My name’s Richard. I live in Sydney, on the traditional land of Bidjigal people of the Eora nation. Here I write about writing and reading (and what I do when I'm not writing or reading). I'm writing slowly but may at some point speed up. Connect with me on micro.blog or at Mastodon @aus.social@writingslowly. On Reddit, I'm @atomicnotes.
Yes really, we can be heroes. Thanks very much David Bowie! But if this sounds attractive, perhaps we should be careful what we wish for.
Do you want to be the hero of your own story? Perhaps you already are According to reporting in Scientific American, imagining yourself as the hero of your own life gives you an increased sense of meaning.
“Our research reveals that the hero’s journey is not just for legends and superheroes.
From today there’s a new category in the navigation bar of Writing Slowly.
‘Atomic Notes’ now shows all posts about making notes.
How to make effective notes is a long-standing obsession of mine, but this new category was inspired by Bob Doto, who has his own fantastic resource page: All things Zettelkasten.
The Atomic Notes category is now highlighted on the site navigation bar.
And if you’d like to follow along with your favourite feed reader,there’s also a dedicated RSS feed (in addition to the more general whole-site feed).
Micro.blog is a really useful and easy way to host a website. Even though it feels more like a cottage industry than a corporation there are way more features (and apps!) than I can probably use. It’s amazing how much Manton Reece, micro.blog’s creator, has achieved.
Under the hood the micro.blog platform is based on the Hugo static site generator, but there are a few differences. One such difference is post categories.
It’s too easy to produce fragmentary knowledge One potential problem associated with making notes according to the Zettelkasten approach is Verknüpfungszwang: the compulsion to find connections. It may be true philosophically that everything’s connected, but in the end what matters is useful or meaningful connections. With your notes, then, you need to make worthwhile, not indiscriminate links.
Another potential problem is Fetzenwissen: fragmentary knowledge, along with the illusion that disjointed fragments can produce integrated thought.
Everything large and significant began as small and insignificant This is my working philosophy of creativity and I’m trying to follow it through as best I can. Starting with simple parts is how you go about constructing complex systems.
“A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked. A complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be patched up to make it work.
Before the days of computers, people used to collect all sorts of useful information in a commonplace book.
The ancient idea of commonplaces was that you’d have a set of subjects you were interested in. These were the loci - the places - where you’d put your findings. They were called loci communis - common places, in Latin, because it was assumed everyone knew what the right list of subjects was.
Cal Newport, author of the forthcoming book, 📚Slow Productivity, has finally latched on to the premise of this website: you can get a lot done by writing slowly.
Speeding up in pursuit of fleeting moments of hyper-visibility is not necessarily the path to impact. It’s in slowing down that the real magic happens.
Study Hacks https://calnewport.com/on-slow-writing/
I didn’t even know they could drive.
Why I’m writing slowly
How far is too far to walk? Author Charlie Stross observed that British people in the early nineteenth century, prior to train travel, walked a lot further than people today think of as reasonable.
I’ve noticed a couple of literary examples of this seemingly extreme walking behaviour, both of which took place in North Wales.
Headlong Hall In chapter 7 of Thomas Love Peacock’s satirical novel, 📚Headlong Hall (1816), a group of the main characters takes a morning walk to admire the land drainage scheme around the newly industrial village of Tremadoc, and they walk halfway across Eryri to do so, traversing two valleys and two mountain passes.
What does it mean to write notes ‘from the bottom up’, instead of ‘from the top down’? It’s one of the biggest questions people have about getting started with making notes the Zettelkasten way. Don’t you need to start with categories? If not, how will you ever know where to look for stuff? Won’t it all end up in chaos?
Bob Doto answers this question very helpfully, with some clear examples, in What do we mean when we say bottom up?
Professor Mark Solms, Director of Neuropsychology at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, revives the Freudian view that consciousness is driven by basic physiological motivations such as hunger. Crucially, consciousness is not an evolutionary accident but is motivated. Motivated consciousnesses, he claims, provides evolutionary benefits.
Mark Solms. 2021. The Hidden Spring. A Journey to the Source of Consciousness. London: Profile Books. ISBN: 9781788167628
He claims the physical seat of consciousness is in the brain stem, not the cortex.
