In a Cortex podcast episode about their favorite apps, CGP Grey singled out Obsidian. The recommendation was so over the top that I had to try it immediately. Obsidian is a note taking app. I wrote a little about how I use it to make reading a game.
When I say note-taking, I mean original writing, not copied notes/quotes. To fully understand this, I highly recommend How to Take Smart Notes, which is the most important book I have read in years in terms of impact on my reading/thinking/writing.
The goal of notes, according to the book, is to be pieces that can be readily assembled into publishable work. Given that, a note must be original writing somewhat ready to be published. They aren’t long, though. Most of my notes are a paragraph or two. I frequently refactor long ones into smaller ones. They are supposed to be free-standing building blocks, linked together.
What do you write? You could digest and re-explain what you have read. This kind of note will prove to you that you understand what you are reading. It is also a useful building block later if you reference the book.
A better note is driven by your own questions. I have many questions that I think about.
- What does it mean for game-design to drive non-game app design (but, not gamification)?
- What is the sound equivalent of visualizations?
- What are programming books trying to do and is there a better medium to deliver that (is it games?, does it have sound?)
- What is the right format for a programming tutorial? Is it something more vague?
I read books with these questions in mind, and sometimes I have ideas about them. If this happens, I stop reading and immediately write a couple of paragraphs in Obsidian.
After developing a note, I link it to as many relevant other notes as I can. Sometimes it’s clear that there are holes that need further thinking. I make and link to place-holder notes and tag them as needing development.
This continues like an infinite game: generate questions -> read -> write -> generate more questions -> read -> write.
When I am not reading, I sometimes just engage with the notes. I pick a starting point, follow links, remind myself of my past ideas. This will also generate notes, refactorings, questions. Most often it shows me that I have a topic that is ready for publication, so I add it to my schedule.
When it comes time to write for publication, it is much more like assembly and editing than writing, which was the goal of these notes.