I love coding.
The good thing about coding is that it is less about writing lines of code but more about logical thinking. Once I understand a core concept, I can start building. I never have to remember or take notes for coding.
I also love reading.
I keep buying books whenever someone I follow recommends a book without ever thinking about its budget. Books are investments, not expenses.
What I get wrong about reading is that I focus on the quantity of books and not the quality of reading. The problem of reading alone is that the reading activity itself is fun and I enjoy every bit of moment of reading but I barely remember anything about a book after reading it.
It is ok to forget what we read (how much do you remember everything you learned in high school) but would reading become leisure activity like gaming rather than something can be beneficial in the long run? Would it be better if I have a system that retrieves knowledge immediately when I want?
With coding, I write lines of code to practice what I learn. I will never learn until I write and run the code. With reading, I don't have a system that internalize the knowledge.
That's where writing and note-taking come to rescue.
What is writing about
The way I write now is drastically different from the type of writing I learned in high school or college. Writing to me has been associated with boredom because of how it was taught.
It starts with writing for standardized tests like SAT or TOEFL. You have to follow a specific format to write. The topic is dull, the structure is rigid, and the content is predictable. The focus is on how to write with correct grammar with clear opening, body, and concluding paragraphs. You are judged on how closely you follow a guideline and not how you creatively express your ideas.
Then come the writing in our work. Who loves documenting our API code and features if you are an engineer? I guess the majority of us do not and we do it because we have to do.
There is nothing wrong with having correct grammar or documenting our work because good writing needs that. But these are minor aspects of writing. Tools like Grammarly can help fix grammar errors for you and advanced AI tools like text-to-speech or NLP can save you from doing manual documentation in the future.
Misunderstanding about writing is the reason why I hate it before. Until I discover there is more in it. It is less about the actual mechanism of writing but more about building a second brain knowledge, free expression of myself, and connecting with other people of the same mindset.
Public writing is a two-step process: note taking and publishing a blog post. The first step is knowledge collection. The second step is knowledge production.
Note-taking improves my learning
What bothers me with reading alone is how quickly I forget what I read. There is no way I can recall my knowledge unless I go through a 300-page book again. Or at least remember what book and what page that contains a piece of information I want. Fortunately, note-taking can help.
Taking notes for a book definitely makes the reading process slower but the extra time spent is well worth it. Research shows that note-taking can improve understanding and remembering books' content longer.
Reading alone is a passive learning process. Reading and taking note are active learning process.
Imagine you are watching a lecture for 2 hours with no interaction with the lecturer. Many of us would fall asleep by half-time of the lecture. What if you can raise your hand and ask questions with the lecturer? Your attention span would last longer and you would understand a subject better.
Note-taking works in a very similar way. You are interacting with the book and, in some way, with the author. The interaction makes you awake and pay more attention to the content. This active learning process invokes the critical thinking part in your brain to know what information should be noted and what could be discarded.
A 300-page book can be summarized in 3 or 4 pages of notes. Most books often have a few cores ideas and the rest are anecdotes. Note-taking allows us to have an efficient information retrieval.
Knowledge from a book usually does not help us immediately but might help us later when we seek for information or inspiration. Note taking allows you to build a system to retrieve knowledge whenever you want. When I am building my digital book notes I know that I can grab a piece of information I want without searching through my bookshelf. This drastically improves my learning in the long-term.
Writing clarifies thoughts and connects ideas.
If note-taking is the knowledge collection, writing is knowledge production. Writing allows me to internalize the knowledge that I learn.
Most of us, including professional speakers, have to write down our script (either in paragraph or bullet points) before having a public speech. The writing takes all the messy thoughts in our head and put them all in a paper. The visualization of thoughts makes us realize where are the weak points in our message or what does not make sense.
Do you think you understand a complex topic well? Wait until you explain it to another person. You will realize how messy your thoughts are.
Public writing untangles chaotic ideas in your mind and force you to come up with the simplest expression of an idea. To write is to explain and through explaining a concept you have a deeper understanding of what a concept is about.
The other benefit of writing is connecting the dots of ideas. Today the information is abundant, the ability to connect disjoint pieces of information is much more valuable than the information itself.
Connecting the dots of knowledge can reveal different insights. These insights could be a new discovery or a new way of describing the same old thing.
For example, many people talk about time management before but mine will be unique because I connect different dots in my own way. So is yours. So is any other person's.
Writing is an expression of yourself
And the dots are not only limited to information or knowledge but also include style of writing or way of thinking. When I take a book's notes, part of the author's writing style permeates through my brain and become part of my creative mind. This process happens without me consciously pushing for it.
The linking of different writing styles combined with my own experience creates my taste of writing. This is when I start to realize the power and beauty of public writing. Public writing is a way to express myself.
When I write, I can use short paragraphs, long paragraphs, images, dialogue, or even audio to make my essay interesting and insightful. I do not need to seek permission from anyone on how to write. There is no central authority to judge me on my writing style.
This is not what I was taught in school. I guess it might be the reason why I used to hate writing. A lot.
In some way, writing to me is like creating art. Surprisingly, it has many similarities with programming. Programming is a projection of knowledge, imagination, and coding style from a programmer's brain. Writing a clean and great program can be very satisfactory. No wonder programming is very addictive to many people.
The same principle applies to writing. An article is a projection of your knowledge, imagination, and way of thinking in you. Writing is when your internal world meets your external world. It connects your shy internal characters with the outside. Freedom to write, freedom to paint, freedom to create art are all freedom to express oneself.
Writing connects me with other people of the same mindset
Facebook connects me with people close geographically but far in mentality. Writing connects me with people far geographically but close in mentality.
Writing instantly connects 2 people all the way to deep inside their minds, by-passing all the fame, social status, races, skin colors.
If you meet a new stranger, it takes lots of time to build a close relationship that you want to share your deep thoughts. If you read someone's writing with the same feeling as yours, you immediately find some commonalities them.
Most online writers I follow have similar conclusions. They write to connect. It is amazing when they can meet people that they cannot meet in other ways. It gives them the motivation to produce more and open endless opportunities to the outside world.
One month after I created this tiny blog, I start receiving a small number of positive feedback and praise from my readers. It gives me joy more than writing for the sake of money. It is great to know that my work is helpful to other people in some ways.
My main theme for this year is consistency. I will try my best to publish regularly though producing good content is really demanding since this is only a hobby. If you read until here, I hope you enjoy my writing and support me to continue this path.