A Commonplace Practice for the Not-So-Commonplace

A Commonplace Practice for the Not-So-Commonplace

Kon’nichiwa, blog readers! It is officially summertime and after a long, overloaded semester I’ve been treating myself to the myriad of anime that I “need to watch” according to every person I come into contact with—I think that’s a pretty good sign that I’ve chosen the right career path. But I digress: today is not the day for an anime post. Now don’t look so disappointed! I’ll do one of those eventually…

No, today is about improving creativity using a method taught by good ol’ Professor Heywood. If you folks recall, I talked about his lectures on creativity in a previous blogpost entitled, “What is Creativity?” This adorable sage of an old man has taught me more about fostering creativity than I ever thought possible in one semester, especially about keeping yourself creatively motivated. One of the assignments we had in class was to keep a Commonplace Book throughout the semester to be turned in at the end as a final exam of sorts.

For those of you who don’t know, a Commonplace Book is like a journal for things that inspire you; a place where you collect quotes and images that remind you of why you wanted to create in the first place. As it turns out, famous writers, philosophers, inventors, and other brands of historically awesome peeps have kept Commonplace Books. According to Ryan Holiday’s “How and Why to Keep a ‘Commonplace Book’”, here is a taste of the kinds of minds that have practiced using a Commonplace Book:

…Marcus Aurelius kept one–which more or less became the Meditations. Petrarch kept one. Montaigne, who invented the essay, kept a handwritten compilation of sayings, maxims and quotations from literature and history that he felt were important. His earliest essays were little more than compilations of these thoughts. Thomas Jefferson kept one. Napoleon kept one. HL Mencken, who did so much for the English language, as his biographer put it, “methodically filled notebooks with incidents, recording straps of dialog and slang” and favorite bits from newspaper columns he liked. Bill Gates keeps one.

And if Bill Gates keeps one, you know these things have to work, right? I mean, he like, invented the internet or some biz.

So if I have you convinced, I’ll start getting into what really matters here: how to keep a commonplace book. Firstly, Holiday recommends “reading widely,” meaning being open to finding quotes from even the most unexpected places—even a trashy book can have a gem of a line in there somewhere. Also, you don’t have to take from books alone. Look for lines from movies, TV shows, songs, interviews, radio shows, and basically anything where words happen. Here are a couple of examples of pages from my commonplace book where I took quotes from some of my favorite movies:


qftpp2Before you ask, yes I saved a Nicolas Cage monologue. Good eye, reader! I can see you share my love of the Cagemeister. Moonstruck is one of my favorite romances, so I had to include something from that, plus I really wanted to draw Cher’s hair. Isn’t it magnificent? And who didn’t get a little choked up at Roy Batty’s dying monologue in Blade Runner? To those of you who didn’t, you may cast the first paper unicorn (that one goes out to that one movie buff that’s reading this blog post).

Writers most often focus on quotes, but as I mentioned before, this can also include images that inspire you. Being a visual person, I take a good deal of my inspiration from visual artists like the drawing from this page of my commonplace book by Tracy J. Butler:


And finally, surf the web for quotes if you’re feeling a little uninspired! I have to say, it is much more satisfying to find the quotes yourself than to scroll through a list that someone else has put together, but it’s like a little creativity cup of joe that reenergizes your mind and keeps you from getting too discouraged. Here’s one I found doing just that:


Once you find something you like, record it somewhere you know you’ll remember it, like in a word document, the notes on your phone, a Pinterest board, or whatever method you feel most comfortable using. Then, prepare to transfer it to a journal or notebook (anything as long as it’s hand-written so you can savor the quote as you write each letter). I had to design each page with the quote in mind as part of my assignment, so just because I made mine look pretty doesn’t mean that it is a requirement for you. It does make the process more enjoyable if you include a little doodle with it though. So dig for things that make you laugh, feel happy, sad, inspired, or even angry if that’s what you’re in the mood for. Find things that remind you to stay positive in your pursuit of creativity, because lord knows that sometimes it gets hard to keep making beautiful things. Look to people you admire to remind you of who you want to be and why you want to write, draw, sing, etc. And more than anything, remember that you are not alone in this everlasting pursuit of creation.

Have fun, lovely, intelligent reader!

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