Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the conditions that lead to creativity.
I’ve been working through a few books on this theme and I have a lot of notes so far. Normally at this stage, I would go ahead and publish an essay based on them. But I quickly discovered this topic is more complex and disparate than I thought. I’m still developing a cohesive perspective around it. In the spirit of learning in public, I want to share my thoughts along the way.
That’s when I came upon the idea of digital gardens. Essentially, these are websites where folks publish their ‘working notes’ on key ideas to solicit early feedback. I was hesitant to build one myself — it seemed like a bunch of extra work to build and maintain. But thanks to some open-source tools, it turns out it’s pretty easy to launch one of your own. I figured I’d give it a try and see where it goes. If nothing else, I knew that the process of creating these notes would help my future writing.
I was able to build the site in less than a day using GatsbyJS (pretty happy with the turnaround time there!) and a few open-source plugins. I took my notes on creativity and edited them into more concise, shareable formats to form the first public notes.
Voila 🎉, my notes on creativity are now live:
My digital garden is hosted at notes.salman.io, where you’ll be able to find all my public notes while I experiment. There are a lot of similarities between the work of producing these notes and outlining for essays. Just putting together these notes pushed my thinking forward in terms of how I’d want to present these ideas publicly. Still, I’ll need to be mindful of how much mental energy and time I invest into yet another platform.
What is a Digital Garden?
The idea behind digital gardens (also known as ‘mind gardens’, or ‘working notes’) is to take your personal notes and share some subset of them publicly, in a contextually linked interface. This way, readers can navigate the ins-and-outs of your ideas by clicking links to explore them. In addition, each note contains backlinks to other notes that reference it. This opens the door to a ton of new possibilities of how to write notes and let readers navigate them.
The concept of hyperlinking isn’t new, but the approach of combining evergreen notes together to present complex ideas on a website is not very common. Maggie Appleton recently shared a thread of wonderful examples of digital gardens, which should give you a feel for them.
So, once you have a digital garden, how do you contribute to it? Anne-Laure Le Cunff described a potential workflow with them recently:
Rather than just making all your notes public, you might put the ones that are top of mind at the moment, or ones you’re specifically looking for feedback on. You can solicit feedback immediately after writing them, and use the refined notes to inform outputs, such as a long-form essay.
Additionally, the working notes themselves become valuable assets that contribute to your body of work. For example, once a note is live and you see a relevant conversation on Twitter, just share a link! In the worst case, no one notices. In the best case, it sparks an interesting conversation, and perhaps a reader explores your other notes as well (especially since they’re shown in context).
The alternative would be to wait until you write that perfect essay for every idea you have before sharing it. I’ve been there, and in my case, far too many ideas never see the light of day.
P.S. In case you missed it, I shared some tips on building connections through Twitter in a previous newsletter.
So, you’ve just learned a bit about digital gardens. What are your immediate reactions? Did you resonate with anything in my Creativity note?
As always, feel free to reply directly to this email. I’d love to hear from you!