“A writer’s notebook is not a diary. Writers react. Writers need a place to record these reactions. That’s what a writer’s notebook is for. It gives you a place to write down what makes you angry or sad or amazed, to write down what you noticed and don’t want to forget. A writer’s notebook gives you a place to live like a writer.” - Ralph Fletcher
Commonplace books (or commonplaces) were a way to compile knowledge, usually by writing information into books. They became significant in Early Modern Europe.
“Commonplace” is a translation of the Latin term locus communis (from Greek tópos koinós, see literary topos) which means “a theme or argument of general application”, such as a statement of proverbial wisdom. In this original sense, commonplace books were collections of such sayings, such as John Milton’s commonplace book. Scholars have expanded this usage to include any manuscript that collects material along a common theme by an individual.
Such books were essentially scrapbooks filled with items of every kind: medical recipes, quotes, letters, poems, tables of weights and measures, proverbs, prayers, legal formulas.
Commonplaces were used by readers, writers, students, and scholars as an aid for remembering useful concepts or facts they had learned. Each commonplace book was unique to its creator’s particular interests.