I shared my notes publically live on LYT House during my “ask me anything” event. It’s posted to YouTube, so you can see how I go from academic texts, to ideas, to stories, to analysis:
Due to time constraints, there were a couple of questions posted that didn’t get answered, so I’ll go over them here:
How you review all these notes? Don’t you get overwhelmed by the number of prepared notes on varied topics?
I generally don’t get overwhelmed by large amounts of text in general (otherwise I would be the wrong person to run the roundup!) but I usually review them as they come up organically in my writing process.
My weekly newsletter really helps with this – it’s when I sit down and narrow in on one small concept that I’ve learned a lot about that week doing research for my writing, for example scurvy or fungus. I query my vault to see what I’ve got on that topic, and then comb through the search results looking for stuff that’s relevant, pull it out into my newsletter format (they kind of double as a mid-level atomic note), and then supplement with additional research if it triggers any follow-up questions. It’s a pretty organic process really and helps me stay focused on what matters most to me.
Do you use Scrivener? If so how is that involved in your writing process?
I used to, but I stopped toward the tail end of the Windows beta when I found Obsidian. Obsidian is free, which I like, and I’m very used to writing in markdown since I’ve been doing my initial drafting in writemonkey2 for about a decade. I do relatively little drag-and-drop scene order rearranging, and I much prefer the inline metadata style of Obsidian to the more databased style Scrivener offers. Plus, I like being able to leave inline notes-to-self that link to references as I’m writing, since I find it less disruptive to my flow.
Could you show how publish works from the user side?
I’m super sorry I missed sharing this, but I found a video from Nick that should help!
How are you using Outgoing Links?
I mostly use them as a convenient short-list of all the external references, almost like a file outline. For example it’s a pretty handy way to double-check the spelling of a character name or quickly glance at their profile when I’m writing. It’s also useful for checking to see if I’ve referenced other characters I forgot to add to my “characters mentioned in this scene” metadata. Because most of my notes have very specific titles, I don’t get a ton of “noise,” so usually my unlinked outgoing links are a useful reminder that I should link something up. As I get increasingly specific and less encyclopedic with my notes, I have more signal and less noise and more importantly, fewer aliases. I use aliases now mostly for citekeys for academic texts so that I can link to them with more fidelity when I cite something I haven’t fully processed and imported yet.
How often do you refactor your workflow, and are there key things for you that pushed the workflow a step up?
It depends. But basically, whenever I find a new thing that would make things easier for me, or when I change my habits. For example, now that you can “share to Obsidian” and we’ve gotten Note Composer, and I’ve been exercising less regularly at the gym because of some health complications, my daily notes have become a lot more fleeting, and I tend to delete them once I’ve cleared them.
What’s your rough time budget of reading, note collecting/ingesting, note refactoring, writing in any given week?
I get about an hour or two per day to sit down at my computer, probably about three or four hours a week of that is spent on “knowledge work.” But it’s hard to say because I do a lot of reaching in short snatches of time while my toddler is occupied, a handful of pages of an academic text here, a quick Reddit thread there, and I don’t keep track of that time, I just dump it into my notes to deal with later.
Did you start with more of a Zettelkasten setup where all the zettels (atomic notes) were in a flat folder?
The opposite actually! I started with topic folders and learned pretty fast that didn’t work for me, and my slipbox has been getting flatter and flatter as I go. The main thing that’s different about my system is that my slipbox folder is what most people have in their zettelkasten – it’s just that I use Obsidian for more than just personal knowledge management. But I use pretty standard PKM principles in my actual slipbox.
Did you learn some technique to read fast?
I’m not a “speed reader” or anything, I just have a lot of practice. I learned to read books “early” and read a lot growing up, sometimes 2 full-length novels during the school day on top of my coursework, so it’s really just practice. Reading fast is like doing anything else fast, I think – the more you start to recognize patterns and get a sense of what to expect, the faster you can move through it. It’s like playing piano or typing in that sense. There are “hacks” you can use to improve typing speed, like learning touch-typing or switching to DVORAK, but the main thing is just that I’ve had a lot of practice and am very widely read.
Can you share your strategy on taking notes from historical books?
I’ve talked about it some before with Nick, but my actual “process” varies from book to book depending on whether it’s an ebook, a library book, a book I own, an a physical book I'm scanning using OCR from Readwise, or am trying to model good reading habits for my son. The main thing is to practice and develop a sense of what’s important to you and things you care about (for me, it’s things I can use for fodder for articles & stories) vs. what’s being presented as important to the author (usually proving a point, often one I don’t care about or am already convinced by).
Do you do this much research all the time on various things? Or is it more common to be like, “oh I remember I researched food preservation, let me go back and check my notes”?
It’s a bit of both!
When I sit down with my newsletter, I usually start out by thinking “hrm what have I been learning about this week, oh I know, I’ve been doing a lot with cities, let me check my notes for stuff about cities,” then I’ll see what I’ve got and supplement with new research into stuff that I’m curious about now that I’ve seen that I’ve got 3-4 notes already on city walls but have follow-up questions
Generally, I do spend a fair chunk of time “pleasure-reading” random interesting nonfiction books & articles and it kind of grows and connects and becomes the basis for the stories I write, so it all relates, which is what’s so great about being able to link up my thinking. There are some great examples of this over at my new newsletter, The Iceberg.
Note: There are a couple of affiliate links & codes scattered around, but these always come from links I was already recommending and usually I share them because they benefit you too (i.e. getting you extra time on trials).
Check out one of these related posts
An evaluation of the viability of using Obsidian for long form content as opposed to tools like MS Word, Google Docs, & Scrivener.
On the importance of knowing when to sit down and dive deep into your notes... so you don't get overwhelmed always keeping them neat.
Old, simple tools are often still useful, especially when paired with a practice of frequent check-ins with your goals and mental state.