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My Take on Notetaking

Do you take notes?

I do. Lots and lots and lots of 'em.

I take so many damn notes I lose them by simply misplacing them.

So here is what happened to me, why I am writing this post.


How I got here

Over the years, I have tried so many forms of notetaking, it's not funny. I have tried systems like outlining, Cornell notes, mind-mapping and God knows what else. I have used paper, of course. I have scraps and folders of notes all over my office and house, not to mention what I left in Brazil. I underline in books and write in them constantly. Online I have used most of the major note-taking apps, and on the desktop, I also used a lot of different apps.

I got into serious trouble with this, too. I don't know how many times I have started a project, started gathering notes and resources and study information and making outlines and texts and so on, looked at the cluttered mess I had in my current piles of notes about other things, then decided to use a separate notetaking system or app or place in my office or whatever just for that one project. It would be cleaner that way, I tell myself. It would be cleaner. I would not get it mixed up with other things.

Well, guess what happened?

You guessed it. As life goes on, I get distracted by all the cool stuff and nasty stuff life throws at you. That includes all of my ideas, which come out of my brain like water gushing from a fire-hose.

But what about the project I file away in the new place? Since I do not use that particular system or app or place in my office or whatever as part of my normal routine, the project goes on the back burner. I will get to it later when I remember, I tell myself. Nothing is lost. It's all there. Then I eventually forget where I put the damn notes.

That means a lot of my projects didn't get done because I simply did not want to do the notetaking work all over again. Nor did I want to go crazy sifting through everything I have ever written to find what I did.

But, finally, I found a way out. 


First Solution: Put it all in one place

Putting everything in the same place was a lot harder to do than I imagined once I made this decision. I tried this and tried that, but what a slog.

Then I discovered Obsidian.

Oh my God! They made the perfect notetaking app.

At least for me.

It's free. It's flexible with tags and interlinks that automatically fill in as you type. Any word or phrase can be searched. It's in use all over the world by gobs and gobs of people. There are lots of plugins if you want them. Templates are super-easy. Workspaces. All kinds of good stuff.

I did have to put in some time and effort learning markdown, but I didn't need more than the basics to get started. 

One of the great features of markdown is that it is text-based. That means, storage-wise, the files are small. They are stored on my computer, although one can store them online with syncing. And they can be opened by any computer anywhere in all kinds of different programs and apps. If Obsidian ever goes bye-bye, my notes do not. They can be easily and instantly ported over to a different app. 

As to learning Obsidian, there is a low-to-medium learning curve. But there are YouTube videos and articles and courses galore all over the place. I went through several of these and got pretty confused at the start, but not because the program is difficult to learn. It's because each teacher had his or her own way of using Obsidian. And they put their own system into teaching the program, which is extremely flexible. But once I got a hang of the basics, I started importing my notes from everywhere.

In fact, if you are interested, here are a couple of beginner videos I found for learning the basics of Obsidian and markdown. These are very beginner-friendly and well done.


There is a whole lot more out there, but if you want to use this app, this give you an idea about it, one you can see in action.

As I went along in my use of Obsidian, I found the best way was to invent my own tagging and interlinking system--to let it emerge from my notes as I put them in, so to speak. That included the main file tree, which I add to or change only as a last resort. But I did find my initial floundering about with tutorials useful as my own system emerged.

btw - It's easy to import large groups of notes from the other main apps. Seek and ye shall find since there is plenty of instructions out there. 

Also, I have not made more than one "vault" (Obsidian's jargon for main control file or project file), but I can see doing this in the future for specific projects if the notes need to be more granular to that project than I want for my general vault. That would be a way to avoid clutter. But so far, I feel no such need. I am super-excited about the way my past is coming into shape in the present in a way I can search and interconnect.

One of the reasons I chose Obsidian was because of a note-taking system I am using called Zettlekasten. Obsidian is extremely well-suited to this system.


Second Solution: A long-term notetaking system - Zettlekasten

I admit, I am in the early stages of using Zettlekasten. But I have been studying it for over 2 years and finally got a handle on it when I started using Obsidian.

If you look online, you will find all kinds of information about Zettlekasten, the history of the founder of the version that is taking the world by storm right now, Niklas Luhmann, how zettlekasten means slipbox in German, and all kinds of useless information for notetaking. If you are interested in all that, look it up.

Right here, we are going to focus on the method itself as I use it. Please keep this in mind, this is the way I do the Zettlekasten method. And even that might change a bit. If you look online, you will see all kinds of different ways. if you want a fast-track to confusion, I highly recommend going down that rabbit hole. :) 

As to the method as I use it, basically, notes are divided into three categories (with strange names that I have kept since I didn't feel like making up new ones): Fleeting, Literature and Permanent.

1. Fleeting. These are notes from anywhere in any form I get them. They can be paper, copy/pasted, audio and video, and so on. The idea is that these go into a pile or file or some separate area to be worked on. Their purpose is to become Literature Notes, after which, most people throw them out or delete them (as do I).

2. Literature. These are notes elaborated from the Fleeting Notes. They are best when they are in your own words summarizing and paraphrasing the information on your Fleeting Notes. They can also include quotes from the original sources, the URL or reference information, meaning where the information came from, whether book, article, random thought, lecture, and so on. Incidentally, notes on books or entire lecture courses can be included as a Literature Note. 

3. Permanent. These are notes entirely in your own words, but they are short. They contain one idea only and have enough text that would fill out an index card. They are summaries of the idea and, maybe, an introduction as would happen in a book or presentation. Their purpose is to be well sourced and well-thought out briefs--one idea at a time--for writing books, articles, video and audio scripts, speeches and so on.