During the Twentieth Century many thinkers used index cards to help them both think and write.
British cyberneticist Ross Ashby kept his notes in 25 journals (a total of 7,189 pages) for which he devised an extensive card index of more than 1,600 cards.
At first it looks as though Ashby used these notebooks to aid the development of his thought, and the card index merely catalogued the contents. But it turns out he used his card index not only to catalogue but also to develop the ideas for a book he was writing.
To benefit from AI-assisted writing, look closely at how it’s transforming the readers.
Whenever new technologies appear, many changes in the economy happen on the consumer side, not the producer side.
As AI-assisted writing disrupts the writers, it will do so mainly by transforming the readers.
Reading Confessions of a viral AI writer in Wired magazine made me realise I had the future of AI-assisted writing the wrong way around. Vauhini Vara’s article shows how AI is already making a massive difference to our expectations of writing.
It’s tempting to place your notes in fixed categories At some point in your note-making journey you’ll notice that quite a few people like to place their notes in fixed categories according to some scheme or other. The ancient method of commonplaces held that knowledge was naturally organised according to loci communis (common places). Ironically, no one from Aristotle onwards could ever agree on what the commonly-agreed categories were. Assigning your notes to categories is consistent with the ‘commonplace’ tradition, but that’s not what the prolific sociologist Niklas Luhmann did with his Zettelkasten, and furthermore it runs exactly counter to Luhmann’s claim in ‘Communicating with Slipboxes’, where he said:
I finished reading Alex Kerr’s Finding the Heart Sutra on New Year’s Eve, so it just scraped into my reading for 2023. And while reading I made notes by hand, as I’ve done before. Although there aren’t very many notes (just eleven, plus a literature note that acts as a mini-index), they’re high quality, since I found the book very interesting.
I don’t mean I’ve written objectively ‘good’ notes. Rather, I mean the notes are high quality for my purposes.
Ben Werdmuller may not be alone in finding it quite a challenge raising a baby while also having a life. Here are some thoughts from my own experience of parenting very young children.
tldr; I think I just about got away with it.
It’s just a phase First, you will get through it. Though the feeling of being (over-) stretched and (completely) grounded may seem permanent, it really is just a short phase of your life.
They made me the student leader of the school orchestra. One day the music teacher was sick and he asked me to conduct. I had no idea what to do, except what I’d seen him doing. So I waved my arms around.
Today I’m fragmented, overwhelmed by what there is still to complete, and also by all there is to start. Somewhere in the middle, there I am, lost between starting and finishing.
If you’re thinking of viewing Ridley Scott’s movie version of Napoleon 🍿, or if you’ve already seen it, I’d recommend also reading The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss. 📚
This Pulitzer prizewinning biography puts Napoleon’s life and times in historical context and it’s an amazing story. The ‘black count’ of the title was Alexandre Dumas, father of the famous author of The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers.
Why do you write? Everyone has their reasons but I write so I can think:
Writing is not simply a way of saying what someone knows but one of the most effective ways to unveil what there is to say. As Baker (1985) suggests, “in fact, writing creates a thought and the capacity to think: with writing you discover thoughts that you barely knew you had”
Baker, S. (1985).
Even a flightless bird may contemplate the constant flight forward “Literature is perhaps nothing more complicated and glorious than the act of writing and publishing, and publishing again and again."
- Marcelo Ballvé, on the curious writing career of César Aira
César Aira on the constant flight forward Argentinian author César Aira’s writing process is more about action than reflection. In a moment I’m going to share with you an extract from The Literary Alchemy of César Aira, an essay by Marcelo Ballvé, originally published in The Quarterly Conversation in 2008.
Are you Hare or Tortoise? The idea of writing slowly appeals to me because it comes from Aesop’s fable of the hare and the tortoise. Perhaps you remember it.
The hare challenges the tortoise to a race, which he’s obviously the favourite to win. Everyone knows a hare moves much faster than a tortoise. As expected, the hare shoots ahead, then slows for a well-deserved rest, since there’s no way the tortoise will ever catch up.