Some of the greatest men and women in history have kept these books. 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.
Not only did all these famous and great individuals do it. But so have common people throughout history. Our true understanding of the Civil War, for example, is a result of the spread of cheap diaries and notebooks that soldiers could record their thoughts in.How And Why To Keep A “Commonplace Book”
But I am very encouraged to see that other people have their own unique way of recording the wisdom they come across in their own lives, in their own reading and during the course of the work. It was also exciting to hear how useful a commonplace book could be for as diverse of occupations as soldier to cook to artist. Whether you use notebooks or notecards or Evernote, a commonplace book is a fantastic idea that I promise will improve your life.Everyone Should Keep A Commonplace Book: Great Tips From People Who Do | Thought Catalog
While researching an article I wrote for Tim Ferriss’s blog, I discovered (and subsequently borrowed) a tool used by the famous essayist and experimenter Montaigne.
Montaigne kept what he called a “common place book” — a book of quotes, sentences, metaphors and miscellany that he could use at a moment’s notice. I keep a more modern — but still analog — version of this book. I write everything down on 4×6 note cards, which I file in boxes. (You could do this digitally, I suppose, but the physical arrangement — being able to lay them out on a desk — is critical to my work)
This means marking everything you think is interesting, transcribing it and organizing it. As a researcher, you’re as rich as your database. Not only in being able to pull something out at a moment’s notice, but that that something gives you a starting point with which to make powerful connections. As cards about the same theme begin to accumulate, you’ll know you’re onto a big or important idea.
For me, I have two book ideas percolating, each about 200 index cards full. Will something come of them? I don’t know, it depends on how many more connections I make, how many random coincidences align to bring those connections to light.
All I know is that my last book (close to 1,000 cards) came together this way.How I Did Research For 3 New York Times Bestselling Authors (In My Spare Time) | Thought Catalog