Entering into the art of commonplacing,

I have found that something wonderful happens when you write.

It has been called osmosis by handwriting,

this wonderful phenomenon of writing words out slowly in one’s own hand that allows the meaning to sink in deep:

The key was to write the ideas in your own hand. – by this means, by laboriously and carefully copying out insights of other people smarter than you, you could absorb and internalize their wisdom.

Call it osmosis by handwriting.

Alan Jacobs

This longing to absorb the wisdom of words through handwriting has also been described as learning what excellence feels like:

whenever I read a passage that moves me, I transcribe it in my diary,

hoping my fingers might learn what excellence feels like.

David Sedaris

This has certainly proven true in my own life time and time again.


I have always been the one who with a journal in hand, furiously writing out copious notes as I listen to speakers or course lectures.

I am forever reaching for a pen, scavenging my immediate surroundings for something, anything, to write with.

Even if I never return to that piece of paper again, many times, the process of writing alone is enough to make it a part of me in a way that simply hearing it never would.

Tracing my pencil across the page and sketching out multiple patterns before committing a quote to ink commits it to my mind and heart as well.   Creating a finished piece of hand lettered art to celebrate words worth remembering makes them my own in a way copying and pasting simply does not.

In a time with so many technological resources, it is tempting to forgo writing words out long with tools as archaic as pen and paper.  There are certainly many new tools that can aid one looking to catalogue their reading and learning with the various digital means at our fingertips.  In fact, Pinterest has been called the modern man’s commonplace book and I love my overflowing pin boards there too.  That being said, the two are intrinsically different.

We can’t avoid this wisdom of the ages:

Something wonderful happens when we write.

If you want to try your hand at commonplacing and hope to reap the immense benefits that have been enjoyed throughout the centuries, I highly encourage you to pick up your pen and write.


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