Each Permanent Note includes links, interlinks, and all kinds of way to connect them to the other Permanent Notes on file. Literature Notes are mostly used to make them, but one Literature Note can be the source of dozens of Permanent Notes.

Over time, as these Permanent Notes accumulate, and they start self-organizing into categories of their own. Boom Before you know it, out pops a book almost done.

Luhmann, the guy who came up with this system (in a different form, of course, since he was only using index cards) managed to write over 90,000 Permanent Notes over time--all cross-referenced--and used them to write over 70 books. 

I am using tags for all three types of notes for now since I am still in my consolidation phase. I am also considering all my previous notes that I put into Obsidian as Fleeting Notes. That means I have to look at all of them one-by-one and either throw them away if they are useless or rewrite them into Literature Notes, or add something from them to a Literature Note, and then throw them away. Also, a new Literature Note can have information that can be added to a Permanent Note. That's a long project, but it's my life. So it's not tedious. 

I am only interlinking Permanent Notes to each other and to the Literature Notes they came from for now. I am not interlinking Permanent Notes to other Literature Notes, nor Literature Notes to Literature Notes, nor anything dealing with a Fleeting Note, simply because I don't want a mess, but I may change this as time goes on.

If you are zoning out on the jargon like tags and interlinking and the different kinds of notes so on, don't worry about it. If you decide to do your own Zettlekasten notetaking project with Obsidian (or other app that allows this), you can always come back to this post and this jargon will be as clear as the blue skies on a summer day. I know because that is exactly how my own mind works.

I have folders for all three kinds of Zettlekasten notes, but I also have folders for all my imported notes (Fleeting Notes) per program (ex:, From Simplenote, From Evernote, From OneNote, From Cherry Tree, From Zim, From Mini Diary, From Ginko, and so on). I am doing it that way because knowing where the note was at first is a pretty good memory jog. Over time, these extra folders will disappear as the Fleeting Notes within them get deleted.


A few other apps

Evernote: I want to start with a negative, and this applies to all programs similar to Evernote. Using it was one of the worst experiences I ever had in the medium-to-long term. And to be clear, I do not use this app anymore.

In addition to the surveillance crap (which is not the case with Obsidian if you do not use online storage), Evernote was designed like all addictive social media was. There are constant nudges to do this and do that, some gamification, but worse than all that, it is super-easy to add gobs of information from the Internet to your account. Just one click and you get it all. The result is that you are encouraged to accumulate a huge amount of notes, but they are all mixed. Super-important notes get mixed with spam and articles you saw and saved on a passing whim and even jokes and other stuff. 

I am not against using Evernote if it is simply a form of getting Fleeting Notes from the Web Clipper that you will later massage into Literature Notes. But even then, there is an open source program I have set up for that, Joplin. It doesn't come with ads and pressure to upgrade to a monthly cost and all that. And, since the Web Clipper asks for permission each time from your desktop app, surveillance is kept to a minimum.


Zotero: Zotero is a wonderful app for getting bibliographical information from your sources. And it is drop-dead simple to add new books and articles and videos and the like from online places. It slurps in the information from the Internet and puts it all into a database on your computer--and online if you like (which I am not crazy about).

The learning curve is not that bad and it will export an entire bibliography for you according to the parameters you choose. A work's info has to be in your copy of Zotero to appear in the bibliography, but if it is there, you can play with it in all kinds of forms. Also, if you like, Zotero will get PDFs for you and keep them on file. It automatically gets the entire article for peer reviewed articles. Lots of features. Also, it works well with Obsidian.

Here is one of the best tutorials I have found for the basics (and one of the best tutorial introductions to any app I have ever encountered, period). It's too bad this guy's main focus is Excel. But, hey. I might learn Excel in more depth from him. :) 


Just one last app for now:

Askify: This is a cute app, a browser extension, that allows you to take notes on YouTube videos (and other videos from other online sites). It's great for Fleeting Notes.

It gives you a notepad of sorts that pops up when you want while watching a video. You get time stamps, screenshots from the video, and so on, by clicking buttons. There's even a button to get the last 15 seconds of spoken text in written form (with Google's normal transcription errors, though).

Also, if you don't mind signing into the Askify site with Google, it gives you unlimited space to store your notes. Because of surveillance, I don't intend to store many notes there. Instead, I am (and will) use them as Fleeting Notes, transform them into Literature Notes in Obsidian, and delete them from Askify after.

I can't say much about this app so far since I discovered it recently and have used it for only a few notes. At least until now. But from what I have seen and used, I hope this is one app that lasts for the long haul. I like it.


I have some other apps I use for taking Fleeting Notes, but this is a changing landscape since technology is constantly changing. I'm sure you have your own favorite ones. And don't forget, there is always good ole' pen and paper. They are great for Fleeting Notes.


A format for notes about books

I was inspired to do this entire post because of a YouTube video by a lady named Elizabeth Filips (and, no, I don't know her--I saw this surfing on YouTube).

Although this is only one method of writing book notes, I already know this is my method for the rest of my life. I might tweak it over time, but this is it. And, of course, all book notes will go into Obsidian. They are automatic Literature Notes right up front. So I want to include this system to end this post.

Each book note consists of one text file with 4 topics. At the end, I mentioned a second file for Archives that will be linked (to avoid clutter), but it is not necessary.

Here is a massaged version of my Askify note for this video.

This system can be used for both fiction and nonfiction books.

