by Ivy Rutledge

Quotes and quotations are hot right now, as evidenced by the success of Cheryl Strayed’s new book of quotations, Brave Enough. In the introduction, Strayed says “I think of quotes as mini-instruction manuals for the soul … I believe in the power of words to help us reset our intentions, clarify our thoughts, and create a counter-narrative to the voice of doubt many of us have murmuring in our heads–the one that says, “You can’t, you won’t, you shouldn’t have.” Quotes, at their core, almost always shout Yes!

We see quotes everywhere: social media is swimming in them, usually overlaid on a coordinated image. Yet, these digital pieces of motivational ephemera float with the currents, and can be hard to find when you want them. So where do we go when we need a good quote? We look to websites with lists of quotations organized by topic, or we browse the quotes available on one of hundreds of quote apps. Popular culture has come a long way since John Bartlett published the first edition of his collection of quotations in 1855!

[pullquote]Quotes, at their core, almost always shout Yes! [/pullquote]

Building your collection of quotes has never been easier!

Compiling a collection of words and passages drawn from songs, books, and conversations is a growing hobby called commonplacing. Commonplace books have been used by students, writers, and thinkers since antiquity as an organizational tool for storing notes, passages, and ideas for future use. In contrast to a diary or journal, which usually contains the inner thoughts and ideas of the writer, a commonplace book is an outward looking book and typically contains the words and thoughts of other people.  Theryn Fleming, Editor of the Toasted Cheese Literary Journal, offers multiple pictures and examples in her article on commonplace books.

Beyond simply accessing a database for a usable quote for a speech or essay, collecting quotes and words from daily life can be a powerful resource.

[pullquote]Compiling a collection of words and passages drawn from songs, books, and conversations is a growing hobby called commonplacing.[/pullquote]

Potential Uses for a Commonplace Book

  • Creative people know that a steady infusion of fresh ideas from disparate sources is critical for new ideas. Capture the good ideas you come across and browse for inspiration.
  • If you read regularly for pleasure, copy down all of those terrific passages and gorgeous sentences you come across.
  • Build yourself a portable mentor and collect good advice. Bring it out in those moments when you could use some words of wisdom or a new perspective.
  • Create a reference book that contains words and notes around a hobby or specialized subject. Collect quotes and information that can be easily retrieved.
  • Use your commonplace book as a filter for the information overload of daily media consumption. Focus your memory on what is important and useful to you, and record those things in your commonplace book.
  • Students who keep a commonplace book during their research process can keep track of what they are finding and create a time-saving reference for themselves.
  • Compile quotations in combination with drawings and other creative responses. Use art journaling techniques to create a unique dialogue.
[pullquote]Commonplace books have been used by students, writers, and thinkers since antiquity as an organizational tool for storing notes, passages, and ideas for future use. [/pullquote]

Paper or Digital?

Ground your decision in how your collection will function and what will work best for you. Some people use a combination of paper and digital, while others are firmly committed to the old school aesthetic of pen and paper.

  • Paper is a traditional choice with many options for bindings, size, and flexibility.
    • Some people carry a smaller notebook with them for out-and-about use, transferring notes into a more permanent collection on a regular basis.
    • Index cards are another paper option that offers both convenience and flexibility.
    • Loose-leaf binders offer the option of adding category divisions or other organizational tweaks.
  • Digital options can be a good choice for collections that will be used mainly for reference.
    • Specialized apps like Quotebook perform essential functions and are easy to use.
    • For more complex functions, like academic research that requires cross-referencing, a platform like Evernote or OneNote can be a good option.
    • Many people use social media and blog platforms for public sharing of their collections.

 Make It Your Own

  • Once you’ve decided how to house your collection, tweak the format until it suits you. Add a personal touch and embellish your notebook with drawings or a fancy title page.
  • Don’t lose it! Back up your digital files, or if you are using a paper notebook then write your name and phone number on the inside cover.
  • Organize your collection chronologically or topically. Create a table of contents or index, or just go with the flow for a browsable book.
  • Shift your collection and process around as needed. Change the categories you’re using, or transfer your collection into a different medium. Keep it functional.
  • Find ways to make commonplacing a regular habit. Work it into your daily routine by browsing it in the morning with your coffee or by copying passages each afternoon during your lunch break.

Once you’ve discovered how satisfying a well-curated commonplace book can be, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without one.

Ivy Rutledge Headshot


About Ivy Rutledge
Originally from Rhode Island, Ivy Rutledge lives in the Piedmont of North Carolina. She works as a freelance writer and editor, and she teaches workshops on commonplace books, creative writing, and nature journaling. Her writing has appeared in The Sun, Home Education, Mom Egg Review, The New Southerner, and Ruminate. Read more at

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