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Notes from my Ask Me Anything LYT House Event

My notes are now public, you can buy my fiction, and I did a live Q&A with the Obsidian community on how it all came together.

Eleanor Konik
Written by Eleanor Konik

I teach (& research) ancient civilizations, then write stories & articles inspired by all eras of history... which involves a fair amount of notetaking ;)

6 min read.

Subscribers got an email about this yesterday, but over the weekend I moved my newsletter from mailerlite to Ghost, for a variety of reasons mostly having to do with the fact that it’s a lot faster and more pleasant to use the Ghost interface to send emails, since I’d already figured out most of the technological challenges to using Ghost.

I’ll save the writeup of the new technical challenges I faced putting a Ghost installation on the same server that I already had WordPress running on for another day, though, because the big announcement now is that you can now easily read past issues of my newsletter, formerly the “Monday Morning Research Roundup.” I’m still working on transferring over the issues from before March, but I’m excited to be able to more easily link to them when they come up in conversation.

I’m also very excited to announce that I’ll be publishing fiction through the newsletter!

Each story will come with a shortform analysis piece designed to be high-interest and give some insight into the research that went into each story.

If you’ve ever been curious about my writing, now’s your chance to get stories by me in your inbox every Wednesday, for less than a dollar apiece.

Another reason for the rebrand was to avoid confusion with my Obsidian Roundup. I help organize a newsletter to keep people abreast of what’s going on in the notetaking community, and to celebrate my launch, I shared my notes publically  live on LYT House during my “ask me anything” event. It’s posted to YouTube, so you can see how I go from academic texts, to ideas, to stories, to analysis:

Due to time constraints, there were a couple of questions posted that didn’t get answered, so I’ll go over them here:

How you review all these notes? Don’t you get overwhelmed by the number of prepared notes on varied topics?

I generally don’t get overwhelmed by large amounts of text in general (otherwise I would be the wrong person to run the roundup!) but I usually review them as they come up organically in my writing process.

My weekly newsletter really helps with this – it’s when I sit down and narrow in on one small concept that I’ve learned a lot about that week doing research for my writing, for example scurvy or fungus. I query my vault to see what I’ve got on that topic, and then comb through the search results looking for stuff that’s relevant, pull it out into my newsletter format (they kind of double as a mid-level atomic note), and then supplement with additional research if it triggers any follow-up questions. It’s a pretty organic process really and helps me stay focused on what matters most to me.

Do you use Scrivener? If so how is that involved in your writing process?

I used to, but I stopped toward the tail end of the Windows beta when I found Obsidian. Obsidian is free, which I like, and I’m very used to writing in markdown since I’ve been doing my initial drafting in writemonkey2 for about a decade. I do relatively little drag-and-drop scene order rearranging, and I much prefer the inline metadata style of Obsidian to the more databased style Scrivener offers. Plus, I like being able to leave inline notes-to-self that link to references as I’m writing, since I find it less disruptive to my flow.

Could you show how publish works from the user side?

I’m super sorry I missed sharing this, but I found a video from Nick that should help!

I mostly use them as a convenient short-list of all the external references, almost like a file outline. For example it’s a pretty handy way to double-check the spelling of a character name or quickly glance at their profile when I’m writing. It’s also useful for checking to see if I’ve referenced other characters I forgot to add to my “characters mentioned in this scene” metadata. Because most of my notes have very specific titles, I don’t get a ton of “noise,” so usually my unlinked outgoing links are a useful reminder that I should link something up. As I get increasingly specific and less encyclopedic with my notes, I have more signal and less noise and more importantly, fewer aliases. I use aliases now mostly for citekeys for academic texts so that I can link to them with more fidelity when I cite something I haven’t fully processed and imported yet.

How often do you refactor your workflow, and are there key things for you that pushed the workflow a step up?

It depends. But basically, whenever I find a new thing that would make things easier for me, or when I change my habits. For example, now that you can “share to Obsidian” and we’ve gotten Note Composer, and I’ve been exercising less regularly at the gym because of some health complications, my daily notes have become a lot more fleeting, and I tend to delete them once I’ve cleared them.

What’s your rough time budget of reading, note collecting/ingesting, note refactoring, writing in any given week?

I get about an hour or two per day to sit down at my computer, probably about three or four hours a week of that is spent on “knowledge work.” But it’s hard to say because I do a lot of reaching in short snatches of time while my toddler is occupied, a handful of pages of an academic text here, a quick Reddit thread there, and I don’t keep track of that time, I just dump it into my notes to deal with later.

Did you start with more of a Zettelkasten setup where all the zettels (atomic notes) were in a flat folder?

The opposite actually! I started with topic folders and learned pretty fast that didn’t work for me, and my slipbox has been getting flatter and flatter as I go. The main thing that’s different about my system is that my slipbox folder is what most people have in their zettelkasten – it’s just that I use Obsidian for more than just personal knowledge management. But I use pretty standard PKM principles in my actual slipbox.

Did you learn some technique to read fast?

I’m not a “speed reader” or anything, I just have a lot of practice. I learned to read books “early” and read a lot growing up, sometimes 2 full-length novels during the school day on top of my coursework, so it’s really just practice. Reading fast is like doing anything else fast, I think – the more you start to recognize patterns and get a sense of what to expect, the faster you can move through it. It’s like playing piano or typing in that sense. There are “hacks” you can use to improve typing speed, like learning touch-typing or switching to DVORAK, but the main thing is just that I’ve had a lot of practice and am very widely read.

Can you share your strategy on taking notes from historical books?

I’ve talked about it some before with Nick, but my actual “process” varies from book to book depending on whether it’s an ebook, a library book, a book I own, an a physical book I'm scanning using OCR from Readwise, or am trying to model good reading habits for my son. The main thing is to practice and develop a sense of what’s important to you and things you care about (for me, it’s things I can use for fodder for articles & stories) vs. what’s being presented as important to the author (usually proving a point, often one I don’t care about or am already convinced by).

Do you do this much research all the time on various things? Or is it more common to be like, “oh I remember I researched food preservation, let me go back and check my notes”?

It’s a bit of both!

When I sit down with my newsletter, I usually start out by thinking “hrm what have I been learning about this week, oh I know, I’ve been doing a lot with cities, let me check my notes for stuff about cities,” then I’ll see what I’ve got and supplement with new research into stuff that I’m curious about now that I’ve seen that I’ve got 3-4 notes already on city walls but have follow-up questions

Generally, I do spend a fair chunk of time “pleasure-reading” random interesting nonfiction books & articles and it kind of grows and connects and becomes the basis for the stories I write, so it all relates, which is what’s so great about being able to link up my thinking. There are some great examples of this over at my new newsletter, The Iceberg.

Note: There are a couple of affiliate links & codes scattered around, but these always come from links I was already recommending and usually I share them because they benefit you too (i.e. getting you extra time on trials).