Zach's PEN #48: Fleeting Notes

2021 Week 25: A single, life-changing principle from the bottom-up Zettelkasten process

Dear PENpals,

You are probably familiar with the phrase "Writing is thinking."

This has proven true for me over and over throughout my life, yet I still don't automatically go to writing at those critical moments when careful thinking is needed.

I'm really struggling with something in my life. I'm having trouble making sense of something. I need to make a big decision. I want to integrate what I've learned. I simply have an idea, something resonates, sparking something, but I'm not sure exactly what it is.

All of these are moments to put pen to paper, because as soon as the hand starts moving (or the cursor), thoughts begin to show up that could never have emerged within the mind.

There are many reasons for this phenomenon, some of them computer-science-y, some of them woo-woo, but all you need to do is begin to journal during any one of these moments and you will experience it in a way that is undeniable.

With respect to the Zettelkasten process that is blowing my mind, this concept of Fleeting Notes is what's currently most interesting, and at the risk of hyperbole, I think it could have massive implications for the world.

I've written about this before, but there used to be a space where everyone was thinking on paper: Writing letters. The more I write, the more it's clear just how immeasurable the loss is that we don't do this anymore. The loss is accentuated by the fact that most people don't even have a moment to headthink quietly anymore.

I've begun to address this for myself by writing this PEN, then by publishing something every day, and the experience has been amazing, but I hadn't considered that I can apply this principle to everything that inspires me, and that's what Zettelkasten Fleeting Notes are about.

I used to highlight things, "save" them, "organize" them in a folder somewhere. But I realize now that these activities did not accomplish what they appeared to. They did little more than make me feel as though I had kept something, not to be lost, when in fact, what was important was lost instantly. Not because I had organized wrong, but because I was organizing the wrong thing entirely.

Here's the amazing discovery: The desire to highlight this, keep that, throw the other in a folder, isn't about the piece of text/media itself, but about what it has evoked in me. And that can only be revealed by writing it out.

You can try this: The next time you want to highlight something in a book or save an article to your notes or put something in a folder, pause, and ask yourself "Why is this resonating with me right now? What is it about? What else in my life is it connected to?" Jot something down quickly and come back to it later, or just immediately start writing stream-of-consciousness what is coming up. I reckon you'll be surprised what's there.

This describes one step in the Zettelkasten process that I'm obsessed with at the moment. If this were all that I got from it, it would already be worth it.

Much love, PENpals,

Zach