At the moment, I’m proof-reading and editing the book manuscript of my pal Sascha for the new edition of the Zettelkasten Method book. As with most things text these days, I’m doing that with Emacs. Something that continually drives me bonkers is how Emacs handles upcasing, downcasing, and capitalization of words by default. The functions that are called for the default key bindings are upcase-word, downcase-word, and capitalize-word. These sounds super useful to fix typos. The default behavior is odd, though: They only change the case of the whole word when you select the word first. Otherwise they change the case of the remainder of the word beginning at the character at the insertion point. The docstrings say as much: “Capitalize from point to the end of word, moving over.” Why?
Today I learned about an ingenious tool called csplit on the Zettelkasten Forums. It’s available on macOS and Linux. You can use it to split a single Markdown file into multiple files, one for each chapter or section.
To finish NaNoWriMo you are going to need rock-solid habits, lest you give up due to a lack of motivation. That’s because habits don’t deplete, but excitement, discipline, and will-power do. NaNoWriMo isn’t a sprint you can finish by feeling joy alone. It’s a marathon. It will require more than talking yourself through the finishing line. You’ll feel joy, but you’ll encounter despair, too.
I struggled with my last article on the Zettelkasten portal because I didn’t know how to express a tiny piece of theoretical background in the right way. It was about a constructivist approach to cognition and information. Because it bugged me so much, I began to write this journal entry while editing the article. Maybe you’d like to have a look behind the scenes, so here it is.
Since I recently released the Word Counter for Mac, I have given more thought to the process of writing itself, especially since your comments on writing vs editing started to pour in. I count my words to increase my productivity as a writer. “But!”, people exclaimed, “How do you account for rewrites, deletions, and correcting grammar?” By dividing composing from revising.
It’s important to manage working time. Managing to-do lists is just one part of the equation to getting things done when it comes to immersive creative work where we need to make progress for a long time to complete the project. To ensure we make steady progress, we need to stay on track and handle interruptions and breaks well. A short Knowledge Cycle will help to get a full slice of work done multiple times a day, from research to writing. This will help staying afloat and not drown in tasks.
Brian Crain talked about increasing productivity by tracking progress. To have a continuous metric is both motivating and informative. I, too, buy into the saying that you can only improve what you measure. The corollary is: when you care about something, when you really commit to it, you have to do your best to track it and improve. Writing is one such skill. You become a writer by writing more, and you can shift your identity consciously to make this change stick.
There’s an interesting 8min talk by Brian Crain on optimizing productivity. Brian found tracking his progress useful: I learned that having a continuous metric is enormously motivating since it allows you to continually improve yourself. These small, continuous changes make a huge difference over time.
Nowadays, I write all of my texts in outlines. This post is no exception. I found this to be a game-changer when it comes to writing, so I thought I’d share the process. I start with a few broad strokes and go into detail, which equals using deeper levels of indentation. Every item in the outline is going to be a full sentence. This way, I can rearrange paragraphs sentence by sentence in my text editor. Most of the time, though, blog posts simply are too short to make much use of re-arranging their parts. I use this feature heavily in my book manuscript, though, and I found that research-laden posts benefit from an outline, too.
I am working hard on the “Building Blocks” chapter of the Zettelkasten book and I want to finish it first to show it to the public. It covers all parts of the toolkit. To sketch a structure and talk about its components, I need to get the requirements and implementation done before talking about workflow details. Today, I want to show you a birds-eye view of the overarching systems metaphor I’m using in the book.
My last posts were rather prescriptive by nature. Before I start sprinkling in the casual software reviews, I want to slow down a bit and change the pace. Lately, I wondered why I do things. My answer is pretty plain, and I’d like to know what drives you to worry about organizing information. So I’ll begin to share, and then you may, if you like.
