Reflections on Writing 500 Notes

I’ve now written 500 notes and roughly 84,000 words since May 25, 2020 in my Zettelkasten. Here are a few thoughts and observations.

I started out writing too many notes that were definitions. For example, I would come across an interesting word or concept I want to recall later so I cut a new note for it. The problem with accumulating notes like this is that the collection becomes more of a dictionary which requires rote memorization to be put to use. I have a hard time remembering those notes and connecting them to other notes.

Compared to definitions, notes written as a claim are far more interesting and useful. I find it avoids the wikipedia feel and leads to more creative ideas. I still write some definition notes, but they tend to serve as pointers to a group of related notes via backlinks.

I’m certainly writing a lot more—adding notes at a rate of 1,000 per year[0]. I’ve built a durable habit of writing every morning[1] which I look forward to each day. I can see the daily progress because publishing notes visualizes growing knowledge.

However, I’m not continuously synthesizing these notes into other durable artifacts like essays. There’s some amount of reaping and sowing that I’m missing. I’ll need to make this an explicit goal and set aside some morning writing time to work on essays occasionally.

I have a better mental model for connecting content by adding links as if I am curating a path along a garden. The amount of links per note has noticeably increased over time[2]. I’m also better at spotting individual concepts and ideas so I can appropriately cut a new note. This leads to better connections because it’s easier to connect more specific things together than more general things.

Publishing notes daily has resulted in twice the traffic to my personal site from search engine traffic. The effects of note blogging on SEO make it so I’m constantly extending the long tail of keywords the site is ranked for. This creates a virtuous cycle because my interests are wide and niche which adds more unique keywords which draws more impressions and clicks.

I’ve evolved my workflow for writing and publishing over time to make it easier to contribute across devices (which I wrote about in Zettelkasten, Emacs, and Creative Thinking). It’s complicated, a bit clunky (need to constantly push/pull from a git repo), and would be difficult for others to adopt. This led to me starting a side project to focus more on note blogging and building tools that combine the benefits of a Zettelkasten with publishing.

Finally, it takes some time to ‘get it’. I read somewhere that the benefits of note taking like this don’t kick in until around 500 notes and there is some truth to that. I have a much better idea of what I want to get out of it and I’m seeing evidence that my collection is like a second brain that I can consult when doing my own thinking. Pretty neat!

[0] Notes per month

Month Note count
2020-11 25
2020-10 88
2020-09 73
2020-08 110
2020-07 108
2020-06 86
2020-05 13

[1] Notes per day

Month Notes per day
2020-11 2.88
2020-10 2.83
2020-09 2.51
2020-08 3.54
2020-07 3.48
2020-06 2.96
2020-05 3.25

[2] Links per note

Month Links per note
2020-11 2.57
2020-10 2.20
2020-09 1.79
2020-08 2.17
2020-07 1.90
2020-06 1.86
2020-05 2.50

See querying stats from org-roam for how these queries were made.

COVID-19

An Emacs library that recreates Roam (software that implements a Zettelkasten-like system) using org-mode.