A Commonplace Book Can Help You Write Your Memoirs

Ever hear of a commonplace book? It’s been credited as an early seed for the modern blog. Instead of a journal or diary of your own thoughts, it’s a record of ideas—articles, artwork and anything, really—that strike you as interesting. You also can jot down your own thoughts, but a commonplace book is for common topics, or “commonplaces,” and not meant to chronicle your life’s experiences. Artistotle was the first known commonplace book keeper; Thomas Jefferson was another fan of the genre.

You can create a commonplace book just as they did, or you can put a modern twist on it by starting a commonplace book file on your computer. Instead of bookmarking an article or a website, do a copy-and-paste and throw the whole piece into the computer file. If you clip an article from a real newspaper, if your child presents you with a drawing or if you have movie, concert or sports event tickets you’d like to save, capture any of those by scanning and saving the image to your commonplace book file. You also can add photographs.

When you sit down with your memoir, these ideas and images will jog your memory and inspire your writing. You even can craft an entire memoir around the commonplace book—just add a thread of text to explain it all. If you’d like to write a memoir but want to take your time and don’t know where to start, try keeping a commonplace book first and let your memoir project grow from there.