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Nobody starts from scratch

We are typically taught to begin writing by picking a topic as the first step. But we can't decide if we haven't read about anything. And the decision to read comes from an existing interest.

Creativity never starts from a blank slate. We start researching long before, with rich material to work with. That is why an external note system is so critical: It makes the writing process possible.

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Books seldom contain only the precise insights you were looking for. There may be many ideas, but only a fraction will be useful and relevant at a given time.

  • He wrote down any interesting or potentially useful ideas on uniformly sized index cards on one side only.
  • Each new index card got a sequential number, starting at 1.
  • When a new source was added to that topic or something to supplement it, he would add new index cards with...

Organizing notes by topics and subtopics is a classic mistake. It prevents you from discovering meaningful connections between them. While organizing by topics is useful for a librarian, it is not for a writer.

We will become better when we intentionally expose our work to high-quality feedback. Feedback comes in the form of peers, teachers, social media, rereading our own writing. However, notes are available any time you need it.

We are often told to "make a plan" upfront and in detail. Success is then measured by our ability to stick to this plan.

Writing is the medium in which thinking takes place.
Writing does not begin when we start to put words on a page. It starts much earlier, as we take notes on articles and books, podcasts, conversations, and life experiences we have. 

A note is only as valuable as its context - the relationships, associations, and connections it holds to other information.

When we take notes, it should not become a stack of forgotten thoughts. Our notes should be a rich and interconnected collection of ideas we can draw on regardless of where our interests lead us.
A smart note is a reliable and simple external structure to think in - like a second memory...

Writing is often taught as a collection of tricks: brainstorm ideas, make an outline, use a three-paragraph structure, repeat the main points. Each one makes sense in isolation but requires a holistic perspective.

A slip-box system will lead us to save contradictory or paradoxical ideas. These ideas become very valuable. It will be easier to develop an argument or pros and cons than with a string of one-sided arguments or quotes.

Any ideas that are kept private are as good as the ones you never had. Everything we write down and share with someone else counts: notes to a friend, homework to a professor, emails to a colleague, presentations to clients. The feedback you receive will propel your thinking forward.

German sociologist Niklas Luhmann (1927-1998) designed his slip-box made up of index cards. They were thematically unlimited. His simple system produced a prolific output. Over his 30-year career,  Luhmann published 58 books and hundreds of articles while completing his two-volume masterwork, The...

Many people take notes in an ad-hoc fashion. They might underline a sentence or write a comment in the margin. If they have a good idea, they write it down in one of many notebooks. They might save an except from an article. In the end, their different kinds of notes in many places and formats c...

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created 6 ideas

Note-taking has played an important role in human history. Ancient Greeks used the word hypomnema (ὑπόμνημα) to describe what could be translated as a note, a reminder, or an anecdotal record.

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created 7 ideas

Here are some ideas to find the app you need to build a note-taking productivity system that suits your style of organizing information.

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