Divide each note into the following topics:

1 - Impressions. 01:44. These are impressions giving what I feel about the book, the author, the writing style, what is going on in my life to make this book important when I read it, etc. They are kind of like a consumer review of a product. They should be 3 to 5 sentences in general (but can be more). The reason for them is to activate emotional memory when I review the notes much later. That accesses long term memory in the deep dark corners of my brain.

2 - Actionable Takeaways. 02:41. Rather than just underlining a book for something important, or wring a note in the margin, these are comments about something in the book that can be useful in my life or in a project or in someone else's life, etc. They should be in my own words. For normal books, keep this to 10 passages only. If more, as Elizabeth points out, I will probably not use the Actionable Takeaways. (I already know this from experience. :) ) If there are a bunch of comments and I want them for reference, like for a project, they can be included in a separate Archive note and linked to this note.

3 - Favorite quotes. 05:18. Do 3 to 5 quotes for normal books. Maybe 10 for a longer book. If there are a bunch of quotes I want to use for reference, like for a long project, they can be included in a separate Archive note and linked to this note.

4 - Bonus section. 05:51. This section is for formulas, step-by-step processes, number of parts or elements to an idea, multiple questions, assignments given in the book, and so on. But only include the good stuff. Otherwise, clutter happens. If I need a bunch of extras and similar material from the book, it should go into the Archive file and linked.

I am going to use this process to death. In fact, I have already started. And for important books for my projects, like on neuroscience, ones that require a lot of study, I can easily see using this process for each chapter, or maybe each important chapter only if there is filler in the book.


That it for now

You might have noticed that I did not list everything I tried in notetaking programs and systems. But why would I do that? I'm not trying to review them. I'm merely telling you what I do right now and why.

I also winged this post. I did not outline it other than in my head as I went along. As fiction writers say, I pantsed it.

(There are two main types of fiction writers. Outliners--those who get all their ducks in a row before writing. And pantsers--those who write by the seat of their pants as they go along. And, no, smartass, this post is not fiction. :) )

Some of the ideas in this thread are probably useful to you and some not. That's the way it's supposed to be. We are all different people with different brains and different values. So why not different notetaking habits?

That means you inevitably have your own things you do. Please share your thoughts, experiences, apps, systems and so on.

I believe OL readers will love this. And, should miracles exist, many will even use some of this stuff.



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I want to add something to this.

There's another program I am starting to use, but I'm not so fluent with it that I will offer a routine. I'm still experimenting.

The program is: 


This is an open source flash card app. It's really cool and there are many ways to do flash cards on it.


A flash card, using paper index cards, has information on both sides. At the basic level, one side has the term you want to learn and the other has the meaning. Or a question and answer. You go through the cards each day guessing the meaning or the term or the term itself, depending on which side you are looking at, or the answer if it is a question, then turn the card over to see how you did. After you get the same card right a lot of times, you take it from the stack.

The idea is to learn technical jargon, foreign languages, and things like that. People also use flash cards to memorize names, technical concepts, poems and so on. With Anki, since it it electronic, image, audio and video can be added so you can learn guitar chords, the names of classical compositions and paintings, names of body parts or the parts of anything, diagrams, formulas, and so on.


Anki uses a concept called "spaced repetition." Instead of turning cards over, the program simply hides the information and reveals it when you click a button. Also, you rate yourself clicking buttons: Again, Good, or Easy. That means you got the answer wrong, got some of it right, or got it right. This is the basic rating process, but there are variations on it you can tweak.

You go through your cards every day guessing and rating your answers, and the program, using some complicated algorithms, decides which cards you will see the next time. It skips days for some cards. In other words, you don't need to see every card every day to get the information into your long-term memory. The brain has its own process for that. Spaced repetition taps into the brain's natural memory acquisition process (law of identity anyone?) and your own ratings as you go through the cards. Over time, you will no longer need a card in the stack. So Anki will remove the card and you will have some information in your brain you can recall on command.

There are a couple of cool features, too. You can take a drawing of, say, a brain that has all the parts labeled and cover up the labels in different manners. Then you guess the names of the brain parts. I'm saying brain because I'm studying neuroscience with story, but this goes for anything. Cars. Watches. Pictures of forests. Any image with labeled parts.

You can also do something called Cloze repetition. That means you take a statement and cover up some words in it. Then you have to guess what the words are.


I've tried to use this app in the past and totally screwed it up. You can get flash cards online that are already made. And I did. Boy did I. Kid in a friggin' candy story. I loaded up on them. Then I wondered why I couldn't get into using the program.

That's a mistake--and just one of several I made. To get interested and stay interested, you have to understand the information before you try to memorize it's form. Just memorizing words is a drag. So I'm only using my own flashcards right now. Ones I make. But no worries. They are easy to make.

Within my new notetaking process, I am including Anki. Whenever I see technical terms or something I want to memorize, I am mentioning it in the Obsidian note, then inputting the info into Anki. In making notes on books, for instance, I made a template and added a topic to the Archive file: For Anki.


There are oodles of instructions on the internet for Anki. Lots of medical students, too. For those interested in philosophy and all those long boring terms, this app is right on target.

If you use this thing, have fun.

That's what I'm doing (finally).




NOTE: If you are approaching your golden years like me, this kind of app is great for keeping your brain active. It even helps you fight Alzheimer's and so on. The trick is to keep it fun, not boring. I wonder if pictures of naked women would be useful... Hmmmm... :) 

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On 7/14/2022 at 3:05 PM, Michael Stuart Kelly said:

Some of the ideas in this thread are probably useful to you and some not. That's the way it's supposed to be. We are all different people with different brains and different values. So why not different notetaking habits?

