Once I made up my mind to keep a commonplace book, the next big decision was whether to keep an electronic commonplace book or a hand-written one.
Let’s look at both:
Electronic Commonplace Book
In my research, I found that many people today do use various electronic mediums. Those who don’t mind sharing their entries, use a blog, Tumblr or similar platform. Others use applications such as Evernote. Many however simply keep a giant Word file that they keep adding to.
The main advantage of keeping an electronic commonplace book is that it is much easier to organize. If you want to look for specific topics or even specific entries, you can just use the search function and find what you are looking for. You can add multi-media, website links, pictures, and can make it interactive. It requires no physical storage space, and as long as you remember to back up your files, it can be safely maintained for a long period of time.
The disadvantage is that the temptation to cheat will always be a factor. Instead of typing up the passages and quotes, and slowly taking in every word, you may be tempted to just copy/paste the information, or type it up like you are practising for the world’s fastest secretary role. Doing so will defeat the purpose of keeping a commonplace book.
Another disadvantage, which is a big deal for me, is the lack of a truly personal touch. Yes, you can use themes or include your graphics, and of course information you include is to your taste, but the fact remains that electronic information does not have the personal touch of hand-written items.
Hand-Written Commonplace Book
Hand-written commonplace book is the old-fashioned method. This is how it originated, and you could argue that there were no computers in those days, but the purpose behind it is the same today. By slowly and accurately copying passages and quotes from your reading material, you can take the time to savour the book. You don’t only read, but you digest the information and reflect upon it.
As a long-term journal keeper, and having experimented with e-journaling before, I am convinced that you miss out on something special when you don’t write important things down by hand. Hand-writing is a physical act. You are making the connection between the page, your words, and your mind. By keeping a hand-written commonplace book, you make it incredibly personal, because your commonplace book will not look like anyone else’s.
Another advantage of having a hand-written commonplace book is the tactile pleasure. Keeping a commonplace book properly is not necessarily an easy task. There will be times when you just want to read the book, and not worry about retaining information. There will be times when copying things down will feel like a chore. The more pleasurable your method of keeping a commonplace book is, the less likely you are to procrastinate or give up.
Once I knew I had to keep a hand-written commonplace book, I looked through all the new notebooks I currently have in my house. There were no spare Moleskines, but there was a notebook identical to the one I’m using for my quote journal. I thought that would be suitable, so I even removed the plastic wrapper. But my heart wasn’t in it. It just didn’t feel right. I wanted, most of all, to have plain pages not ruled. But all my currently available notebooks were ruled. After sleeping on it, I ordered a new plain Moleskine, and felt immediately better. It was the right choice for me, because having a plain page as opposed to a ruled page is an important issue for me, as is the size and the quality of the notebook. Moleskins are one of my most favourite brands, and though I use a variety of personal journals, I have this image in my mind of keeping many identical commonplace books over the next several decades.
Think about what matters to you, and what works for you. What will make this experience a pleasurable activity? Aesthetically pleasing, but also practical. If you intend to write on the go, don’t buy a heavy A4 notebook. Always mix creative choices with practical application.
As you can no doubt tell from the above, I’m completely on the side of the hand-written commonplace book. Unless you have a problem (medical or otherwise) which prevents you from being able to write by hand, you would gain a lot more by keeping a hand-written commonplace book as opposed to an electronic one.
Of course, keeping an electronic commonplace book is better than keeping none at all.
What do you think? Would you choose an electronic method, or go the old-fashioned way?