Digital Smart Notes Part 5: Creating Content with Smart Notes

If you haven't written along the way, the brain is indeed the only place to turn to. On its own, it is not such a great choice: it is neither objective nor reliable – two quite important aspects in academic or nonfiction writing. -Sönke Ahrens, “How to Take Smart Notes."

Digital Smart Notes Part 5: Creating Content with Smart Notes

If you haven't written along the way, the brain is indeed the only place to turn to. On its own, it is not such a great choice: it is neither objective nor reliable – two quite important aspects in academic or nonfiction writing. -Sönke Ahrens, “How to Take Smart Notes."

Welcome to the final article in my Digital Smart Notes series. If you have not read the others, I would suggest going back now and having a look. As a refresher, this series has been discussing my workflow for creating digital smart notes using the methodology outlined in "How to Take Smart Notes" by Sönke Ahrens.

  • Part 1 and Part 2 discussed my digital capture toolkit for highlights, creating fleeting notes, and exporting those highlights and notes into Roam Research.
  • Part 3 discussed creating literature notes in Roam Research using the exported highlights from Readwise.
  • Part 4 summarized my process for creating permanent notes derived from the literature notes created in Roam Research.

I put a lot of time into my digital smart notes system. While the work is intrinsically rewarding to me, I do not merely curate a collection of notes. The real value for me reveals itself when I sit down to write. My goal for this entire endeavor is to retain knowledge. One of the best ways that I can do that is to write publicly. My notes make up the most considerable portion of the mental effort required for my writing. So, much of the work is complete by the time a blank screen confronts me.

Creating New Content

When I think of a new article idea, it is likely because I am reading something related to a note that I already have in my slipbox. This process happens organically because of the habit I have formed from creating smart notes. When that idea strikes, I act quickly to capture it.

New Article Template

The first thing I do in Roam Research when I get an idea for a new article is to create a new page. The title will follow the format of "Article: <Article Title>." I want to capture the gist of the article. I can change the actual title of the article later. Next, I create the article structure using a roam template. It looks like this:

Type:: #[[Article Idea]], #Seed
Summary:: 
Published URL::
**Related Notes and Sources:**
	-  
**Body / Outline:**
	- **Introduction / Problem**
    	-  
   	- **Proposed Solution**
    	-  
    - **Solution Implementation**
        -  
**Draft** {{word-count}}
    -
New Article Template
New Article Template

I frame many of my articles as a problem that I am trying to solve. It helps me think about it in three different sections (Problem, Proposed Solution, Solution Implementation). The word count function next to "Draft" gives me a running tally of the article word count. For those articles that do not take this form, I adjust the sections. For the example here, I will be using one of the first articles that I wrote on this site, "Packaging Your Thoughts Using Roam Research."

Filling in the Outline Details

After my article structure is in place, I'll make sure the article page that I have created is in the main window of Roam Research. I will open my slipbox page in the right sidebar.

Article Page and Slipbox
Article Page and Slipbox

I will then explore the contents of the slipbox page and any inline-block references.

Slipbox
Slipbox
Slipbox Exploration
Slipbox Exploration

As I find relevant information (a permanent note, a note block, etc.) I will alt-drag the block to a section in my outline. These block references, combined with any new text that they may prompt, will make up the structure of things that I would like to discuss in the article. As I do this, I may also create page references to the literature, permanent, or reference notes that are the parents of the blocks I have used in the "Related Notes and Sources" section of my article page.

Article Outline with Slipbox Connections
Article Outline with Slipbox Connections

Now I have a solid outline of what I would like to discuss in the article. This method makes the next step much more effortless.

Writing the Article

My slipbox full of notes has enabled me to connect ideas, re-mix my thoughts, and create an outline for new content. All that is left is to write the article. Here is my process for the actual writing:

  • Shift-click on the "Body / Outline" section of the article page to focus on that block in the right sidebar.
  • Click on the "Draft" block to focus on it in the main window.
  • Write the first draft of the article by using the outline in the right sidebar as a reference.

The key for me is to get the first draft knocked out as quickly as possible. If I think of anything to add or something to look up along the way, I'll add a TODO item right inline while I'm writing in Roam. This way, I can track what I need to do without interrupting my flow too much. The TODO items can be checked off and removed later.

Article Draft and Outline
Article Draft and Outline

Conclusion

I hope you have enjoyed reading this series as much as I have enjoyed writing it. Reading "How to Take Smart Notes" has changed my learning, thinking, and writing in profound ways. Putting the methodology discussed in the book into practice using Roam Research has been a gift. I've discussed article writing here, but I believe you can apply the methods I have outlined to multiple forms of creative endeavors (Twitter threads, screenplays, novels, etc.). The important part is that the process works for you so that you enjoy note-taking. The rest will fall into place. Thank you so much for following along with me on this journey.

Harley Stagner

I'm an IT professional working in technical marketing. I truly believe that our thoughts are the most unique asset that we can offer to the world. This will be a curated collection of mine.

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