A step-by-step process for thinking with multiple notes in markdown

When you have a lot of markdown notes in a single folder, you need ways to efficiently find them, use them, and think with them.

One of the best ways to think with many scattered notes is to: (1) curate their links in a brand new note and (2) craft those notes into something greater than the sum of its parts. Then afterwards, (3) merge it into the rest of your collection.

This new note is a tool that serves three distinct purposes:

  1. It can act as a curating tool (in a flexible, non-exclusive way)
  2. It can act as a deep thinking and creation tool
  3. It can act as a navigating and referencing tool

Each of these purposes represents a distinct action, even though in practice, these actions usually blend together seamlessly—meaning you’ll be adding links to new notes, while crafting the notes it links to, while using it to navigate around to different notes in your library.

That said, because people like following steps, here are the actions that happen at each stage:

  1. Curate: Curate relevant notes by adding their links into a new note.
  2. Craft those notes: rearrange, rephrase, merge, trim, delete, create, connect, and link them.
    • Rearrange them. Trust your intuition to find an order that makes sense.
    • Does each note have a concise, strong opinion?
      • Maybe a note says too many things. See if you can split it into two or three notes.
      • Maybe a note says nothing important, or repeats something another note already says. Merge the good stuff, delete the rest.
    • As you sculpt and craft these notes, make sure you are linking them to related notes in a way that flows with the content of each note.
    • As your arrangement of starts to solidify, look for holes in your arguments. Create new notes to fill those holes. Massage your arrangement.
    • Eventually, you’ll get to a point where you’re pretty happy with the arguments and order of the notes in this new note.
    • Use it to create a product: write an essay, polish an argument, prepare for a test, or something similar. Or don’t.
  3. Merge your note with the rest of your note library for future navigation & referencing:
    • Use it to navigate your note collection.
    • Use it as a handy and reliable reference at any point in the future for any random reason.

That is the plainest way to describe a crazy-powerful process.

Hopefully it makes sense and you can apply it immediately to elevate your thinking game in markdown to a higher-level.


Does this note sound familiar? It should. I call this type of note an MOC (Map of Contents) because it meets three thresholds:

  • (1) The definition makes sense: It stands for a “Map of Contents”, which is what it’s doing: it’s mapping the contents of your some of your note library
  • (2) It’s easy to append the filename with a simple, helpful word, which is also a good search term: Appending your notes with “MOC” like Habits MOC makes for a pretty unique search term and a visually clear representation of the note at a glance (without using any non-standard characters that can get your filenames in trouble)
  • (3) It’s a familiar concept, but also doesn’t have a narrow or pre-existing definition: The idea of “Maps” is a familiar one. But the term “MOC” is unfamiliar, so the concept has wiggle room to expand to cover the three distinct purposes of the note:
    • (3a) Is it curating tool?: Yes. The map-maker (cartographer) heavily curates what information is deemed important enough to make it on the map.
    • (3b) Is it a deep thinking and creation tool?: Yes, this is the actual process of making the map.
    • (3c) Is it a navigating and referencing tool?: Yes, the MOC is used to navigate one’s notes (this is how most people think about an MOC).

MOCs can be called other things of course.

  • I really like the concept of “Salons” as described by @bbain and @mediapathic .
    • A “gathering of ideas” and a “space to allow ideas to interact and"support” or “extend” or “challenge” other ideas" (from @bbain 's work); and a “sort of emergent democratic process” (from @mediapathic 's work)
  • I love the idea of Thought Collisions specifically for point (3b) (more on this soon)

You can test any concept or metaphor against the thresholds listed above. Your mileage may vary.

If you use this process please let me know your experiences!

18 Likes

I love this and want to organize my notes this way, but it’s too much work to maintain as obsidian is currently designed.

I would need a plugin that allows me to select a range of notes and/or directories and then automatically populate a new note with links to everything that was selected. At which point I could manually order the links into appropriate sections and add contextual notes if I choose. Additionally, the plugin would have to remember the selection of directories that were chosen to create this TOC type of note so that it could automatically update the TOC as my work evolves. Without a tools to help automate this, people will be spending more time on maintenance than on expanding their set of knowledge.

2 Likes

I’ll preface by saying it always depends on the use case. It’s only too much work if you are only putting together a list of links for the sake of having a list of links. I don’t think, nor do I want to suggest, you’re focused only on automation, because I know that’s not true.

If, however, you are using this higher-level note for the purpose of processing notes: then the work is the work, and that’s the point.

Overall, the focus should be on the work, and the work is the process of processing ideas (depending on your use case)—not on collecting and compiling stuff.

The above is one possible roadmap for processing ideas.

4 Likes

Reading this 1.5 years later…you can use find bulk text editor apps to automatically prepend or append text content to Markdown files. For Mac OS, there is a freeware app called ‘MassReplaceIt’ that allowed me to organize files in this way (I added links to the bottom for use as backlinks.) My notes were organized by subject in different folders so the process was very simple.