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How I Take and Publish Notes

I publish notes at notes.jim-nielsen.com.

I’ve written about why I made that site as well as some of my favorite aspects of its design.

But I’ve yet to write about how I take and publish notes to it.

The other day Bill Beckelman emailed me and told me he made a similar site of personal notes including details around his process.

He asked how I take notes and I took that as the perfect opportunity to turn an answer into a blog post.

99% of the time, this is how my note-taking process goes:

Because every “note” starts with me citing something somebody else said (as blockquote in markdown) and I don’t even name the file, my list of notes in iA writer starts to look like this:

I like to let my notes sit for a couple days (or even weeks). I find that if I come back to a note and still find it interesting/insightful that means it’s worth keeping, so I put in the work of cleaning it up and publishing it.

If I come back to the note and don’t find it valuable anymore (or wondering why I ever wrote it down in the first place) I just delete the file.

I find this to be a good editorial process. Note it down in the moment, revisit it a few days/weeks later and, if it’s still “fresh”, package it up for publishing. Otherwise discard it.

“Cleaning up” a note for publishing usually[1] means taking a markdown file that looks like this:

> something somebody said

My two cents.

https://example.com/path/to/article

And re-formatting it as a standalone markdown file that matches the format of all my other notes. This entails revisiting the article and copy/pasting the author’s OG title, like this:

# [Title of article](https://example.com/path/to/article)

> something somebody said

My two cents.

Then I name the file by looking at the date and time on my computer, convert it to 24hr time in my head, and follow this format:

YYYY-MM-DDTHHMM.md

For example:

2023-11-30T2129.md

Then I drag the file in iA writer to my pinned “notes” folder. This is the git-backed folder of all my notes on my laptop. From here, I push the new note to GitHub, Netlify picks it up and — a minute or two later — the note is live on my site.

That’s it. That’s how I take and publish notes.

FWIW: if you want the technical details around how a plain-text .md file gets turned into a web site then you can go check out the code, it’s on GitHub.


  1. Sometimes I’ll come back to a note and have a lot more commentary to add — or a lot of commentary to edit — and if my words starts to outnumber the quote I wrote down in the fist place, then my note usually ends up as a blog post.