MY LATEST CRUSH
I’m not going to say it’s an addiction, but I do like flitting from one app to the next. When it comes to software for note-taking and writing, or saving all those articles I think I’ll read some day, I’ve tried them all…more than once.
My current obsession is my membership and good standing in the RoamCult. If you haven’t heard of Roam Research then stop reading this and go put roamresearch.com into your browser. What you’ll get back will completely underwhelm you.
WHAT IS ROAM RESEARCH?
Roam is a “bi-directional linking” tool that is popular among academics and writers. In the three months I’ve been using it I’ve come to realize it’s the next big thing. When I stumbled upon it, it seemed so plain and kinda boring and probably created by and for developers. I thought I had stumbled upon a secret.
But a search or two made it clear that there is a HUGE Roam community out there and these folks are serious! They are a generous bunch, this online community of Roamans who program, share, proselytize, and assist relative newbies like me.
It’s sort of like loving a restaurant for who hangs out there rather than just for the food. It’s a salon every night with interesting people writing, talking, and sharing new ideas.
To be sure, there are other bi-directional note-taking apps out there and more are being developed. (I just found a new one today, Craft, which derailed my writing session as I spent way too much time watching Craft review videos.) I can’t help but keep one eye open for something better, but for right now, I’m putting all my marbles into Roam.
To use Roam to its fullest, means taking notes, thinking, and writing all at the same time.
LOOK MA, NO FOLDERS!
Microsoft Word has been around for a long time and at the beginning, it was the only online writing tool that really existed. These days, I find Word to be way too bossy and restrictive. It’s constantly correcting me and almost impossible to truly connect ideas across documents.
Bear, Ulysses, Scrivener…I love each of them in their own way, yet they are still steeped in older “file/folder” thinking and in some cases, just too darn bloated. Bear does use a tagging and linking system, but I could never remember which tag I was supposed to use for what.
Scrivener was the one I so desperately wanted to love but it’s like a too-many limbed organism I couldn’t get quite get hold of. It’s not that I mind a learning curve; I actually love that part. It’s the overwhelming buttons and functions that make it difficult to use. Don’t give me more than I need and don’t try to be everything to everyone. That’s definitely a message we share at Story Mode. If you know your audience, then you’ll know what they need.
Perhaps that’s why Roam doesn’t have a fancy colorful interface. It’s the most un-fancy app you’ll find and that’s what makes it so attractive and useful. I don’t spend time worrying about formatting or what font to use, I am only focused on the words, ideas, and connections I am playing with at the moment. Roam makes it easy to concentrate on what matters most.
Now, when I read a book or listen to a podcast, I make a few notes about the content and my thoughts about that content, throw in a few tags and then when I am ready to write a post, I call up those notes and it’s as if half an article has already been written.
Bi-directional linking isn’t a new way of note-taking but it is the thing everyone is talking about right now. Instead of organizing your files into folders and then wondering where you put that Word doc on “dogs and oxytocin,” in Roam you simply search on dogs or oxytocin and every page or snippet that has those words will pop up.
Yes, I know. Many other software apps do this kind of powerful search too. Here’s the difference:
Roam isn’t “organized”; it’s connected. The “bi-directional” links allow you to connect names, places, ideas, etc. When you “link” a word, idea, person, place, really anything, then with an easy search, Roam will serve up all the places that idea appears and in what context. (Maggie Appleton has an excellent explanation of bi-directional links.)
When used with a note-taking system like “Zettelkasten,” the power of this approach comes into view. It does take a while to build up your storehouse of notes to see this power of connection. To help you with that, Roam offers a “graph view” as the image at the top of this post shows. You can see the bigger the dot, the more ideas are linked to it.
DAILY PAGES & JOURNALING
As a writing teacher I know I’m supposed to love journaling. But I don’t. There, I said it.
When you open Roam it automatically brings you to your Daily Page. Just opening this up makes me want to spill my guts…AND plan my day. You can pre-set todo’s or other information to automatically show up on a future daily page. Terrific for reminders on what’s happening and what needs to get done.
Sure, there is a lot that Roam doesn’t do-yet. But the Roam Cult is on it so I don’t doubt that in no time it will gain in power and momentum.
There are a lot of folks who know this tool inside and out so ping me if you want some website or video suggestions.
I’m fascinated that a tool can truly change my process and help me be a better writer. I’ve found the right tool, now I’m digging into ever-evolving world of note-taking and Zettlekasten and Second Brains. Join me.