Categories
The End of Many Books

How to Take Smart Notes

Yes, this is a book about note-taking. I read it last year during the global lockdown, because I was interested, and because it was about something other than a virus. Mentions of it swelled among the productivity bloggers for a while, and it seemed as if it might be profitable for efficient capturing and curating. Even more, it claims to offer a way to think better, especially for sake of making connections between ideas.

The book examines the workflow of Niklas Luhmann who wrote hundreds of articles, and considered his copious output as a result of his system of input.

I haven’t implemented all of the workflow, but I keep thinking about ways to make progress in organizing and writing. My reading of the book also had a serendipitous connection with the beta of an app called Roam Research. It is perhaps the ideal digital tool for the Smart Notes approach, especially as it focuses on a network rather than hierarchy of notes, as well as on blocks rather than pages or documents. Roam makes it easy for the same block to be referenced in multiple places rather than tucked away in only one place.

If you are still reading this review, you are probably the type of person who would be interested in the book as well as in Roam. 🙂

4 of 5 stars

Categories
A Shot of Encouragement

Not a Blank Canvas

“The skill of writing is to create a context in which other people can think.”

—Edwin Schlossberg
Categories
The End of Many Books

Keep Going

by Austin Kleon

This was probably my least favorite of the three (along with Steal Like an Artist and Show Your Work!, but it still has a bunch of little verbal shots in the arm to keep one going, which is the point. I especially appreciate “Forget the noun, do the verb.” You can read more on that idea here and here, or obviously buy the book.

4 of 5 stars

Categories
The End of Many Books

Show Your Work

by Austin Kleon

Like the first book in the series, Steal Like an Artist, this book is short, delightful, and challenging. The following quote from Alain de Botton is a great summary of Kleon’s message”

“Anyone who isn’t embarrassed of who they were last year probably isn’t learning enough.”

4 of 5 stars

Categories
The End of Many Books

Steal Like an Artist

by Austin Kleon

This is a small book, easy and enjoyable to read, with good reminders to keep looking and learning. I laughed at the following quote, used it in a talk already, and think it’s a good summary of the benefit of Kleon’s book. As the French author AndrĂ© Gide wrote,

“Everything that needs to be said has already been said. But since no one was listening, everything must be said again.”

4 of 5 stars

Categories
The End of Many Books

On Writing

by Stephen King

This book is often near the top of the favorites list by some writers I like. I still like those writers better than this book. It’s the only one by King I’ve read, and it gives me good reason to keep it that way. I was most interested in the Postscript where he describes what it meant to him to get back to writing after his accident.

3 of 5 stars

Categories
Enjoying the Process

Et Liberi, Et Libri

Do my kids keep me from being productive?

They could, perhaps, and I used to lean more toward that irritation. I prefer quiet for reading and writing, for study and sermon preparation, you know, for the “important” work. But, along with being married and talking with my wife, my kids give me a greater reason to think about things and figure out how to say them. In other words, I may not crank out more words, but God uses my kids to crank me.

Nietzsche used the Latin pun aut liberi, aut libri, “either children or books.” He made the word play about what survives, to legacy through library or through progeny. I don’t know for sure whether he meant to pit them against each other, as if we could only choose one. But whatever he meant, why not both?

Some people—think your stereotypical ditch-digger—need to find some time to read (or listen to) good books. Some other people—think your stereotypical seminary student—have a moral obligation to have kids and spend more time with them. I write for my kids (whether they read it or not, now or ever), and I am learning from them. This relates to my thoughts about all that I’m learning from helping to start a school. I have a life from which to speak, rather than wrongly acting as if speaking is my life.

Most productivity books, writing books included, talk about setting up cognitive space, as in actual spatial spots (in a study, a barn, a coffee shop), that prepare the mind to think deeply and creatively. Get away from distractions. Tell others you aren’t available during that time. And sure, if you have the luxury to choose your cup of tea, drink up. But isn’t art often identified by the constraints? Aren’t some of the best artists the ones who can succeed within the constraints? Then why can’t the “constraints” that come along with responsibilities such as fatherhood enable better flavor?

Jonathan Edwards wrote some profound things, like down near the bottom of mankind’s depth. He was a deep dude. Biographers record that some days he spent thirteen hours a day alone in his study. On occasion he would leave the dinner table, which was still full of his family and guests, in order to go get back in his “zone.” While I strive to honor God with all my affections and industry, I no longer assume that such effort and energy is separate from my dad life, it’s more rich because of it. So let’s adopt the Latin phrase into et liberi, et liber, “both children and books.”

For some additional thoughts, read A Bad Equation by Austin Kleon.

Categories
A Shot of Encouragement

More Bad Ideas

If you like to create things—and why wouldn’t you as an image-bearer of your Creator—then listen to this podcast by Seth Godin: No such thing (as writer’s block). It’s not that he provides the silver bullet, but he certainly hacks at the Excuse Monster that we often hide behind.

Especially for those who regard their work as precious, who hold their ideas inside too long and often squeeze the interesting juices out of the idea before it even has the chance to get out, we should try out trying out more things.

“Your problem is it that you don’t have enough good ideas, your problem might be that you don’t have enough bad ideas.”