Thanks for the wide-ranging and educational post, Michael.  I downloaded Obsidian and hooked myself up with Askify. I like the clean, simple basic function of Obsidian -- I would use it as instant 'hypercards,' where notes contains links to other notes in a limited project (Vault). 

What I find really cool about Obsidian is that I can see its use in the simplest format -- as below, two simple notes, one with hyperlinks -- and in something more complex, say an essay or novelette or scenario or film script;  this could be organized in chapters, scenes, alongside actors, character notes, whatever, and it's dead easy to re-organize and re-order items as a story or series of articles.

Here the notable aspect is that the URLs are live and will open in your active browser from Obsidian.




And Askify is simple to use with some hidden powers.

For me, Askify's browser extension is immediately useful -- like a beefed-up Bookmark utility.  I've been trying it out for quick notations on YouTube videos.  The 'Snap' button in Askify's pop-in takes a screenshot from the video and puts a timestamp link in the note. That's biff bam boom fast and useful.




I am going to try to integrate these two useful apps and extensions into my long-term habit of using a paste-board or clipboard. Next to try out Askify's ability to take dictation!


For years I have used a plain-text utility that appends any material I copy -- headlines, excerpts, URLs and code I find of note while surfing, reading, watching. I use the freeware "Light" version of NoteTab.  This application also allows a lot of automated tasks, templating, and of course any text-based code, from JSON to PHP to HTML5.




For a few years now I have been uploading images, videos, documents and various web-pages to a personal server with unlimited storage. I started it all off by using a "single file directory" script (a PHP document) that allowed uploaded files to be viewed as a table/spreadsheet while 'live' online. 

The open-source folks that began this Single File Directory script have been rolling out improvements steadily--  making the interface much more rich in information and much more configurable. 

Just lately I upgraded to their latest update, which now is called "A Files Gallery." Their blurb says it all:

Single-file PHP app that can be dropped into any folder, instantly creating a gallery of files and folders.

The best part of this latest update is that they have instantiated an easy way to upload files, and to write directly on the server in a text file. Here's an example from my series of Online Files. 




Any video can play within the browser page, with a little pop-up. Same with audio. All files can be previewed.  



So, instead of vast folders of materials on my hardrive, with no indexes, I have an online gallery of items I found notable/shareable or have included in my rolling editions of web page collections. Eg, 




Edited by william.scherk
Added a frame to Weird Month screenshot; grammar and spelling
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On 7/17/2022 at 2:34 PM, william.scherk said:
On 7/14/2022 at 3:05 PM, Michael Stuart Kelly said:

We are all different people with different brains and different values. So why not different notetaking habits?

Thanks for the wide-ranging and educational post, Michael.  I downloaded Obsidian and hooked myself up with Askify. I like the clean, simple basic function of Obsidian -- I would use it as instant 'hypercards,' where notes contains links to other notes in a limited project (Vault). 

Ben Meer -- on Twitter @SystemSunday -- published a thread list of "must-have" free websites.  Some are of no interest to OLers, but this one promises some intriguing outputs:

Screenshot of a sample text paraphrased, using the free version.




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Quillbot is good.

The AI rephraser I use is called Wordtune.

They talk about free plans and paid plans, but I have found that if I use the Wordtune editor and the browser extension, it's more than they say is free, and it's as much as I ever need for rephrasing.

In fact, I rarely use a rephrasing tool.

In Internet marketing, they use this because they game Google's algorithms for backlinks. They take the same article, set up 50 garbage sites or so pointing backlinks to a site they want to go up in Google's search results, then rephrase the article over and over so Google's bots don't detect it's the same crap.


Also, people who can't write well use this to take a good article, change it up and make it look like they can write.

Once in a blue moon, I feel I need to clean out the creative stables, so to speak, so I will horse around with Wordtune for a time. This actually helps. Suddenly an idea is in lots of different forms.

Also, most of the automatic AI writers I own have rephrasers (mostly based on GPT-3). I keep thinking of using these writing bots, but I never get around to it.

The site I most use for rephrasing is on a word-by-word bases: And I mostly get there from a search engine by typing the word I want to think about and the word synonym. The site is always among the top results.


On another note, I vastly increased my speed in writing by going through a book by a guy named Jack Grapes called Method Writing (referral link). I took it seriously and did all the exercises. But the two exercises that improved me the most were Write Like You Talk and Image-Moment.

Most of all, Jack hammered home the necessity of keeping a writing diary for yourself where you write a minimum each day irrespective of quality. I do a minimum of 500 words a day (it usually goes to about 1,000 or a little under, sometimes more). I have done this since May and I have not missed a day.

There are some rules, of course. And I use them. I don't know if this system is right for everybody, but it certainly pulled the stopper out of the bottle for me.

The Image-Moment is cool, too. Here you interrupt an action or speech to present an image where nothing happens. However, by doing it this way, you fix the image in memory of the audience. More rules, but I have incorporated this technique into my fiction writing.

He also has a thing called Massage a Transformation Line. It's basically a way to dig into your memory for the important stuff for writing. You take a line you wrote, strip out everything but "I" and the verb (and maybe a qualifier once in a while). Then you run this through your "Write As You Speak" mode as you address the following two questions.

1. How does this relate to the truth of who I am right now?
2. How does this relate to the story of my life? 

If you ever do this, you would be surprised what surfaces up in your mind. Here is an example of a Transformation Line. I wrote above: "... I vastly increased my speed in writing by going through a book..." 

My Transformation line is: "I increased."

