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Ness Labs Collector to Creator Course Notes

19 min read

Anne-Laure Le Cunff founded Ness Labs in 2019 and writes the Maker Mind newsletter. Since then, more than 500,000 people have read her content, and over 25,000 people have subscribed to her newsletter.

The Collector to Creator course is about how we can increase our creativity output and publish consistently without experiencing writer's block. Here are my notes on it.


Using continuous creativity for sustainable content creation

Most people create content by practising blank slate creativity. They consume content passively, creating nothing. At one point, they realise they have to publish something, which is their “oh shit” moment. Once they reached that point, they need to create content in a short amount of time, and with very few resources - because they did not build up their content. This is not sustainable, stressful, and no fun. If we don’t find it fun, we won’t do it consistently and productively.

There’s another way of being sustainable in our creativity; continuous creativity. With this method, we create content consistently, from zero to a piece of content. We consistently progress over time, instead of cramming the creation part all in in one space of time like in blank slate creativity. Practising continuous creativity gives us opportunities to share with our audience what we’re creating, and we can use these steps to get feedback. Using continuous creativity is sustainable because we’re progressing little by little each time.

Creativity inbox balances curiosity and consistency

Building a creativity inbox means to balance our curiosity and consistency. By using a creativity inbox, we’ll be able to create content that explores our curiosity and still be able to publish content consistently.

Some creators explore their curiosity deeply, but they are not consistent in publishing. They might publish sporadically.

Other creators are very consistent in their creation, but lack insights from curiosity. These creators are often repetitive in their creations because they did not explore their curiosity. To be a successful creator, you need to be both curious and consistent. This is where a creativity inbox plays its role.

Metacognition in content creation

To put it into simple terms, metacognition is to think about thinking, learn about learning, know about knowing. It’s being aware of your awareness so you can pick the best strategies to solve your problems and progress in your work.

Practising metacognition in creation allows us to optimise our workflows in content creations. Not everyone’s methods or workflows during creation are the same. Practising metacognition will lead us to content creation strategies that work for us.

According to Anne-Laure Le Cunff, “My system works for me because it works for me.”

3 Components of Metacognition

The 3 components of metacognition are :

  • metacognitive knowledge
  • metacognitive regulation
  • metacognitive experience

What is metacognitive knowledge?

We define metacognitive knowledge as your knowledge about how you think, learn and decision-making. An example of metacognitive knowledge is knowing that you are a morning person and work better in the mornings.

What is metacognitive regulation?

Metacognitive regulation refers to the activities that you do to control your learning and for this case, your creating. For example, your metacognitive knowledge says you work better in the mornings, so you regulate this by blocking your mornings for creative work.

What is metacognitive experience?

Metacognitive experience refers to your thoughts and feelings while learning, working and creating. For example, you might feel tired, more creative, or excited when writing in the morning. You can then reflect on these emotions and plan so that we can improve your learning.

Skills to Improve Metacognition

The three metacognitive skills to improve your metacognition are planning, monitoring, and reflecting.

  • Planning: before you learn, think about strategies you will use when learning. Are you going to do flashcards? Are you going to teach someone? Another important aspect is the timing and duration of your learning. You need to plan the time you’re working based on what you prefer or work best with. Planning requires you to use your knowledge- knowing about the conditions and strategies that allow you to work at your best.
  • Monitoring: While learning, monitor your progress. Be aware of your experiences while learning. Are you finding this concept difficult or easy? Why is that? Do you find it easy to stay focused? Or are you constantly distracted?
  • Reflecting: When you’re done learning, reflect on how you did and re-evaluate the strategies you used. Use your reflections to make changes for your next learning session.

These three metacognitive skills are not linear, they are a loop. You plan, then monitor, reflect, then plan again. With these 3 skills, you can easily find out what’s the best strategies you can use to create your best work.

Plan your time and tools for content creation

For creating content, you need to plan the time and tools that you will be using.

Planning your time is important - if you don’t make time, life will get in the way and you’ll show up with nothing at the end of the week. When planning your time, you must ask yourself, “How much time do I need to be a consistent creator?”. The duration and the timing will differ for each person, so you have to experiment and see what works for you. How does your schedule look like? Do you have time to create in the morning or the evenings? How frequently do you want to create? Do you want to post 3 brief articles each week or 1 long-form article every month?

With creating content, you need to block time for 4 things :

  • time for inspiration, such as reading, or having conversations
  • time for ideation - writing your ideas, taking notes, and connecting ideas
  • time for introspection - reflecting on your progress and challenges while creating content
  • time for idleness - you also need time to rest and recharge your mind!

Instead of planning your time to the smallest minute, which is the traditional method for time blocking, practice mindful time-blocking. Mindful time-blocking means to block time for what matters - in this case, creating. It is important to make this time sacred - if possible, do nothing else during this block! If you’re consistent and put in your reps every day, you’ll be able to create consistently. Practice mindful time-blocking.

