Blog as Note-Taking Tool

Notes apps, Zettelkasten, external memory, notecards… I just have this website.

July 16, 2018Filed under Blog#blogging#memory#notes#writing#zettelkastenMarkdown source

I have a habit that might not make sense to you. I reread my own blog posts fairly regularly. It’s not vanity—not some weird obsession with my own awesomeness in the form of my own writing or some such nonsense. It’s that in my blog posts over the last decade, I have a pretty serious backlog of what I was thinking about at any given point in time.

It’s not exhaustive, by a long shot. It only includes things I actually decided to publish.1 There are, sadly, not many short thoughts in the mix. Nor is it well-tagged or organized in any internally-consistent way—even in any single version of the site, much less across versions. But nonetheless the history is still there, and I can traverse the various lines through it, such as they are. (Sometimes, even, the changes in organization and structure are illuminating about how I was thinking about things at the time!) In any case, my habit of linking to previous references to ideas has proven invaluable for the times when I want to trawl back through old posts and consider those old thoughts again.

Reading old blog posts is a strange experience, of course. The person who wrote these things was recognizably myself; but I am not who I then I was, and I sometimes disagree with myself on the substance and often on the style. (I occasionally find an old gem and wonder how I ever managed to write so well.) That very strangeness, it turns out, is why I do this every so often, though. Thinking well is often a matter of forging connections between ideas that were previously not connected for us. We cannot consciously hold in our minds even a fraction of all the things we have thought about or even written something about over the years. We can, however, jog our memories, and let new connections form. And rereading one’s own blog post is a great way to do that.

I’d not heard specifically of the Zettelkasten method until Alan Jacobs linked it a while back, but it fits this model pretty perfectly, and maps as well to ways I’ve been trying to structure my note-taking and thinking for the past few years. (I’m going to be consciously doing more of this in Bear, my current notes app of choice. I’ll probably write up my experience that way once I’ve actually had some experience!) But this also ties into some of the things Jacobs has been musing out loud about in his own blog over the last week. It’s not just that a blog can serve as a place to do some of the fleshing-out of ideas. It’s not just that a blog can be a record of the development of ideas. It can also serve to jog new ideas if you read yourself again, displaced (both literally and temporally) from the original writing of the thing. A blog is kind of like a public notebook, and while it may be useful for others to browse through it, is is useful for me to browse back through it.

  1. Though: if you look at the archives, especially including those on my first real blog and the previous iteration of this site, you’ll notice that I published a lot of posts about a lot of subjects, whether my thoughts were especially well-formed or not.