Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Commonplacing & Nonsense Writing Part 1: The Commonplace

There is a tiny writer in me that comes out every once in a while, either against my will, or with much kicking and screaming involved. I know, those two are total opposites and don't make sense together, but it's just what happens. It's the love hate relationship of any writer. (And by the way, I don't be any means claim to be a grammarian, but a tiny writer, so if you find misplaced commas or sentences that don't make sense, just know I'm not losing sleep over it. haha)

Anyways, with my creative workshops starting up again soon, and the School of Worship Arts that starts this next week, I wanted to set aside some time to be creative and write. And since I've made several comments about commonplace books and nonsense writing, I thought I'd share with you this time.

"First we read, then we write." -Emerson

This is a book, quote, and philosophy of writing that I hold to. The simple idea is that any reading we do in magazines, dictionaries, letters, fictional stories, theological books, the Bible, or anything at all, we can react to with our experinces and thoughts, resulting in our own notes. Little notes taken in the side margins of books or any body of writing is called marginalia. That's where I got the name for this blog: my notes in the margins of life, from a (hopefully) renewed mindset. You can pick up almost any book on our many bookshelves and know immediately if I've read it or not by scanning through the pages and looking for notes in the margins. If there are none, than the book has probably never been read by me. haha This is why I don't like borrowing books from people or the library because I can't seem to the break the habit of sprawling ink all over their pages.

The first book I ever remember annotating (taking notes in) was C.S. Lewis' Till We Have Faces. The storyline in this book follows a lot of the book of Matthew from the Bible, so I couldn't help but continually make connections between the plot and characters.

In the above picture you can see my little notebook on top of the bigger one. These are called commonplace books, and many thinkers (great or not-so-great, depending on your opinion) used them to record thoughts, and later organize them into larger bodies of work. Some of these people include Jonathan Edwards, D.L. Moody, Emerson, Pascal, and many, many others. Honestly, most artists or writers of any kind that you look in to probably have a commonplace of some sort. Go pick one up today and start practicing. When I started my creative workshop I brought one for each person in the class to begin using that day.

Things to include in your commonplace:

- grocery lists
- quotes to remember
- thoughts and reactions to things you're reading, movies you're watching, conversations you're having
- creative writing ideas (many of my poems have started as one liners in my commonplace)
- books, essays, or poems to remember to find and read
- phone numbers or addresses to remember
- recipes
- Bible verses
- things God is personally revealing to you
- notes from meetings, sermons, Bible study groups
- interviews (I write articles on the side for various magazines, so this has been helpful)

For the most part, my commonplace is full of my own thoughts and reactions to things, but these are some other ideas to include to help you get started. Here are a few notes quickly taken in my commonplace:

3/22: "'Being an artist is not a higher calling than being a Christian.' I need to remember this!"

3/23: "The person God wants me to be is so much more Christ-like and better than the person I want to be. The person He wants me to be will accomplish so much more than the person I want to be can."

4/2: "'Odd how the creative power at once brings the whole universe to order.' -V Woolf Reminds me of God creating and bringing the world into creation and order."

10/15: "'Ideas carried out stimulate more ideas.' -The Hidden Art of Homemaking (WOMEN: READ IT) by Schaeffer pg. 49" (I always include page numbers for quick reference if I ever, and often do, include quotes in bigger pieces of writing.)

Whatever your art, photography, writing, painting, gardening, stay-at-home-mom and homemaker, keeping a commonplace will help out your creative process!

In my next post I'll go over what nonsense writing is, and what mine looks like.

Happy reading and writing!!


  1. I didn't realize there was a term for it, but apparently my cell phone note pad is a defacto commonplace book, or perhaps a commonplace e-reader would be more apropriate.

    1. There we go Tony!! I think I'll continue to do little posts about commonplacing in the future, so one I was thinking about was the different types of commonplace books people use, cell phones being one of them. ;)

  2. I love this concept! I may have to start. (On a side note...sorry if I blew up your FB feed tonight with "likes." You just have so many cute pics of you and your husband!

    1. And you, as a photographer, can annotate art and pictures and keep notes in there of that stuff as well. :) It's a tiny world of creativity in your pocket!
      haha Thank you! It was sweet to hop on this morning and see all your likes. :) Hope you and the fam are doing well!! :)


  3. I love having this word 'commonplace' in my vocabulary! Thanks for teaching it to me! I've been working on some little books for my kiddos, mostly writing on their birthdays, but also when I have a spare moment to share some things that are happening in our little family. I would have loved having something like that from my mama, so I'm hoping someday they'll appreciate it. I also ordered that little book you suggested by Nathaniel Hawthorne....hoping it comes soon!

    1. Awesome! You will love the book. :) I hope you enjoy practicing the art of commonplacing. ;)