So then I start bopping around in my mind to see what I increased that is related to the truth of who I am now. I might start by talking about the speed of writing. I certainly increased that. And end up at the intensity of how much I love living, or how my indifference to status has increased, or whatever.

Then I go back to my past (the story of my life), and the anecdotes come up in abundance. Things I have lived. One triggers another and my fingers can hardly keep up with them.


I only mentioned this because I have all these AI writing programs now, but I have found a way into the greatest AI machine ever, my own brain.


This is why I keep putting off experimenting with the programs I got. I don't have time and never run out of words--good words, not hack shit.

As to Obsidian, that notes program I dealt with in the first post, I have been filling that sucker up with notes from all over my life. It is a God send. I have used it a lot even when I write here on OL. 


btw - I use Scrivener for my Journals (I have one for my Jack-inspired journal and one I started yesterday for fiction writing. I am pushing myself to write 500 words minimum of fiction each day in that new journal, unless I have been at work writing on one of my fiction projects. This is like playing scales on the trombone when I was learning, or like a basketball player shooting hoops at night. It's to develop skills.


Since I am rambling like fuck in this post, here is my very first fiction entry in my Fiction Writing Journal. I did this yesterday in under an hour. Note, this is pre-first-draft material so it is not supposed to be good. Also, the notes at the beginning are not counted in the 500 word rule I set for myself. As you can see, with all this writing, I have little time for the AI stuff. And it's weird. I want to dig into the AI stuff.

But my writing comes first.

As explanation of the excerpt (from the Fiction Journal part of an older Writing Ideas scrivener file I had going), there are notes to myself (btw - this is how I write to myself all the time these days), then a Brief of the scene, then the fiction entry that poured out of me (after the ***** sign). Also, the Brief poured out of me in just the same manner. 


So here is the BRIEFING template.

Where prompt came from: 
Basic scene:
What do the characters want?
What happens if they don’t get it?
Why now?
How do they intend to get it?

Everything else from here is secondary. I want to use only two characters to start with and make them adversaries. Later they can be lovers or cohorts or employee-and-boss or anything else. 

I can even do Image-Moments here. So let’s start. I’ll try to pull something out of my ass right now.

Where prompt came from: My ass.

Setting: In a row boat on a lake during the day.

Characters: Elly and Peter, two people in their 30’s who are trying to see if they can date, but they have many differences.

Basic scene: They need to decide whether to eat and keep fishing or row back to shore. 

What do the characters want? Peter wants Elly to agree with him as the couple’s leader for any possible romance. Elly wants to be seen. Both want to romance the other despite warning bells going off in their heads

What happens if they don’t get it? Peter will lose a bet he made  with his friend Jeff, and Elly will go on an all-female trip so she won’t have to worry about being rejected by another man for a long time.

Why now? Peter will lose his bet if he doesn’t get her as a girlfriend today, and she will have to decide on the trip by tomorrow. Neither can know this is the respective condition the other has.

How do they intend to get it? Peter tries to teach Elly to fish and she tries to learn to fish from him.


It was a fine sunny day as Peter rowed away to a new spot. Man, did Elly look pretty. By God, he was going to get her to fish or else.

He said, “We have to go to this other spot I know. The fish here don’t seem to be biting.”

She said, “We could break to eat something.”

“Only when I say so.”

Elly looked at him. She liked what she saw, but she did not like what she heard. “Really?” she asked. “Why’s that?”

Peter pretended to think. He affected the pose of Rodin’s statue. “Ummm… Because I know how to fish and you don’t?”

A flying fish jumped out of the water and landed with a splash, getting them both wet. They laughed and Peter started rowing.

“I’m thinking,” he said.

“Don’t think too hard. You might pull up another fish. Is that how you fish?”

“Of course that’s not how I fish. Why would you say that?”

“I’m joking, grumpy-puss.”

He smiled, but his heart wasn’t in levity. He started rowing hard.

Elly wanted this to work, but it didn’t look good. Peter was hot, smoking hot, but he seemed to have a head full of rusty nails. If she could not get him to kiss her, not as a piece of ass, but because he liked her, she was going to say yes to that trip tomorrow. Only women for 97 glorious days. No men need apply.

As Peter rowed, he wondered how he could impress Elly. He was moving the oars in a way that showed off his arm and shoulder muscles. He tensed them up to make them even more impressive.

“We’re almost there. Now you’ll see what I mean. I know how to fish.”

He stopped the boat as a flock of birds flew overhead. The sun was getting hotter.

He needed to land a fish real bad right now. And he needed to land Elly. He bet Jeff he would have her on his arm after he came back and he needed the $200. 

As he prepared their rods and showed her what to do, he said, “You know, I was thinking.”

She looked at him for a couple of seconds, then burst out laughing.

He said, “OK. OK. I get it. But seriously, you are a very pretty lady.”

Elly wanted to blush, but she couldn’t. “Well, you’re hot in all the right ways, but is there anything upstairs?”

He said, “Hey. Are you still joking? That’s not funny.”

“I’m hungry.”

“Wait until we catch something. The food isn’t going anywhere.”

“But I’m hungry now.”

Jeff rolled his eyes. He instantly regretted it. Elly pulled out the basket, opened a sandwich, chomped down hard on it and started chewing like a monkey close to his face.

Jeff was seeing $200 fly off into the horizon while Elly tried to stop. She wanted him to like her, but he wasn’t seeing her. This guy was going to find a way to her good side and find one fast, or she was going to chew him up like that sandwich. The trip tomorrow wasn’t looking so bad after all.

If only she didn’t feel so damn lonely.


I don't care who likes this or not.

