Friday, November 22, 2013


My friend Jean sent me a text message last week suggesting that I google "common place books". So I did. I don't know how I've never run across this term before! Here's one definition of the practice of "commonplacing":

"Commonplacing is the act of selecting important phrases, lines, and/or passages from texts and writing them down; the commonplace book is the notebook in which a reader has collected quotations from works she or he has read. Commonplace books can also include comments and notes from the reader."  (From "Commonplaces: An Introduction" by John Hilgart and Van Hillard

Some other definitions:

  • A book into which notable extracts from other works are copied for personal use.
  • A notebook in which you enter memorabilia.
  • The recording of words and ideas in a commonplace.

It turns out that I have been "commonplacing" all of my life. As a teenager I used to write down poems and quotes I liked and kept them in a "diary". As an adult, when I started keeping written journals, alongside my thoughts and prayers I have filled my journals with quotes and passages from books, lyrics from songs, quotes from conferences I've attended, and quotes from pastors Sunday messages. In recent years I've carried this practice into art journaling, combining what I've practiced in my written journals with art.

I'm a note-taker. I take notes during the sermon every Sunday. I take notes at conferences, during meetings, even during conversations at times. I take notes while I read books. There is something about writing something down that cements it into my mind and my heart. It is also a habit I developed through the years to help me stayed focused. I suffer from a wandering mind syndrome. The note taking during sermons and conferences keep me from getting distracted by any form of movement or noise that goes on around me. Note taking during meetings or conversations help me stay present and come back to something I want to say without interrupting (most of the time!). Note taking keeps me engaged.

And now that I art journal, taking this practice and adding color and texture and paper and ink and paint thrills me and fills me to no end!

I like the name "commonplace". I have a box full of my written journals from 20+ years. Occasionally I will re-read them. I especially like to do this at the end of the year and look back over the past year and see growth, or lack of growth, or to remind myself of where I have journeyed over the year. When re-reading my journals I often will come across the quotes I've recorded from books and usually will return to that book and read the passages again. I have a habit (good or bad will be determined by each person's opinion) of reading multiple books at the same time. I have books I'm reading that go along with whatever we're studying for our Creative Team meetings at work. I may have a book I'm reading to help me with a particular problem or interest. Our staff team does a weekly book study, so I have that book I'm reading. I usually have a book that I read along with Scripture and prayer each morning that is a part of my time with God. The downside to this habit is that many times I don't finish all the books when I have started them. But my practice of commonplacing helps me return to them when I have re-read a quote or passage.

So, now, thanks to Jean, I have a name for this practice I've done most of my life in one form or another. It makes me happy - the practice and the name. :)

My most recent "commonplace" art journal pages:

All of these quotes happen to be from the book we are reading for our staff book study; Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry by Ruth Haley Barton. It's a great book and one I highly recommend for anyone who is in ministry vocationally ~ paid or unpaid. I am especially appreciating her chapter on spiritual rhythms and our need to heed God's command on us to rest.

Blogging and sites like Tumbler and Pinterest seem to me to fit into the category of commonplacing in out tech age. My friend Jean uses her Tumbler blog as a commonplace space.

Do you have a commonplace type of practice?

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing your beautiful pages and teaching about this little-known but very beneficial practice. I love the quote about rhythms.