Roam Research has a cult following.
I first learned about it 18 months ago from Nat Eliason. Productivity nerds like me started to get excited about a tool that could change the way a writer lives.
It took me a long time to take the plunge. Fellow writer Todd Brison convinced me. Here’s why you must consider Roam as a writer.
The bottomless pit of traditional note-taking apps
For most of my writing career, I’ve used Apple Notes because it’s free and updates on all my devices without delay.
I’d normally consume a piece of content and, at best, write a few notes. I had a lazy process, though. The notes were normally direct quotes from what I consumed. There was no format or method. Notes were just chucked into my notes app in the hope I’d maybe stumble on them again one day.
I never did.
On the rare occasion I wanted to search for a note, I’d type in a keyword and get stacks of possible matches. Half the time I couldn’t find the original note again. It drove me nuts. What’s the point of notes if you can’t find them?
So my solution became a nightmare. I’d do all my research for writing on the same day I sat down to do the writing. This caused disjointed research, a rushed collection of ideas, and boring cut-and-paste jobs with quotes I liked.
Sometimes my notes worked. I found I had to write about a piece of content I consumed within a few days. Otherwise, I’d forget what it was about or risk losing the notes forever.
So at best, my mindset was “consume once, use once.”
Roam changed all of that.
Roam is built like the internet. You can connect similar notes or topics with hashtags. These hashtags create brand new notes within the original note. If you click the hashtag, say #SelfHelp, it takes you to all your other notes that mention that hashtag.
The magic is still to come. Links you create yourself using hashtags are called “linked references.” Roam also has “unlinked references.” These are connections between notes that Roam has made. The remixes and unexpected joining up of ideas is incredible. When ideas are linked for you it makes writing about a specific topic more interesting.
For example today I wrote a personal finance article. Roam suggested an unreferenced link that had to do with self-improvement. The two notes formed a completely different idea in my writing.
There’s plenty written about Roam. The concept of smart notes is recommended a lot. It’s where instead of simply writing down a quote or idea word for word the way you consumed it, you rewrite the information in your own words. Then you take the strongest point and turn it into what’s called a Permanent Note (It’s like a headline).
When you want to sit down to write, you scroll through your Permanent Notes to look for a strong headline. The curation has already been done by you beforehand. Then you go to the other notes you took in your own words and cut and paste them into your brand new article.
Because the notes are already in your own words, half of the writing is done for you. As a result your writing time decreases massively.
Your life becomes an accidental scrapbook
Roam doesn’t just store notes. It stores tweets, Youtube videos, and links from the internet. It lays it out in a visual way. When your life becomes like a scrapbook, it’s easier to find that spark of inspiration you need to write the best article of your writing career.
Roam also has daily notes. Daily notes is your homepage when you open the app and it’s essentially an auto-generated journal. When you open Roam each day you write down all your thoughts. As the day progresses you capture anything that happens in your daily notes.
Some of these notes go nowhere. But many of them become context for the other ideas you captured on that day. Context is everything as a writer. It’s the small details that happen around your big idea that give nuance, light, shade, and beauty to the reader. Normally these details are lost. Not with Roam.
Roam is how society should be. There’s zero hierarchy.
Every note sits on the same level as another. Unlike traditional note-taking apps where you need to use folders and constantly stress yourself out with decisions like “is this a book note, or should it go in self-help, or should I place it in the ‘ideas mom gave me?’”
Roam has such a good search feature that organizational decisions no longer need to be made. You can channel this energy back into your writing.
The forced formatting is a superpower
Everything in Roam is organized in dot points by default. You can create nests of dot points. You can push the TAB key to move an idea further into the nest.
This may seem silly at first. But when all of your writing is in dot points, it’s easier to see the flow of thoughts. Thoughts at the top of the nest are bigger than those smaller ones that are deeper in.
Dot points within dot points allow you to rank, prioritize, and curate thoughts on the fly. This is crucial when you sit down to write. Everything in life acts as a filter. When the filter is intentional it makes the world simpler to synthesize.
Roam Research is the best financial investment I’ve made in my writing over the last seven years. Its power isn’t fully realized until you start using it as your main notes app.
Use Roam to improve the quality of your writing, reuse research you did years ago, and write faster. It will change your life.