I'm gobsmacked that this came out of me in such a short amount of time on a whim. And it has nothing to do with what is going on in my life. It's like my Muse took up residence in my soul. It's proof of the saying, your Muse will show up only if you show up. And nowadays I show up every day to write in my Journal (now in my two Journals).

Will this become a story later, part of a larger work, or will I rewrite it to death as I figure out what to do with it, or will it sit there in my Journal (and in this post) with nothing else happening to it?

Damned if I know.

I've got to write a new one today...



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I did write a new one today. And to show the first one was not a fluke or something, I'm posting the second one here. It's not hard to do once you learn how.

Please remember that this is not supposed to be good or polished or even a first draft of anything. Nor is it part of any larger story. It's just shooting hoops as a writer.

I will probably not post anymore after this one, though. The purpose of these Journal entries is not to get feedback, but to get practice. If I get negative feedback, my Muse may get pissed at me and if I get positive feedback, I might let it go to my head. Now is not the time for that. My stuff for feedback will come later.

I am doing this, though, for any potential writers who are lurking to show them there is a way to get there and learn writing skills on your own.

Hell, if I can do it, I know you can. :) 

The same rules as before. It's gotta be over 500 words and the Brief doesn't count. I did this in under an hour and I had no image or plan beforehand. I blurted it all out as if in a trance.

And don't forget, my Brief looks like the following before I start. I paste it into the writing field and start writing. It's the only pre-prepared thing I use.

Where prompt came from: 
Basic scene:
What do the characters want?
What happens if they don’t get it?
Why now?
How do they intend to get it?


Where prompt came from: My ass again.

Setting: Police station in a small town.

Characters: Josh (the bandit), about 23 years old and Clay (the cop), about 40.

Basic scene: Josh comes in to file a complaint against a person who ripped him off, but he is as high as a kite. The cop is trying to be cordial, but he’s having a hard time holding it together.

What do the characters want? Josh wants his money back for being ripped off and he wants to stop feeling resentment at the unfairness of it all. Clay wants to find some way to make sense of all this and he is so weary of the bullshit, he just wants to get up and leave.

What happens if they don’t get it? Josh will have someone he has to pay do something bad to him. This stays unspecified. Clay will lose a little bigger piece of himself and let a small punk off, and he doesn’t even care.

Why now? For Josh, the bad guy is right outside his house, stalking him. For Clay, he’s close to a nervous breakdown.

How do they intend to get it? Josh wants to get his money back by complaining to the police, even though the money was probably used illicitly. And Clay wants to calm the beast inside himself by feeding the beast the same bullshit that made it grow.



Josh came stumbling up the concrete stairs and fell into the police station. “God damn it!” he yelled.

Clay looked up from the bench-like desk, then over the desk at Josh. He sighed. When’s it ever going to end?

“Hey, buddy,” he said. “Are you all right?”

“No I’m not all right,” Josh said. He giggled. Then he frowned. “You gotta get my money back.”

Clay’s stomach gurgled and he tasted bile. “Sir. Will you please come over here and fill out this form? Oh… I forgot, do tell. Do you need someone to help you up, sir?”

Josh crawled about a bit, then got up wobbly. “Nah, man. It’s all cool, ya ‘ know? You gonna get me my money back?”

“What money are we talking about, sir?”

Josh made it to the bench desk. He took the form and stared at it, not comprehending. 

“Well, I bought some shit, ya’ know? And the jerk took my money and ran off.” 

Clay stared at him. He started daydreaming about being at home in front of the TV with a beer.

Josh, weaving, said, “That was all my money, man. All of it. I need it back.”

Clay stifled the urge to get up and leave. Just walk right out that goddam door. “Sir. We need more details. Let’s start with this. Who are we talking about?”

“The man, dude. The man who was selling shit.”

“Does this man have a name?”

Josh looked like he was going to fall over. Then he started to dry heave.

“Hey buddy. If you’re gonna be sick, the men’s room is over there.”

Josh stopped, then looked around. “Where am I?”

“You are in a police station. I am a cop.”

“Oh yeah. My money. The man took my money. And I have a secret.”

Clay went back to his daydream. He imagined himself right there in his living room. He was getting up, setting down his beer, going to the bathroom as he took out his gun. What would it be like?… “Stop it!” he told himself. 

“Don’t you want to know my secret, man?”

“OK.” Clay tried to act calm. “I guess I don’t have much choice. What is this secret of yours?”

Josh giggled. A little drool came out of the corner of his mouth. “The money ain’t even mine.”

“What are you talking about, sir?”

“It ain’t mine. I was getting some shit for a dude, ya’ know? And the dude is right there, near my front door. I know he’s gonna fuck me up because no money, no shit, ya’ know?”

Clay looked at the clock. There was still three hours to go. He wondered what he should do with this guy.

“Sir, were you buying anything illegal?”

Josh sobered. “No, officer. I don’t do illegal.”

“So what are we talking about?” 

Josh’s eyes bugged out as he looked around the police station. “You can’t help me get my money back?”

Clay was fighting himself. Just sit here he thought. Do not go around the desk and beat the living hell out of this crazy asshole. Oh, God. What he’d do for a cold beer. What’s this jerk on, anyway?

“Hey,” Clay said, coming out of it. Josh looked up at him.

Clay pointed to the door. “Who’s that guy out there on the street? The one running?” 

“What guy?”

“He went up the street to the left. He looked like he had a bag of money.”

“Huh?” Josh turned around, stumbled to the door and down the steps. He looked both ways squinting. Then he started running to the left up the street.


