Rewording things is what makes them stick. Even if you want to copy-paste in some material as a quote1, preface it with your own paraphasing.

Figure out something you need to use your notes for on an about-daily basis. As long as you’re firing the thing up, flipping open the pages – everything else can evolve naturally.

Paper notes

Inspired by this write-up, I thought I’d mention how I actually format my paper notes.

I used to try and keep lists in the back of notebooks, but I tend to find the list format real overwhelming, so noting things as I go to help stick them in the old wetware2 is what I keep to.

Every day that I add notes, even if I’m just continuing exactly what I’d begun on a previous day, I write the date in the virtuous format and then the day of the week. The day of the week is rarely relevant when I look back at notes; the point of writing it down is to create a ritual so I have a fraction of a chance of remembering it that day, which I now do a bit better than before I was writing it…

Then there’s a horizontal line if I didn’t put in some more decorative divider between entries.

If I’m sitting down to write for a while, I’ll sometimes put my French-rule-inspired template behind the page I’m writing on, and then my handwriting looks little short of gorgeous, but I don’t concern myself with how quicker notes look.

Right now I don’t have a really good method of review; I ought to be adding things to my personal wiki when I start a new notebook, but so far I’ve just flipped through the old one for my own entertainment.

Digital tools

I’m mostly going to recommend what I use. It optimizes for easy tagging and linking, mobile access, flat file storage in a portable format, and display of backlinks. I’ve written about this before.

I have put together a Glitch project that you can “remix” (fork) and have your own Tiddlywiki set up! It has Markdown and a couple of other things set up in advance.

Tiddlywiki (TW)

There are weird hacky ways to save your work, but the Industrial Quality one is the node.js server.

Here is a piece on how Tiddlywiki lets you treat your notes like a database. If this doesn’t sound like something useful to you, skip it – it isn’t necessary to get value out of TW.


  • Relink - useful if you rely on links
  • Markdown plugin - there are different markdown plugins with pros and cons. The one I use does not handle fenced code blocks and doesn’t do footnotes, but it lets me link to tiddlers with names with spaces without having to type escapes. I think it might be an older version than what’s here, because it’s a pre-Commonmark flavor to allow that.
  • Context search - this is necessary for my backlinks setup, which I have in the linked blog post above.
  • Calendar - this is mostly nice if you are trying to pressure yourself to make sure you write in your journal post daily, since it displays the current day differently from other days, and days with journal entries differently from those without.


Via Chris Aldrich

A browser extension that simplifies grabbing the main content of a webpage in markdown format. Makes it easy to toss fulltext of something into my wiki while preserving e.g., outbound links. Technically it can also grab just a selection in Markdown, but I haven’t messed with that enough to know how well it works.

  1. This is good and sensible for people who are interested not just in content, but in form; you will never absorb someone’s turns of phrase through bulleted summaries. 

  2. Brain. I mean brain.