Getting Shit Done Learning Writing

A note-gathering and idea-making process

Anna Havron gives tips on managing your note-taking and calls out:

The magic is in the fact that writing is a transit system, which transports little electrical sparks in your synapses into things that affect shared reality.

Keeping a focus on what purpose a note serves — logistical, inspirational — can help you discard less useful information:

Be picky about what goes into your systems.

I have several paper notebooks I just scribble down ideas in. Each day I look them over for actionable notes, and scoop those out. Otherwise, when they are full, I scan them over, and only a few more notes get entered into my systems.

(My poor digital gathering practices means this article’s been open in my tabs for six+ weeks 🤦‍♀️ The actionable bit is the sticking point for me: I leave tabs open as a reminder because I don’t trust my systems or backlog.)


Cory Doctorow enumerates his blogging process and how he uses his blog as a digital garden:

Far from competing with my “serious” writing time, blogging has enabled me to write an objectively large quantity of well-regarded, commercially and critically successful prose…

The genius of the blog was not in the note-taking, it was in the publishing. The act of making your log-file public requires a rigor that keeping personal notes does not. Writing for a notional audience — particularly an audience of strangers — demands a comprehensive account that I rarely muster when I’m taking notes for myself.

Every now and again, a few of these fragments will stick to each other and nucleate, crystallizing a substantial, synthetic analysis out of all of those bits and pieces I’ve salted into that solution of potential sources of inspiration.

I love thinking of information as a nucleation site.

In the (my) blogging method, the writer blogs about everything that seems interesting, until a subject gels out of all of those disparate, short pieces.


Matthias Ott elaborating on Doctorow’s piece:

[Rick Rubin’s] approach is to not limit his input at all, meaning that he curiously allows to enter his mind whatever draws his attention, regardless of whether it might seem relevant or “useless” in his current situation. There is no such thing as useless information, because you never know which new ideas will emerge as a synthesis of all the individual fragments of creative input you were exposed to in the past.

(I bailed on The Creative Act because I didn’t like the way he framed his ideas around “Source” but I keep encountering interesting thoughts gathered by others who persevered 😂)

The thing is: This process isn’t a science. The only thing we can do is to be curious, keep a record of the things we deem to be significant, and constantly look for clues pointing to new ideas, for fragments of thought suddenly turning into something bigger.

See also: Foraging for insights

Discerning the value of note-taking

Getting Shit Done

Decide before doing

Liked Separate deciding from doing by Anna Havron (

Being organized means you make decisions BEFORE you act. This is true for time management, and it is true for managing the objects in your physical environment.

That’s the big secret.

Separate your decisions about your time, your energy, and your things, from your actions.

I have also found this to be key in writing: planning ahead of time makes the process of turning a story into prose SO MUCH easier!

I like the idea of designating homes for objects separately from the tidying up process.

House Self Care

Make your home a sanctuary

Liked Make Your Home a Sanctuary with the Four S’s by Anna Havron (

I asked a social worker once, who saw a considerable amount of human misery in her job, how she coped with the hard things she dealt with at work.

“I’ve made my home into my sanctuary,” she said.

We all have different ideas of the kinds of environments that restore us and refresh us, but in order to create a personal sanctuary, the foundation is in four invisible luxuries, which I call the Four S’s: savings, silence, solitude, and physical space.

The opposite of the Four S’s is clutter, clamor, crowding, and crises

I have so much crap around my house, and even though I have boxes to take to Goodwill it doesn’t seem to ever lessen.

The good I’ve done with making my home feel like a nice place to be: hang art I love all over the house. I’ve brought in nice accessories, lovely useful things like beautiful pottery to hold my pens, fuzzy blankets, and cushy throw pillows.

But there’s only so much you can do with accessories. Cute throws on the couch don’t cancel out the dark paint that makes the room feel cave-like. And cuteness doesn’t negate the piles of junk around, even liking a “more is more” vibe. And I’ve chosen some accessories poorly — like a beautiful wool blanket that’s too delicate for my cats, who pull long loops of thread with their claws every time they walk across it, so now it looks kind of raggedy.

Getting Shit Done Personal Growth

Weekly check-ins for your values

Liked Coach Yourself to Live Out Your Values by Anna Havron (

What I’ve learned over the past year is that, for me, a weekly review is the key to helping me live out my values.

I like the idea to pick one or two specific small actions to focus on a week.

What I have been doing recently is designating a specific time each week to do things that are important to me but I might otherwise skip:

  • Check in with a friend on Thursday after work – I’ll often think of a friend during the week but forget to reach out, so I’ve got a specific time to remind myself
  • Listen to new music on Tuesday after dinner
  • Read non-fiction ten minutes a day, with a reminder at 7:30pm