original source.
You could save your commonplace digitally using txt files in folders also, I do use this a bit as well.
I use this method for my rough drafts and such.

e. writer's notebook
"My books usually start as a stack of index cards. For Steal, we actually printed some of the unused cards as “Deleted Scenes” in the back of the book."
-Austin Kleon, author of Steal Like an Artist

Note to authors and infoprenuers- the index notecards can be good promotional content as well.

f. Pinterest + Evernote
I've used Pinterest, it's great for bookmarking the original source, but not for keeping just the bits of info.
It's also great for sharing your sources with others so they can be inspired as well.

Evernote I have not used, so Google it at your leisure.

5} What to put in your commonplace book or Knowledge box of index cards?
ideas that pop in your head
that cool dream you had
that cute thing your kid said
your favorite lyrics {best to pick out certain verses for each card rather than the whole song
Quotes & Passages
things that you read from blog posts, book, magazines that really catch you attention, or that you really want to remember
book ideas, story inspiration
things you learned
info you want to teach your kids

** The facts you should include with every card {bit of info}
a} the date your writing the card- this will give you a view of what you were interested in and when
b} the source of the info- to look it up later to see it in context, and to cite credit when/if you shre this info
c} THE INFO  {quote, idea, etc}
d} notes- your thoughts, how you might use this info, etc

In conclusion, a commonplace is a location to store all the cool bits of information you come across in your daily life that you want to save to use later.
It's a way to help your mind clear out some room, for new information.

So pick a format, or two, and start your commonplace today!
And homeschooling parents, you should introduce your child to the idea of a commonplace as well. It's a way for them to "play" with the knowledge so they will retain it better, and in a fun way.

If you have a commonplace, or after you start yours blog about it and share it in the comments!

Links to read about commonplace books

1 comment:

  1. Correction: link for old Doug Toft Post I saved on my Tumblr: