The Value of the Commonplace Book

Vincent Van Patten

Keep a commonplace book to observe and take notes, a practice mastered by the Renaissance thinker, Leonardo da Vinci.

Photo by Jordan Madrid on Unsplash

This is my commonplace book, a place to connect what I see with what I think, a place to store my interests and thoughts and explore my soul.

I use Evernote to create and build upon my curiosities. There’s not much rhyme or reason; I like the idea of the commonplace book because of this.

My journals are where the joy doesn’t just come from the words, but the writing in the margins, the scribbling of waves like I always did in school, the feel of the pen and paper.

Part of the exploratory journey of writing a story begins with just a few words or ideas and watching them unravel. The page is a space to ask questions and not need to find the answers, to learn, not solely to teach.

A commonplace book as a home for ideas and observations comes from the Renaissance thinker Leonardo da Vinci. In Walter Isaacson’s Biography of Leonardo da Vinci, he writes of Leonardo’s genuine curiosity with the world around him.

“In the 1480s, shortly after his arrival in Milan, he began his lifelong practice of keeping notebooks on a regular basis,” writes Isaacson.
“Some of them began as loose sheets the size of a tabloid newspaper. Others were little volumes bound in leather of vellum, the size of a paperback or even smaller, which he carried around to make field notes.”

He kept a book called a zibaldone to note the details that, through his words, allow us to imagine what the world was like five hundred years ago.

He wrote of beauty in the natural world, how people moved and spoke around the city, how dragonflies flapped their wings, how water eddies spun in Florence’s Arno River, why the sky was blue, and all of these observations culminated in his art.

“These are not St Augustine’s Confessions, but rather the outward-looking enthrallments of a relentlessly curious explorer. His notebooks have been rightly called, ’the most astonishing testament to the powers of human observation and imagination ever set down on paper.”

His notebooks are where he thought, where he sought to learn. Leonardo’s notebooks show us that he was human.

To read Leonardo’s notebooks provide a glimpse into the mind of an incredibly creative man who desired to know why the world works. This is why I write, because wondering is a joy in itself.

We don’t need to be a genius to be curious. To write is to wonder.

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My name is Vincent Van Patten. This is my home, a place to share who I am and what lights my soul on fire. I’m a writer, media creator, and co-host of The Dare to Dream Podcast. Most importantly, I’m an inspired citizen of our ever-changing world. I strive to learn all that I can about how we’ve progressed to where we are today as individual cultures and as a planet. It’s my passion to fill every day with exploration and creativity no matter where I am, whether in California crafting my latest project or on my way to discover someplace new. By writing about my experiences, connecting with people and the earth, and remaining present, I always feel at home. I write to express my perspective of daily living, from the thoughts in my head to the relationships we share as human beings. I write about travel, culture, books, life, philosophy, spirituality, health, self-improvement, and history. I also write poetry and short stories  —  doing so soothes the soul. I believe we’re here to challenge ourselves by questioning all we think we know. When we do, we open our minds to a way of living we could never have imagined. This life is a journey with no finish line in sight. I hope to leave a positive impact with every step I take.

Del Mar, CA

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