3 min read

On Writing Notes

On Writing Notes
Photo by Mike Tinnion / Unsplash

How my love for notes keeps me from progress and what I will change
From: My Perfect Digital Setup

These were all situations which occurred to me - while showering, while driving, while taking my daily walk - and which I eventually turned into books. In no case were they plotted, not even to the extent of a single note jotted on a single piece of paper, (...).

-Stephen King in On Writing

There are three different notebooks on my desk, a stack of post-its, and my calendar. Things 3, Notion, and Apple Notes are open on my computer, and they are all filled with thoughts, to-dos, or random ideas. I love taking notes and the feeling of working on paper, but these efforts don’t get me anywhere—the amount of notes I take stands in no relation to the output I am producing.

Stephen King sits down and writes (action) while I take or organise notes (motion). Of course, I cannot compare myself to King, who is a master of discovering storylines and can unfold them on paper, but I can take inspiration from his way of working.

(Why do I take so many notes?)

I fear losing my ideas - some of them could turn out to be unique projects or businesses. If inspiration strikes, I have to be ready to capture my thoughts, and then I must be sure that they are safe. This leads to an endless circle of organising and re-organising notes, which takes a lot of time I don’t spend creating content.

Paradoxically, my desire to prepare for success keeps me from it. Maybe, if I stopped taking notes and started working on them instead, I’d reach my goals faster.

Roam Research - The tool I didn’t know I needed

Allowing myself to forget things makes me feel uneasy. Why can I not invest a bit of time in writing everything down? The answer is the administrative upkeep my notes required; they were never stored in the way I wanted, I had an endless list of to-dos I had to transfer (a problem I already dealt with), and organising everything was a Sisyphean task. Then, I discovered Roam Research. The solution to my problem. Roam takes a different approach to notes, arranging them in a network rather than a hierarchical structure. Like the thoughts in my head, notes can be connected all over the place, leading to a big chaos. And I like this chaos because there is no need to organise it, yet it contains itself logically, and I have the peace of mind that my thoughts are secure.

Screenshot from my Roam Graph

My New Setup

After analysing my goals and plotting down a new approach in my extra-large A4 Moleskin notebook, I came up with the following setup, which prioritises action over motion while keeping my thoughts safe and allowing me to work on paper:

  • I use Roam to capture thoughts and ideas in a chaotic way. I throw them in, don’t have to worry about organising them, work on them whenever I have a free minute, and explore my thoughts whenever I have time for a new project. It is my only tool for thought storage.
  • I use a physical notebook for daily tasks. Here, I will write down notes for the things I work at, and they will be forgotten as soon as I turn the page. This way, I can enjoy the process of thinking and working on paper.

I don’t need anything else. After long consideration, I think these two tools alone can fulfil all my requirements for notes.

(But what about more detailed notes and the planning of projects?)

I can capture everything necessary on a page in Roam, and when it is time to turn the idea into a reality, I can discover the exact structure while working on it. That being said, I am experimenting with Airtable as a kind of project management tool. Stay in touch to find out how that turns out.

In the future, whenever I spend too much time organising my notes, I will think about Stephen King and start producing content instead of worrying about having perfect notes about the content. I have to be comfortable with the fact that I canon pursue every idea and enjoy the process of not writing down a thought and letting it disappear.