We’ve been discussing the ‘best’ way to make notes in the This Book Means Business Bootcamp – in quotes as of course your best way may be very different to my best way, and frankly my best way one day might be different to my best day on another.
One of the bootcampers brought up the concept of the ‘commonplace book’, a charmingly antique idea, you’d think: commonplace books – scrapbooks, essentially, compilations of whatever bits and pieces the compiler found interesting – started to become popular in the 17th century and in the 18th century no scholar worth his salt was without one. They’re usually thought of as writers’ tools, but in fact their use was much broader: yes, John Milton and Michel de Montaigne used one to collect quotations and ideas that appealed to them, but scientists such as Linnaeus used one to help him form his system of species classifications, even Sherlock Holmes used one to help solve mysterious crimes.
This isn’t journaling or keeing a diary, valuable though they are: it’s clipping and collecting. It’s not the output of your thinking, it’s the raw input.
And if you think about it, online tools such as Evernote and Pinterest are effectively commonplacing for the 21st century. They allow you to collect material from others, but to transform it into the raw material for your own creativity through the process of selection, curation, combination and original thought.
Mark Levy spoke in the Extraordinary Business Book Club about the importance of collecting your ‘fascination pile’ as a starting point for your book, and this is perhaps another word for it. Collecting all these unrelated elements, and then going back through them to pick out the patterns and relationships between them to create something new and significant.
There’s nothing commonplace about this kind of curious curation, sadly. But getting a sytem in place, creating the space for it, is a good first step. You might prefer to write it out, since that act triggers deeper memory and commitment, in a notebook, scrapbook or index cards. Or you might prefer an online space such as an Evernote file, Pinterest board, even a private blog.
Then go about your day knowing that when you hit upon gold, you have a place to keep it.