… because famous people do it

The website (and great podcast) the Art of Manliness has a great article from 2010 about the pocket notebooks of famous people.

Some of the worst advice you could get would probably be “you should do this because it’s what famous people do”, but let’s look into this.  What do famous people all have in common – apart from a heavy dose of ego?

I’d say it’s clarity of purpose in at least one area of their life.  For good or bad, what defines someone famous is that they have confidence in themselves to pursue something nobody has done before, or to pursue the same thing but with a dedication and purpose that most other people do not have.

To have purpose you have to understand and motivate yourself.  Someone else can drive you but then your limit will be that person’s motivation.  Unless you are being mentored by Kanye West or Richard Branson, that won’t be enough to become famous.

You need to understand yourself, to soak in the world and re-combine what you see and hear.  You do that to understand the topic but also to understand yourself, to discover what angles you are using to look at and to explore new ones.

It is what Steven Johnson calls “in a very real sense textual play”, something earnest university students do under prompting from their lecturers, and which Google replicates in algorithm format whenever you type in a search result.

The difference in having a notebook you can hold is that it is an external construction that has become a part of you, you intellectual beaver.  It is something you can put down and forget, then pick up after months, years, and look at with fresh eyes and fresh insight.

Blogs, Google searches, they are useful but they are intentional.  Evernote and computer folders can become breeding grounds for inspiration, but they are hard to navigate and could never compare to simply skimming and flicking through the pages of a worn notebook.  Well, at least not until I figure out how to use Tags in Evernote the right way.


I changed this blog address and made a Facebook page!

‘morethancommonplace.wordpress.com’ is now https://panningforink.com.  Like the new by-line on the blog, this site about commonplace books, note-taking and what ‘memory in analogue’ can teach us about ourselves.  It is about how society has moved from zibaldones to Evernote, parchment to Moleskine and Field Notes and everything in between.

Most of all, it is about the artistry of note-taking itself.  It is about sifting through the records, the history, and the notebooks themselves for shiny nuggets of inspiration.

As well as the new website, I have created a new Facebook page called Panning for Ink.  This is a tiny blog site right now with a handful of followers, and it would not take long for me to thank every one of you who follow my blog.  So, thank you and I hope you visit my new Facebook link in the New Year!

I will be posting about note-taking, and especially commonplace books.  This means reviews of books online, their history, their authors.  Also, what the style and structure of those notes reveal ‘between the lines’.

It will be great to hear from you with comments, ideas and thoughts about how to grow this site, as well as any original posts of yours that you’d like me to promote (of course, with you as the author).

So thank you to my small, small list of followers.  I will talk to you soon.

Commonplace book review – Matthew Day(s?)

What does it mean to be remembered?  In around 360 years will someone be reading your words only because, by chance, a single page of your notes had a passing reference to some person, or event that history decided was “noteworthy”?


What if that is history’s only memory of you?  Despite what you think is worth remembering?  Do you care if your thoughts are remembered but you are not?  Or if they are remembered but people are not sure if it was you who said them or someone else… your son, or maybe your father?

Around the early 1600s, either Matthew Day, or Matthew Day, wrote a utilitarian commonplace (you can find it here), in a satchel-sized, gold-embossed book…  Continue reading