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Connecting the dots
#25: Zettlekasten for connecting ideas
When you read, you are collecting ideas. But when you write, you are connecting those dots. Writing is the process of taking individual ideas and weaving them together to create a cohesive and meaningful piece. Just like a painter applies brushstrokes to a canvas, a writer adds words to a blank page, building on each one to construct a complete picture.
David Perell sums this up really well.
However, I've realized that my writing is far away from completing a picture.
My idea of collecting the dots though reading was curating a list of essays and articles that resonated with me. If I came across a good essay that lit a light bulb in my brain, I would add it to the list.
However, in the last 6 months, that list has grown. I have collected 70 odd pieces of content that resonated with me. But I never wrote down what resonated with me. I never distilled the ideas from the article that sparked an interest. Today, when I look at the articles I added a few months ago, I have no idea why I added them.
The dots I had collected made no sense and the list I curated is kind of pointless.
During one of our deep-dive sessions on Note Taking at Write of Passage, I came across Vicky Zhao’s youtube videos on the concept of ZettelKasten. It is German for “Slip Box”, a simple but intricate method of connecting notes.
A Zettelkasten is a personal tool for thinking and writing. It has hypertextual features to make a web of thought possible. The difference to other systems is that you create a web of thoughts instead of notes of arbitrary size and form, and emphasize connection, not a collection.
This method allows you to connect notes and texts through links. Each note, or Zettel, represents a single thought, and the more connections you make between them, the more insights you can gain. To make the most of these connections, it's crucial to explicitly state why you made them, creating new knowledge and deepening your understanding.
Having one thought per note will force my observational muscle. It will make me reflect on ideas from essays and finding a connection between these ideas.
The whole point of this system is to convert information into knowledge. By writing the ideas in my words one note at a time I will be collecting better dots. These dots will have value for me and I hope to have much more insights into the articles I read. These dots will in turn help with creating better pictures though writing.
I admit that I have fallen into the trap of chasing the next shiny system myself. It's an excuse for procrastinators to avoid taking action. To prevent myself from doing that again, I have built a rickety Zettelkasten system in Notion and have started using it. It feels like an addition to my existing Notion space. This essay is my way of holding myself accountable to the universe to collect and connect better dots.
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