It’s been 9 months since I started playing with Evernote as a way to create a digital commonplace book (see our original post here) and I thought I’d give an update on how it’s going.
In a word: good. And getting better. But still not perfect. Today I have 436 entries, with anywhere from one to 50+ quotes per entry. Most of my entries come from books I’ve read on my Kindle, but I also have entries that include websites, physical books, and original notes I’ve made based on thoughts, ideas, and conversations with people.
My CPB process today
I use a single dedicated notebook in Evernote to save quotes, pictures, and ideas from things I read. It’s simply called “Commonplace Book” and I share it with the common place’s co-founder, Elise. I love the idea of a handwritten CPB but the advantages of digital (search, ease of copying long passages, always available on mobile/laptop/tablet) outweigh the benefits of creating a beautiful artifact (err, beauty).
I like Evernote because it has well-synced mobile and web apps, makes clipping from the web easy, and can read text within images. I have a Plus account, which is an upgrade that costs $34.99 a year, but I don’t need it for my CPB needs (I have another project where I upload lots of high resolution photos which require more than the 60 MBs you get for free in the Basic membership).
Here’s how I gather entries today.
Kindle Notes & Highlights
I’ve been using the Export Kindle Notes feature to send myself an email with a pdf of all of the highlights and notes I’ve made in a book everytime I finish one. I then go to my email and drag that pdf over to create a new entry in Evernote. This creates a single entry for each book. It’s ugly and an awkward process but it works (and it’s free!).
Just last week I came across clippings.io and it takes away all of the clumsiness of this manual process. It’s pretty much built for this purpose. I used it to upload notes from more than 300 books I read on my Kindle and it only took a few minutes. It costs $1.99 a month, which can be kind of pricey over time but it was totally worth getting this big archive into my CPB. I don’t yet know if it’s worth the price on an ongoing basis. I’ll report back in a few months.
Print Books and Magazines
Most of my book reading these days happens on a Kindle but when I find myself reading an old-fashioned print book, I can still add entries to my CPB. I just snap a quick photograph on my smartphone. It works just using the camera function, but often looks nicer if I use an app like Scannable and if I crop it as neatly as I can so it includes only the relevant text. Either way, Evernote is smart enough to scan the text within the photographs so that the content is searchable. It’s not usually pretty, but it works.
Clippings from Websites
Whenever I come across something interesting on a website that I want to include in my CPB, I use my Evernote Web Clipper plug-in for my Chrome browser. It’s an easy tool that allows you to clip entire articles, screenshots, or selections and because my default Evernote notebook is my Commonplace Book, it’s just a simple one-click action for me.
Random Notes from My Day
Another fairly frequent entry to my CPB is snippets of conversations and ideas from my day. Those are easy to add by hand using the Evernote app on my smartphone. For example, last night I went to a reading with the delightful Nikki Giovanni and she said something I wanted to remember. I just opened my app and typed it in.
So, all-in-all, things are going pretty well and I am still loving my CPB. I still want to figure out a few things — an elegant solution for Instagram, a way to include excerpts from audio books or podcasts, and a way to randomly surface CPB entries, just to name a few — so I will continue to experiment and will, of course, report back. If you keep a commonplace book, I’d love to hear about how it works for you!