If you have an interest in note-taking systems, particularly Zettelkästen systems, then I strongly recommend reading Lion Kimbro’s How to Make a Complete Map of Every Thought You Think. It’s clearly the product of madness, and I love it. The whole thing was apparently written from start to end as a massive braindump. The style is manic, full of ALL CAPS EMPHASIS, repetitions and random digressions, and yet it is strangely pleasurable to read. And he is a visionary. Today we have Roam and How to Take Smart Notes, but How to Make a Complete Map of Every Thought You Think was written in 2003.

The system he describes is full of dangers, which he’s keen to warn us about. From the introduction:

If you do the things described in this book, you will be IMMOBILIZED for the duration of your commitment.The immobilization will come on gradually, but steadily. In the end, you will be incapable of going somewhere without your cache of notes, and you will always want a pen and paper w/ you. When you do not have pen and paper, you will rely on complex memory pegging devices, described in “The Memory Book”. You will NEVER BE WITHOUT RECORD, and you will ALWAYS RECORD.

So why read it? Firstly, because it’s fascinating and awe-inspiring. Secondly, because it’s an example of how not to approach note-taking. Occasionally on Reddit I see people worried that they haven’t captured every thought that they’ve had into their Zettelkästen, or every idea in the book that they’re reading. This is an illustration of what happens if you try to go down that route. You end up writing manically in ALL CAPS.

Kimbro was trying to create a comprehensive personal taxonomy of everything, showing the interrelations of all things in his thinking. And he sees that some of the immobilization is a direct consequence of that. If you’ve externalised all of your thinking, rethinking means costly rewriting, and so there is a penalty to having new thoughts. This indicates that there is actually a lot of value in expecting your notes to be out-of-date and incomplete.