I want to answer the question: Why are unique identifiers useful when you work with a Zettelkasten? The objective of a Zettelkasten note archive is to store notes and allow connections. Both are necessary to extend our mind and memory. As long as the software you use doesn’t provide any means to create links between notes, you have to come up with your own convention. Even if the software did provide such a mechanism, I’d suggest you think twice about relying on it: I want to evade vendor lock-in for my Zettelkasten, and I think you should, too. So let’s assume you don’t care about the software and create your own hyperlink scheme.
I used Editorially for some time now and me and my collaborators were getting accustomed to the platform. It was more convenient to use Editorially than sharing plain text files in Dropbox, especially when multiple people were involved.
Editorially wasn’t designed for people collaborating at the same time, unlike files in Google Drive, née Google Documents. Also, commenting was a rather finicky task in my eyes. I’m accustomed to using the keyboard only, while Editorially required use of the mouse cursor. But it worked, and it made sense for people not accustomed to plain text writing environments. Editorially connected us Markdown geeks with the rest of the world.
Writeboard.com was shut down, too. It was a simpler tool, but it supported versioning. 37signals are re-structuring their business, so Writeboard.com had to go.
Draft is well. This app is focused on getting editorial reviews for your drafts, see changes and integrate them into your document. I have to test it with friends some more until I can judge the service. Unlike Editorially, Draft doesn’t highlight Markdown syntax while you write. It has a ‘preview’ action, though.
Authorea is alive and kicking, it’s backed by Harvard University, and it’s especially useful for larger projects: you can collaborate on articles or book manuscripts simultaneously, one section per person. Behind the scenes, Authorea creates one text file for each section. Since there’s no one big document file, you can restructure the document easily. It will only change the order of file references in a table-of-contents file. This is similar to Marked, mmd_merge, and the book format of Leanpub. It’ll cost you some money to create private projects, though. Authorea is designed for Open Science where you’re encouraged to let other people see and fork your articlesIt’s like GitHub for scientific articles – it even supports LaTeX!
Open Source has lots of proof-of-concepts. collaborative-markdown may be one way to go. It works fine at the moment, though it isn’t polished at all. Maybe one will have to combine it with syntax highlighting editors like Ace just as the people at OakOutliner seem to do. Also, there’s things like OpenEtherpad.
It seems there’s enough Open Source technology available to create an online collaboration tool if Draft and Authorea won’t do the job.
Did you ever wonder how some people finish non-fiction manuscripts in no time? When we do knowledge work, our craft is to write. To be good at it, we need to be efficient at it. We don’t need to win a Pulitzer (right now), so let’s think a little about methods to increase our output, to get better and faster at writing. Today, my good friend Sascha will share with us the objective and the rationale to become better writers.
Writing something every day was too tough for me for a long time. Eventually, though, I found out there ware lots of opportunities to practice writing while I feed my note archive. So I made note-writing a deliberate practice. Today, I think I’ve found peace with the way I write texts. It’s possible I’ve said things like this before, but this time it feels different. No, really! Writing itself isn’t a hindrance anymore and my actions yield results: I’m adding meat to my book manuscript and I find topics to write blog posts about. I became more confident in writing texts, even though writing a text seems to be different from taking notes at first.
A Zettelkasten makes writing texts easy. It encourages you to prepare research and the most of your writing before you compile your first draft. This way you can focus on one task at a time and needn’t sweat about getting through. This works excruciatingly well with longer texts but it’s proven indispensable for any of my shorter writing projects, too.
Assuming you’re a writer or a thinker, why should you care about the way you take notes? If you want to think creatively and write original articles and books, you need to form associations in your mind effectively. Notes can help you with that if you adhere to a few basic principles. You can emulate communication processes with your own notes if you structure them in a certain manner. Notes can and should stimulate new associations and foster your creativity just like a good talk does.
The other day, Michael Schechter complained Scrivener’s outliner feature lacked a focus mode. To this, Aaron Mahnkelaconically replied: Yeah, I still don’t understand the need. Type out an outline, paste it into
your document, and then type above it. It will always be visible right below
your book text. Why turn the folders into an outline?