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Stop Taking Notes While Reading

October 28, 20225 min read

Scott Scheper, the Analog Knowledge Revolutionary here. It is a Friday afternoon. I am sipping chardonnay on ice—yes, you read that right—and I am wearing my green Irish cap (backward).

I planned on writing to you earlier, however, about an hour ago I received a message on WhatsApp from Clemens Luhmann (the son of Niklas Luhmann, the most direct creator of the Antinet Zettelkasten).

Clemens and I jumped on a call and spoke for a while about various details in my upcoming book, Antinet Zettelkasten.

You see, I sent Clemens a draft of my book several weeks ago to review. There were parts pertaining to two interviews I had with Clemens. I had Clemens read the draft to check for accuracy.

In the interviews, we discussed many details about the origins of his father's Zettelkasten. We also discussed details of Niklas Luhmann's life that were never shared with the world. Fascinating stuff.

Anyway, Clemens had a few corrections for me. For instance, he made it clear that Niklas Luhmann only rarely drank red wine because he didn't want to waste time appearing silly.

There were other interesting things he shared, but I'm going to save that for the book!

Now, before I get into hyping up the launch of the Antinet Zettelkasten book (which will be released in early December), I'd like to share something else with you.

I am currently reading a book titled Dreyer's English. It's written by the Copy Chief of Random House, Benjamin Dreyer.

It's an opinionated guide to good writing. In a clever voice, he outlines spelling, grammar, and style rules.

While reading the book earlier today, one passage stuck out to me. Here it is in full:

Over the course of my career I've seen "light bulb" evolve into "light-bulb" and then into "lightbulb," "baby-sit" give way to "babysit," and—a big one—"Web site" turn into "Web-site," then, happily, "website."

How and why do these changes occur? I'll let you in on a little secret: Because you make them happen. Yes, you, right there. You grow impatient with the looks of, say, "rest room" ("I mean, it's not a room you rest in, is it?"), so you stick a hyphen in it, coexist with "rest-room" for about twenty minutes, then quickly tire of the hyphen and, boom, "restroom." Multiply this times hundreds of compounds, and watch the language whoosh into the future before your very eyes. Then watch the dictionary keep up with you, because that's how it works. As a lexicographer friend once confided over sushi, the dictionary takes its cues from use: If writers don't change things, the dictionary doesn't change things.


Did you read all that?

I wouldn't blame you if you didn't. That's a lot to read in an email.

The tl;dr version is that you determine what becomes a rule. If the spelling of a certain word doesn't look right, you (we, us, collectively) determine what becomes a rule.

We determine what the dictionary holds as the correct way to spell a word.

When I was reading this passage, it made me realize how interesting language is.

Language isn't some static entity, or something handed down by old white-bearded blowhards who work for Webster's Dictionary, nay. Language is a living, breathing, evolving entity that is shaped by us, collectively.

I don't know why it resonated with me so much, but I could just imagine the concept of language evolving and running endlessly, like a river. It never changes, it just constantly flows and evolves (I'll lay off the acid).

In my forthcoming book Antinet Zettelkasten, you'll see me use my own language for certain terms. For instance, the term "note-taking." The dictionary holds the proper spelling to be "note-taking," which I find rather dry. Therefore, I use the term "notetaking" throughout the book.

Anyway, the moral of the story is to use the spelling, grammar, and style that makes sense to you! The more I read Dreyer's English, the more I realize that all rules are just guidelines. They're meant to be tested, and later, broken.

OK, so with that mini-nugget out of the way, I'd like to share one more idea with you before we head into the weekend:

Try Not Taking Notes!

That's right. As sacrilegious as that seems—especially from a guy who self-titles himself The Analog Knowledge Revolutionary—try ditching the pen while reading.

Yes, you read that right.

You see, one thing I've seen people struggle with, whenever they dive into the world of the Antinet, is that they take way too many notes while reading!

What ends up happening is that a book that should take you two weeks to read, ends up taking you two months!

What ends up happening is even worse: burnout.

All a sudden, when you're trying to take proper notes while reading, you end up making the process of reading less fun.

So, what I recommend you try is this: read for one hour at a time WITHOUT writing down a single thought or note.

At the end of that one-hour time period, only then are you to write down one or two brief thoughts onto a bibcard (like I teach). From there, you can decide whether to elaborate further by transforming that thought into a main note.

Try that on for size, and see if it helps you out.

I wish I could take credit for that rule, but actually, it comes from Mortimer Adler's How To Read a Book:

In tackling a difficult book for the first time, read it through without ever stopping to look up or ponder the things you do not understand right away.

I don't recommend going through an entire book without taking notes, an hour is sufficient—especially if you suffer from the overselectivitis (i.e., selecting too many irrelevant details). Read for one hour without taking a single note, then go back to the one or two most important things you read.

I hope this helps, and I hope you have a fantastic weekend.

Warm regards,

Scott P. Scheper

"A Man Who Wants You To Read the P.S. Below"

Scott P. Scheper

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