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Create a Digital Commonplace Book

Creating a commonplace book is somewhat like marking your favorite lines in a novel with the Amazon Kindle highlights feature — except your personal one-stop knowledge repository can also include song lyrics, movie dialogue, poems, recipes, podcast transcripts, and any inspiring bits you find in your reading and listening. The commonplace book is not a new concept: Copying down your favorite lines from other people’s’ works into your own annotated notebook was a standard exercise in Renaissance.

Europe and the idea can be traced to the Roman era. But here in the modern world of digital connectivity, you don’t’ have to keep everything in one physical location. With the right app, you can use your smartphone, tablet, or computer to collect and sync new content for your collection — and use the search function later to find specific entries. Here’s’ how to get started making a commonplace digital book — or how to convert that battered notebook of thoughts and quotes you’ve’ been keeping all along.

Get Inspired

If you’ve’ never made a commonplace book before, first learn how others have used them. Academic libraries and museums are home to many commonplace books, and you can see them without leaving the couch. John Milton’s commonplace book is on the British Library site, and the personal notebooks of other writers and thinkers pop up quickly with a web search.

The Internet Archive has many scanned commonplace books to browse — including one compiled by the actor Alec Guinness.Credit…The Internet Archive, The Yale University Library, has scanned pages of commonplace historical books in its holdings, and the Harvard Library has a few in its own online collection, as well as images of a version of John Locke’s 17th-century guide to making commonplace books, which was initially published in French. And the Internet Archive has hundreds of digitized commonplace books for browsing or borrowing, including one from Sir Alec Guinness.

Notes for Your Notes

For sheer simplicity, collecting your commonplace entries in a word-processing document stored online is one option. If you find that approach unwieldy, consider the note-taking app that came with your phone — Apple’s Notes or Google Keep. Just enter quotations and other text snippets whenever you get the urge. To skip things or pasting, Google Keep can scan and transcribe text from book pages images, and Apple’s Siri voice

assistant or the Assistant can create a note and take dictation. The note-taking app on your smartphone, like Google Keep, left, or Apple’s Notes, can be a place to stash favorite quotations and other content for your digcommonplace digitalok.Credit…The New York Times You can also use your notes app through your computer’s web browser, where it’s’ often easier to cut and paste items and apply text formatting. Your changes will update across all the devices, as long as you’re’ logged into the same Apple ID or Google Account everywhere.

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