Whether we like it or not, writing is essential for our 21st century life. When one is a skilled writer, it opens up many doors. Why? Well, those who can write eloquently also speak eloquently. And, those who can convey their ideas in a persuasive and structured manner are successful in whatever endeavor they may pursue.
The good news is that writing is a skill, and skills can be improved with practice. So, do not despair my troubled writer! With this daily habit I saw my writing improve, and I can guarantee that yours will too.
Ready for the secret? A Commonplace book.
I was introduced to the idea of a commonplace book when I was fifteen. I asked my English teacher what I could do to improve my writing and he gave me this invaluable advice:
” Musicians do not learn an instrument by composing their own songs. They learn by practicing the pieces of great composers. It is the same way with writing.”
You see, with a commonplace book all you need is a notebook. Every day (I prefer the morning) find a poem and copy it line by line into your notebook. But, after each stanza pause and read what you’ve written. Continue this pattern until you’ve finished copying the entire poem.
In this manner, you are rewriting some of the greatest words ever strung together by humans, just as you may practice Für Elise on the piano. Commonplace books are effective since you are physically writing words on paper and this is the best method for our brain to process information. Keeping up this habit daily provides many writing benefits that prove to be worthwhile:
1. You are exposed to different styles of writing:
I have an anthology of poems at home, so each morning I flip to a random page and copy down a poem. In my commonplace book, I have poems that are recent to poems that were written in medieval times. I have copied sonnets as well as haikus. The point is I have variety, and you will too if you stay consistent with the habit. When you’ve copied down many different poems you encounter many writing styles. Perhaps some you’ve never even seen before.
You’ll begin to notice what types of styles you like, and you can incorporate these elements into your own writing. You will also become a more versatile writer, as you will be aware of many different types of writing and you can alternate on which one to use depending on the piece you’re composing. Soon, you’ll start to enjoy the way your writing sounds in your head, for you will have finally found your voice.
2. You will Enlarge your Vocabulary:
Using the right word at the right time is crucial in any piece of writing. Thus, for any writer, it is important to have a solid vocabulary. By keeping a commonplace book you will encounter many new words. When this happens do not simply skim over the new word but look up its meaning.
Try and use the word in a couple of sentences, and soon it will become second nature. This is a fantastic way to learn a new word and expand your vocabulary.
3. Can Serve as Inspiration:
Writer’s block is any writer’s worst nightmare. But, lo and behold, the commonplace book may be the solution once again.
When I began my commonplace book, I found that in every poem there was always a sentence that stuck out to me. I was either mesmerized by its elegance or emotion. Thus, in every poem I copy, I highlight my favourite line. Whenever I need inspiration I flip through my commonplace book and re-read the lines that touched me. Just reading through these sentences invokes new ideas, as it helps me see what types of sentences make an impact on the reader.
Another writing exercise you can perform is making a poem out of only the sentences you’ve highlighted. Find a way to rearrange the words and sentences to create an entirely new composition. I like to call this the “Copy & Paste” exercise. I find it amusing, and it helps me find inspiration.
How to Keep a Successful Commonplace Book:
The key to reaping all the benefits of a commonplace book is consistency. There are some days where you might not want to copy a poem but do it anyway. Soon it will become second nature and a habit you look forward to. This process shouldn’t take longer than five minutes so anyone can incorporate it into their busy lifestyle.
My English teacher also suggested using cursive in commonplace books. They said to do so, as it helps you feel the “flow” of the words. So if you know cursive give it a try! You can even test different types of penmanship to see which one works for you. In addition to improving my writing, keeping a commonplace book also improved my critical thinking, as when I wrote down each poem I couldn’t help but analyze it along the way.
However, you don’t need to stick to poems for the entirety of your commonplace book, but I suggest that you start with them. Once you feel experienced why not copy down a passage from a novel you’re reading? You could also copy down little anecdotes and quotes. Commonplace books are a creative outlet, so don’t feel restricted. Just remember to enjoy the process.
Although keeping a commonplace book reaps many benefits, it will take some time to see the results. But if you stay true to the process, the results will be there. Anyway, you have nothing to lose by starting a commonplace book, as your writing can only get better. So why not start one today?
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