The Value of the Commonplace Book

THIS IS MY COMMONPLACE BOOK, a place to connect what I see with what I think, a place to store my interests and thoughts and explore my soul.

I use Evernote to create and build upon my curiosities. There’s not much rhyme or reason; I like the idea of the commonplace book because of this.

My journals are where the joy doesn’t just come from the words, but the writing in the margins, the scribbling of waves like I always did in school, the feel of the pen and paper.

Part of the exploratory journey of writing a story begins with just a few words or ideas and watching them unravel. The page is a space to ask questions and not need to find the answers, to learn, not solely to teach.

A commonplace book as a home for ideas and observations comes from the Renaissance thinker Leonardo da Vinci. In Walter Isaacson’s Biography of Leonardo da Vincihe writes of Leonardo’s genuine curiosity with the world around him. Isaacson writes:

In the 1480s, shortly after his arrival in Milan, he began his lifelong practice of keeping notebooks on a regular basis. Some of them began as loose sheets the size of a tabloid newspaper. Others were little volumes bound in leather of vellum, the size of a paperback or even smaller, which he carried around to make field notes.

He kept a book called a zibaldone to note the details that, through his words, allow us to imagine what the world was like five hundred years ago.

He wrote of beauty in the natural world, how people moved and spoke around the city, how dragonflies flapped their wings, how water eddies spun in Florence’s Arno River, why the sky was blue, and all of these observations culminated in his art. Isaacson writes:

These are not St Augustine’s Confessions, but rather the outward-looking enthrallments of a relentlessly curious explorer. His notebooks have been rightly called, ’the most astonishing testament to the powers of human observation and imagination ever set down on paper.

His notebooks are where he thought, where he sought to learn. Leonardo’s notebooks show us that he was human.

To read Leonardo’s notebooks provide a glimpse into the mind of an incredibly creative man who desired to know why the world works. This is why I write, because wondering is a joy in itself.

We don’t need to be a genius to be curious. To write is to wonder.

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