I'll be doing one a day for a while, maybe for the rest of my life like I will do entries in my other Journal. Maybe later I will use some outside writing prompts just to make things interesting. I'm never letting go of my Brief, though. That's a composite of a lot of story study mixed with a shortcut from David Mamet. That little sucker works well, as I am now seeing. 


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19 hours ago, Michael Stuart Kelly said:

Then I go back to my past (the story of my life), and the anecdotes come up in abundance. Things I have lived. One triggers another and my fingers can hardly keep up with them.

I truly love the memoir-like pieces and vignettes you've provided over the years; the fluency you've gained as a writer shines through in those kinds of storytelling.

So, as a sucker for a good memoir, I hope you keep that passion alive. Not a full-fledged autobiography, but telling moments and hinges in the arc of a life.

19 hours ago, Michael Stuart Kelly said:

It's like my Muse took up residence in my soul. It's proof of the saying, your Muse will show up only if you show up.

Muses on! 

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On 8/30/2022 at 5:00 PM, william.scherk said:

So, as a sucker for a good memoir, I hope you keep that passion alive.


I intend to. But I had to stop way back when. I was using memoir as the basis for all my articles. I realized I could not write fiction worth a shit. So I worked on that until I fixed it. 

And fix it I did. What a slog, but I did it. Now I'm practicing the fiction stuff. (And now I can do both memoir and fiction. :) )

I said I was not going to present another entry from my Journal since these are essentially my first thingies, but here is the 4th. I tried to do a YA cute funny little thing for a change. I've mostly been writing heavier stuff or more action related stories. I realized after my 3rd (which I am not putting here) that I was living in a fictional world of raw emotions taken to intense levels.

Which is OK. This is my training wheels process, so I figure I can pull back from too much. This is preferable since it is hard as hell to put in what is not there.

Anyways, I wanted to write something a little more laid back. Here is what I came up with. And I am still gobsmacked that this shit pours out of me. Imagine what I am going to be able to write when I want to pour ideas into the mix.

This is the Brief I wrote on the fly (and I included a nice little mini-template reminder I use from Steven James--one of the best I have found anywhere). This entire thing (Brief and story) took about two hours this time.


Where prompt came from: My ass.

Setting: In a protestant church during a service. 

Characters: Joy, a young girl of about 12. Amy, her older sister, about 16.

Basic scene: The girls sit bored to tears through a sermon. No parents. As time goes on, they start misbehaving. Something happens to make Amy start a laughing fit she can’t stop and she gets up to leave, laughing all the way out the door. Joy is left looking around at all the people looking at her, then she starts laughing.

What do the characters want? Amy wants to act grown-up, be accepted by the other grown-ups as a grown-up herself, and she wants to teach Joy how to do it. She uses Joy sort of like her private lab rat. But she also wants the sermon to end because she doesn’t know how much longer she can take it. Joy just wants the sermon to end so she can go home and watch cartoons on TV.  

What happens if they don’t get it? Amy actually doesn’t get it and the laughing fit is what happens. If she did get it, she would carry herself in a snooty manner. Joy needs to do something with her energy. If she doesn’t get to the end of the sermon soon, she will start throwing things at people and other mischief.

Why now? Both are bored to tears and they don’t know how to stand it much longer.

How do they intend to get it? They both intend to get to the end of the service by sitting through it. Also, Amy wants praise from other adults about how mature she is for not only being a model church-goers, but how she keeps her younger sister in line. They don’t make it.



Now here is the little diddly. Obviously, on rewrite, I can use more colorful language, replace clichés, add Image-Moments, maybe add other details and so on. Who knows? Even another event or so. Or I might not do anything with this. Like I keep saying, it's practice.


It was too pretty of a day to be indoors at church listening to Pastor Walter drone on about God’s love of mankind. 

Amy, 16, in her lovely blue Sunday outfit, had a twinkle in her eye and a yawn wanting to come up. But she held both down. She wasn’t a girl anymore. She was Amy, the young woman. Amy, just one more adult in the congregation. Amy, the mature older sister.

She was at church without her parents for the first time. They were traveling. 

And she knew the day would come when she would hear the ladies say, “Did you see that darling Amy sitting so still during the service? What a wonderful young woman she’s turning out to be. Look how she kept Joy in line. Why, maybe we should invite her for tea sometime.”

Amy felt a warm rush and tingling over her skin when she thought of things like that. A half-smile formed as she looked over at her 12 year old sister.

Joy was looking here, there and everywhere. Amy knew her and feared it was just going to be a matter of time. 

“Keep still, Joy,” she whispered, trying hard not to be heard by anyone else.

Joy whispered back, “I’m bored. I want to go see cartoons.”

Pastor Walter was up there talking something about sheep and flocks and green pastures.

Joy said, “I’ve got to go to the bathroom.”

Amy groaned. Joy was going to spoil this for her. She looked around. There was Mrs. Engles in the second pew, up left to the front. She looked enthralled by the pastor’s words of wisdom. Mrs. Engles was at peace with the world and loving every minute of it. Amy wanted to be like her.

And there was Mr. Livingstocking in front. Amy didn’t like Mr. Livingstocking. He was stern. Mean. He liked to be obeyed. If there was anything Amy didn’t want to do, she didn‘t want to cross Mr. Livingstocking more. 

He was famous for making young women cry with just two words. He could wither a rose by looking at it. So imagine what he could do to Amy if Joy….

It was at this very moment Amy looked at Mr. Livingstocking’s right ear. He had big ears and they turned outward. He grew his hair long to cover them, but it didn’t do the job. What she saw was a smooth surface of brown with a piece of ear sticking out of it.

