Writing = Thinking (But Thinking ≠ Writing)
Published 17 June 2022
A great way to discover how things connect, and start seeing the big picture, is by writing, in your own words.
Writing forces you to think more deeply.
When you write something down in a coherent way, you identify gaps in your understanding. You can then do research to fill those gaps, and find new insights.
You probably started taking notes a long time ago, and migh have gone the rabbit hole to find the optimal note-taking strategy. I certainly had my share of note-taking systems and apps. The one system that stuck was the Zettelkasten system. It builds on top of your maps, and it’s all about how ideas and concepts connect.
The Zettelkasten note-taking system: Organizing your notes in an interlinked way that builds on top of your maps.
Most note-taking systems are linear. Notes flows from top to bottom. But knowledge is multi-dimensional, and our brains are multi-dimensional. With the Zettelkasten method, your notes become multi-dimensional as well.
The second benefit is that you will never have to start taking notes from scratch. You can always find something to link to and build on top off.
And the third benefit is that you can always ‘insert’ a new note between existing notes, and never run out of space to write.
Pen and paper
The word Zettelkasten means slipbox. They are boxes in which you can store small index cards. Get a box for each topic you’re learning.
Take you notes on index cards. Each card should contain exactly one idea (3-5 sentences), in your own words. Give each card a title to reference it. The important part: each card should reference at least one other card (but it could have many more references - including references to cards in other boxes). No card lives in isolation, and you always have a train of though you can follow when going through your notes.
In Traverse, the boxes are topics.
When you start taking notes, you can take advantage of the map you’ve already created. Some of the nodes in your map already correspond to exactly one idea. In this case you can just write the idea in your own words on the page for that node. In other cases, you will need to create a new subpage for one of the nodes, and write the idea in there.
The tree-structure ensures that each idea is already connected to at least one other idea (its parent).
Next, you can use links in your notes to add lateral connections: connections that don’t fit the tree structure.
The fastest way to create a link is to type
[[ and search for the page you want to link to (whether in the same topic or somewhere else).
Here’s a quick video on how to link pages (a more detailed video on building a Zettelkasten in Traverse is coming soon).
Let’s say you have created a map for Physics. One of pages is about the idea of inertia. You write down the basic idea of inertia there in your own words (something like: an object wants to continue moving in the same direction unless acted upon).
Now you learn about Psychology. You learn about how humans are creatures of habits. Suddenly it clicks: humans have inertia as well. They’ll just keep moving in the same direction, doing the same stuff over and over again until something happens to them. You can now create a lateral connection and link the idea of habits with the idea of inertia.
In the next article, we will find a solution to the problem of having your notes perfectly organized, but going blank at the exam and sitting there thinking "I wrote that down somewhere..."
6x polyglot, ex-spacecraft engineer, and founder of Traverse.link