Use a zettelkasten to amplify your thoughts

I remember when I ran across this blog post:

Then I read this blog post:

Then I researched more and found this:

And then my writing exploded.

A zettelkasten is a simple writing method that amplifies your writing , memory, thoughts, research, note taking, or any non-fiction writing you may want to do. It was invented by a scientist and philosopher named Niklas Luhmann. He was a prolific writer with over 70 books and 400 scholarly papers. He credits his productivity solely to his zettelkasten method. The system is essentially a methodology for building a wiki. You can read the articles above in detail to understand it more. For me, I have combined it with a couple of other small tweaks to make it so I can never run out of ideas to write about:

  • atomic notes, every post only discusses one main idea and the post can stand alone on its own.
  • the writing is short and clear, try to remove as many words as possible.
  • make it as public as possible.
  • link everything together, I review my posts to link it up to each other.
  • add tags to all posts and groom it occasionally.
  • use your own words, don’t copy and paste

I was already writing before, but it was slow. Mainly I was afraid to write and didn’t see enough value for me to do it. Once I found this system, my writing increased at least 20x. I am building my own knowledge base that I won’t forget and that I completely understand. For any thought or idea I have, I quickly write it down into my queue of ideas to write about. Then every single day I pick an item to write about. Sometimes a post ends up taking me a few days or sometimes I end up writing 4 posts in a day. Even if the idea sounds bad initially, I still write it and keep it. At most I only wasted a few minutes, but often times the post leads me towards another better direction or the bad post is refined into a good idea. Sometimes I am researching a complicated topic like Markov blankets and I will get stuck writing. I will just immediately switch to any one of my other posts that I am still writing or jump to a brand new post. And in this way I am never unproductive. And the more little posts you write attacking every idea from every angle, the more valuable your knowledge base grows. This blog post explains why. By using this system with “idea combinations” and “daily experimentation”, I can write and amplify my thoughts towards any topic I want to. If there is a specific topic I am researching and I need ideas to think about, I choose from my research templates.

For me, I have used my zettelkasten to amplify my research on embodied language learning and AGI.

With this same technique, you can research anything you want and quickly find new insights or become a domain expert. I highly recommend it for any knowledge worker.

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