Amy turned her head, then looked in horror as Joy pulled back a rubber band like a slingshot. She had a small rolled-up piece of paper getting ready to bean that ear and win the prize.

Amy put her hand over the rubber band and Joy grunted and jerked her body once in frustrated protest. Mrs. Engles turned around and looked to see what was going on. Amy felt like slinking down under the pew. She could hear her heart’s pulse in her ears and she knew she was turning red. 

But if she tried to grab the rubber band away from Joy, she could just see the fuss. Joy would embarrass everyone except Joy. Why was she so impossible, for the love of Pete? Couldn’t she just be a good little girl for a change?

Pastor Walter invited everyone to pray. All bowed their heads. Amy did not dare keep her eyes open for the prayer. Adults who were adults closed their eyes when they prayed. That’s what adults did.

But as Amy heard, “Our heavenly Father, we come before you,” she also heard a twang. She looked up in time to see the paper missile bounce off the extended ear of Mr. Livingstocking, who proceeded to break wind. The beaned ear and the other ear turned red and Mr. Livingstocking sat as still as a stone. He even stopped breathing.

Amy looked at Joy, who smiled at her, happy, with that “look what I did” face of hers. Amy looked back at the ever reddening ears of Mr. Livingstocking, then over at Mrs. Engles, who looked back. Then Mrs. Engles gave her a thumbs up.

Amy started laughing. She tried to stop, but she couldn’t stop. She heard the pastor say, “… we beseech thee, Oh Lord.”

Between gasps of air, Amy said, “Beseeeeech…” and she lost it. She couldn’t stop laughing. She got up and started walking down the aisle toward the door. Everyone was looking at her. Even Pastor Walter had paused. She doubled up as the guffaws came out. Tears streamed down her face and she stumbled along. She needed to get to that door like now.

Joy stood up. She looked around. People looked at her. She laughed in delight and followed her sister out of the church. Leaving early. Wow. Today she could see even more cartoons.

I kinda like that one. :) 

My Muse is still with me. I hope she never leaves.


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  • 1 year later...

I don't have time to go deep into the following video, but I recommend it.

Mini Essays: The Ultimate Learning Tool


This gist.

When you see something you find interesting and want to keep it in long term memory, write a mini-essay about it.

The mini-essay should be between 100 to 300 words long. And you should write it as if you were going to teach the idea to someone who does not know it. (Basically, the Feynman technique.)

I love the term mini-essay. This made the last confusing block of a notetaking method called Zettlekasten fall into place in my mind. 


In Zettlekasten, you have 3 kinds of notes: fleeting notes, literature notes, and permanent notes. You can also have reference notes for sources.

Say what? What the hell is a fleeting note?

Man are these names clunky, especially for someone like me.

So here are the names and my understanding of them.

A fleeting note is any kind of scrap piece of paper, or random reminder anywhere, of something that caught your eye and you want to file the idea away for potential use later. You don't want to forget the idea. 

A literature note is an explanation of the idea in your own words. This can come from one or more fleeting notes and you can add new thoughts to it. It's a kind of first draft of understanding an idea. You can have mistakes and unpolished language, or not. Once you have used a fleeting note in a literature note (or personal explanation in my own terminology), it's best to delete it. A literature note (personal explanation) can be long if you wish, but shorter works a lot better in this system.

A permanent note is what is called a mini-essay above. This is the single idea cleaned up and in a form to teach another. This should only be between 100 to 300 words long and focus on one idea only per note.


You have no idea of how much I have suffered with the concept of "permanent note" because of that goddam name. Dumb me, I guess.


But the term, "mini-essay," wrapped it up and put a bow on it in my mind.


I might talk about the open-source note-taking program called Obsidian later, but for now, I will just mention this.

I find Obsidian to be the most useful program I have come across for using the mini-essay system. The reason? You can interconnect your notes, which are single text files in Obsidian. And that makes having lots of mini-essays useful. When you pull up a note, you can see the other notes that are connected to it through links right there at your fingertips. Since you wrote the notes yourself, you already know what they are the moment your eyes hit them.

As you go along, you can build up quite a body of knowledge and interconnected ideas.

What's more, Obsidian makes it super-easy to interconnect notes. As you write one, you type in [[, a double bracket. A list of note names appears from your Vault. (A Vault is a set of notes that is different from other Vaults. You can make as many Vaults in Obsidian as you like, but fewer are better.)

Then you choose the note to interconnect and it will automatically finish the link on where you are typing. If there are a lot of notes (mini-essays in this case), you can type in a keyword and the list will start filtering down.

It's super-easy once you learn it.


I wish I had more time to talk about this right now, but watch the video at the start of this post. That guy does not talk about Zettlekasten per se. Instead, he does a great explanation of writing mini-essays every day. And he covers Obsidian a bit.


I can attest to the benefits you gain from focused writing every day.

In my Writing Journal, I do 500 words a day minimum. I have been doing this since May, 2022. I know I am getting close to one million words by now. Not bad for two years.

I am not going to replace my Journal Entries with mini-essays, but I am going to see if I can add at least one mini-essay a day in a new Obsidian Vault devoted to this and this only.

Or I might try to see if I can do this in my general notes Vault, where I gathered a good chunk of notes from over the goddam place at home, all over my computer's hard drives, and all over the Internet. That Vault is in a holy mess, so I'll have to see. :) 

But take a look at mini-essays for your own writing and note-taking. If you do the process right, and do it every day, it's easy and I am certain you will be in awe of your growing prowess before long.




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