The Study: Issue #32 — Keeping a Commonplace Book

Want to keep track of the knowledge and wisdom you learn each day? Start a commonplace book!

Keeping a Commonplace Book

With everyone home and looking for new projects to keep themselves busy, it’s the perfect time to start a commonplace book: a notebook or series of cards filled with knowledge and information you want to hold onto for reference later.

What a Commonplace Book is NOT

It’s not a journal, bullet or otherwise. It’s not your collection of morning pages. It’s not a stream of consciousness rambling of your thoughts.

A commonplace book is deliberate. It’s curated.

Okay, So What IS a Commonplace Book?

As Ryan Holiday puts it:

A commonplace book is a central resource or depository for ideas, quotes, anecdotes, observations and information you come across during your life and didactic pursuits. The purpose of the book is to record and organize these gems for later use in your life, in your business, in your writing, speaking or whatever it is that you do.

That’s about as simple and clear an explanation as you’re going to get. Which leads us to the biggest question of all:

How Do I Keep a Commonplace Book?

Well, I use mine to store favorite quotes, passages from books I read, and important lessons (not just facts), among other things.

It’s not about writing down as much information as possible. A commonplace book needs to be personal to you. It’s a bound record of your tastes and what you find important.

What you can keep in your commonplace book:

  • Quotes

  • Poems

  • Passages from books

  • What books you’ve read and what you learned from them

  • Learned wisdom

  • Family recipes

  • Jokes

  • Records of important conversations

What Should I Make My Commonplace Book Out Of?

My book stays on my desk – it’s not something I carry around with me. I use a Classic Hardcover Notebook from Write Notepads, but you can turn anything into a commonplace book.

Rolodex is easily updatable and if you make a mistake, just chuck the card and start a new one. Cards you may not need anymore can be archived to make room for fresh ones.

You can even trim index cards down to fit inside the plastic sheets on today’s Rolodex rotary systems. Use colors to help index the kind of information stored on each.

For those who want to stick to notebooks, however, here are some great brands to look into:

What if I’m Not at My Desk?

Carry a pocket notebook with you! Write Notepads makes some great ones, as does Field NotesStory Supply Co.Leuchtturm1917, and Rhodia. Record your thought on the go, then transcribe it into your commonplace book when you get home.

You can also use digital apps for this, too. Your phone’s Notes app would work well. I’m a particular fan of Drafts and Bear on iOS.

I’d argue toward NOT using these apps as your permanent commonplace book repositories though. Apps die and technologies change, but…

…paper is forever.


How JK Rowling Betrayed the World She Created” by Gabrielle Bellot | LitHub

How Apples Go Bad” by Helen Rosner | The New Yorker

The Owner of Strand, an Iconic New York City Bookstore, Just Made a Big Purchase of Amazon Stock” by Ed Lin | Barron’s

We Need to Talk About the [New York Times Bestseller] List” | Medium

Roxane Gay and Other Authors Reveal Salary Disparities With #PublishingPaidMe Hashtag” By Devon Ivie | Vulture

Scrivener Tip of the Week: Manual Collections

Need to keep track of a set of documents in your project? For example, maybe you want to collect all the scenes with a specific character, or ones that take place in a particular setting. Create a Collection!

  1. Select the documents you’d like to keep track of (Command + Click on Mac, CTRL + Click on Windows)

  2. Navigate to Documents > Add to Collection > New Collection
    View > Show Collections and click the plus (+) button at the top of the binder

  3. Give it a descriptive name and press Enter

That’s it! Now you have a collection of related documents you can keep track of. This won’t remove them from their existing places within the binder. It just gives you quick access to them at the top.


A section devoted to current submission opportunities without submission fees.

Chestnut Review — FREE submissions for flash fiction, poetry, art | Deadline: June 30

Vastarien: A Literary Journal — Nonfiction, literary horror fiction, poetry, art | Deadline: June 30

CHILLFILTR — short fiction, personal essays, poetry, memoirs | Deadline: Rolling

House Blackwood Weird Short Fiction Anthology: “Tales from OmniPark” | Deadline: June 30

Red Planet Magazine — Fiction, poetry, non-fiction, visual arts | Deadling: Rolling

Borrowed Solace: Fall 2020 Issue (Theme: Mysticism) — fiction, poetry, creative non-fiction, art & photography | Deadline: July 31

About Place Journal — creative non-fiction, poetry, fiction, hybrid work, video and artwork | Open for Submissions: June 1 | Deadline: August 1

Northwest Review — Translation, poetry, fiction, non-fiction, essay, graphic narrative | Deadline: Unclear

Little Something Press — flash memoir and fiction, poetry, visual art | Deadline: June 15

Volney Road Review — poetry, short fiction, creative non-fiction | Deadline: August 1st

33 1/3 — Short books about music and COVID-19 | Deadline: July 1

In Case You Missed It…

Check out last week’s newsletter, where I listed a bunch of resources for Black writers looking to break into the publishing industry.


If you like the work I do, be it here, or on any of the podcasts I work on, please consider sharing this newsletter, donating to my Ko-Fi, buying my book at one of the links below, or subscribing to my podcasts, The Shelf Life and Home Work. Every little bit helps.

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