002: Reading, Note-taking and Writing

Make the process of writing seem less daunting

Welcome to the second edition of 'Before Publishing'. Glad to see you here again.

This week I started reading a new book and wanted to share with you how reading and note-taking contribute to my process for writing.

The book

Currently, I am reading the First edition of How to Take Smart Notes: One Simple Technique to Boost Writing, Learning and Thinking – for Students, Academics and Nonfiction Book Writers by Sönke Ahrens.

In the book, the writer explores the methods of a prolific German Sociologist and Researcher Dr. Niklas Luhmann who left an unparalleled legacy of contributions in the fields of Social Theory and Systems Thinking. What made it possible for him to do so was a note-taking and knowledge management system he called Zettelkasten (German word for 'slip-box’).

The book teaches an important skill for knowledge workers and it has been highly recommended by content creators online. It speaks to me right now because this topic is exactly what I spend most of my time pondering, researching and experimenting with to refine my own personal brand of note-taking. 

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

It was way back in 2010 that I began taking digital notes, but at the time they were quite unorganised and rather aimless. Over the last 3 years, my note-taking process has steadily refined into a tool for thinking outside my head. It has allowed me begin connecting ideas together from seemingly unconnected learnings. This is the main reason for me being able to write at all and to share my view with you.

With these thoughts in my head, I read on.

Note-taking while reading

By slowly reading and digesting the chapters of the book, you notice that a personal understanding of its content begins to develop in your mind.

For me, this becomes the basis for constructing my own narrative about the topic later on. To collect these initial reactions or interpretations, I write them down in a new note specifically meant for this book and set them aside for later. While going through the rest of the book, I continue to add brief reflections to this note for later reference.

There are times when it is best to extract a quote, from the text that you are reading, directly into your notes. However, be sure to use quotes deliberately and sparingly. The intention here is to write things in your own language and boost your comprehension while allowing your creativity to flourish.

Review and Processing

Once there is considerable progress with reading the book, the larger picture begins to emerge and this allows me to connect notes from this book with ideas I may have already written about in the past from notes library.

As I go through older notes and draw references from them, not only does my comprehension improve, it now allows me to create something unique which represents my evolving perspective on the subject.

This system ensures that whenever I begin to write any article or essay on a connected topic in the future, my conceptual understanding is already sufficiently developed and along with it my unique take on the subject. 

At this point, writing just becomes a matter of assembling these ideas coherently for them to be shared which sounds a lot less daunting than starting with a blank page.


Thank you for reading

Feel free to reply or leave a comment or share your suggestions.

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See you in the next one!