Note taking, writing, and second brains

Decided I wanted to try a few apps again. There are a lot of nice markdown note and text editors out there. Here’s a few recently I’ve tried.

  1. Notion. A hybrid note taking and perhaps wiki style app. There is now a free plan and it seems to be on all platforms. I copied over a few notes from Drafts 5 on my iPad.
  2. 1Writer. A markdown writing and notes app.

Notion can be a variety of things. It can be a productivity tool, a database driven project tool, note taking and information management. Also it’s easy to embed a note in another note and add other elements or views in a page. It’s easy to add graphical tools to give the page style. Maybe one of its larger areas is team access. If you are building content with a team, notion could work to help smooth out how each team member accesses and delivers. All that wonderful stuff being said, my own view about Notion is it tries to be too much. Let’s boil it down to my needs and why notion is simply overkill for me. I don’t do productivity things any longer so I don’t need an app that traces and tracks productivity or tasks and goals. I don’t have a team to consider or want things embedded in other things. It also would be difficult to use notion as I use Drafts. It’s just not made for my use cases which are not tied to productivity, teams, or collaboration. If I went to notion, I would lose the ability to simply create text on an open canvas. I could not use custom actions to send things to other things simply and effortlessly. I don’t believe it’s meant for the actual creative process although I could use it to track that process by building a similar tracking tool as I’ve seen in YouTube videos. But… I don’t need a tracking tool to help me stay on target with goals and milestones. So perhaps if you do need those things notion could be extremely useful. There is a free tier now that looks good for access.

1Writer is a nice app and I like it a lot. It has a nice editing canvas with few elements to distract you. It’s more of a writing and editing app and gets out of the way when you want to create. It can be extended with custom actions. The app uses files in iCloud for my editing. I only use iCloud since Apple apps sync to it pretty well. Writing in it is pretty easy. If you know basic markdown elements you can go faster. I like it a lot! The main factor for me that drives me away from it is customization. Drafts has basically spoiled me with thousands of action items. If you are looking for an application to write and want the focus on writing 1Writer could be your choice. It’s a one time purchase in the App Store which may make it attractive for those not inclined to support subscription based apps.

the second brain

The concept of a second brain as a digital tool has gained a lot of traction. You use a specialized tool to create and manage your second brain. After watching numerous videos on YouTube I get tired just contemplating the amount of work these folks put into wanting to create, maintain, and enhance their digital note taking aka their second brain. Everything is grist for that mill. Books, podcasts, blogposts. It all goes into a tool. Don’t worry if you need a second brain. There’s apps for that.

  1. Obsidian
  2. Roam Research

It’s too much for my feeble first brain to even consider creating a digital second brain with one of these tools. Then there’s an entire approach to this called zettelkasten. Basically, wikipedia defines this as,

A zettelkasten consists of many individual notes with ideas and other short pieces of information that are taken down as they occur or are acquired. The notes are numbered hierarchically, so that new notes may be inserted at the appropriate place, and contain metadata to allow the note-taker to associate notes with each other. For example, notes may contain tags that describe key aspects of the note, and they may reference other notes. The numbering, metadata, format and structure of the notes is subject to variation depending on the specific method employed.

Creating and using a zettelkasten is made easier by taking the notes down digitally and using appropriate knowledge management software. But it can be and has long been done on paper using index cards.

The method not only allows a researcher to store and retrieve information related to their research, but also intends to enhance creativity. Cross-referencing notes through tags allows the researcher to perceive connections and relationships between individual items of information that may not be apparent in isolation. These emergent aspects of the method make the zettelkasten somewhat similar to a neural network with which one may converse”.[1]

Source: Wikipedia

Wow. A lot of work. I see these guys busily creating videos hours long explaining bidirectional links and how to structure your vault. It’s value the influencers state is for the you years from now. You just don’t know what you may need or want years down the road so gobble up all the stuff and write on it. The tools are very complex and most do not have mobile apps so folks use yet another tool to access and update the data. Some use multiple apps. Notion, 1Writer, DevonThink to go. Then when they can something like obsidian or roam research. I just find this amazing. The dedication to creating this repository is far beyond what little I could possibly give to it. You can find intricate videos on all the aspects if you want to see on YouTube. Here is one on Roam Research.

now I use…

The apps I use now for writing are Drafts and IAwriter. Drafts is billed as the place where text starts but it’s a lot more than just that. It has the ability to use hundreds of custom actions, flexibility with creating and writing and also it’s speed of access makes it more than just a tool for creating tweets or reminders without using those apps. I never did get that use but there are sufficient people that use it for much more. IAwriter is a wonderful markdown writing app with no pretense about note taking. You get an uncluttered screen, focused writing, and minimal customization options. It just does what it’s supposed to do as far as I’m concerned.

So there you have it. Do you want that second brain? I don’t. I’m too lazy. I think lots of people, young and old, do want though. I’ve gone from the complex to the simple. Now I’m spoiled.

August 29, 2020