It’s also important to plan the tools that you will be using. You need to think of the tools you’re going to use for planning, monitoring, and reflecting. However, try to make this decision quick - it does not matter what tool you use, what matters is whether you put in the work. A tool does not make a creator. My tools of choice are simple - I plan to use Google Calendar and Todoist, monitor my progress with Roam, and reflect on my experiences with Roam as well!

Monitor your content creation progress by taking notes

Monitoring allows you to go from passive consumption to active creation, and the most important method to monitor your progress is by taking notes.

Reading without taking notes is like pouring water into a bucket with holes, it’s useless.

It’s important to take notes as they allow you to create tangible connections between each idea, which can lead to original ideas. Without notes, you rely on the brain to create these connections, which is harder to do when you can’t see these ideas percolating in your head.

There 3 types of note-taking styles and your note-taking app of choice may depend on your style.

  • An architect is a note-taker who focuses on structuring their ideas. They build frameworks and design processes when note-taking. A good app for architects is Notion, as it allows you to create and use templates for each type of note.
  • A gardener is a note-taker who focuses on growing their ideas. They prefer to explore concepts deeply and connect thoughts while note-taking. Apps that allow quick back links such as Roam and Obsidian fits the bill for gardeners.
  • A librarian is a note-taker that prefers to retrieve their ideas easily. They focus on collecting resources and building a catalogue of ideas. Note-taking apps while strong search functionalities such as Evernote would be a good fit for librarians.

It’s important to use the tools that work for you, instead of blindly following what everyone else does. At the start, you might experiment with a few apps, but find that it doesn’t click with you. It’s important to keep on trying until you find something that works. However, once you’ve gotten the hang with some apps, stick with it. Notes are only valuable when you invest time in them. When you switch tools too often, you waste time on learning how to use the app, instead of taking notes.

Monitor your content creation progress with a thinking buddy

You can also monitor your progress by having a thinking buddy. Give yourself the luxury of thinking by giving yourself time to talk. A thinking buddy is someone who listens to you while you go through your ideas. They don’t have to say anything, they just need to listen and look interested.

You could speak out loud as you think, but it’s easier to talk to someone and have them listen, it feels more natural. When you talk to someone, you get non-verbal feedback about your ideas, which can be positive or negative.

It’s important to be each other’s thinking buddy and allow them the time and space to share out their ideas. Doing this regularly gives you a sense of accountability for creating ideas.

Here are 3 simple questions you could discuss with your thinking buddy :

  1. What are 3 things you have learned since the last session?
  2. What are 2 things you want to learn or achieve before the next session?
  3. What is 1 thing you are struggling with right now?

Reflect your progress with goals you can control

To complete the metacognitive loop, you need to reflect on your progress. For this matter, it’s important to choose goals you can control, instead of choosing goals that depend on factors you can’t control. Instead of setting a goal of reaching 5,000 subscribers in 6 months, set a goal of writing 24 articles in 6 months.

Setting a goal that is within your control allows you to know if something is working.

Use Plus Minus Journalling for easy reflection

An easy method of evaluation is doing Plus Minus Journalling. This is a simple journaling method coined by Anne-Laure Le Cunff and takes very little time. You divide a piece of paper into 3 columns, and at the top of each column, write ‘+’ for what worked, ‘-’ or what didn’t go so well and ‘->’ for what you plan to do next.

Fill each column with what happened in the past week. Add in both personal and professional stuff in there, these areas interconnect with each other.

I usually fill in mine with bullet points, and it takes very little time to do every week. It’s a very low friction method for reflecting on your progress and what your next steps will be.

Maintain the metacognitive loop weekly

It is important to go through the metacognitive loop regularly, preferably every week. If you do so, you can learn from your experiences and failures to create a system that works best for you.

Every week, ask yourself questions regarding your time, tools and thinking buddy.

  1. Is your schedule sustainable? Have you been putting in work during your time blocks? Are there any schedule clashes? Are you working at the right time? Experiment with the time that works for you.
  2. Are you using the right tools? Do you enjoy using your tools? Is it easy to use your tools? Are your tools helping or getting in the way? Can I simplify my toolbox?
  3. Am I getting support from the right people? Are there any experts I can ask help from?

Identify your content thesis

Create a content thesis by defining

  • What you will create
  • Who your intended audience is
  • Where you will create content
  • When you will create
  • Why you want to create

A content thesis is something that can grow over time, and you might not stick with it, or you might find that it resonates with many people. This is a process of discovery on and you might need to experiment to see what you like doing and what others like from you as well.


Focused Mode of thinking

Focused mode of thinking is when you look at specific sets of information to find a solution from that set of information.

It is an excellent way of problem-solving. It is the opposite of diffused mode of thinking. One can only be in either mode of thinking at one time.

Diffused mode of thinking

Diffuse mode of thinking is when you let your mind wander and freely explore the different association between ideas.

Diffused mode of thinking occurs when you are being idle, such as being in a shower, going for a walk. Therefore, it’s important to find time for being idle.

It is the opposite of focused mode of thinking. One can only be in either mode of thinking at one time.

Go from note-taking to note-making for effective information collection

Note-taking is capturing information in its raw form

Note-taking is when you capture information in its pure, raw form. We often do it when listening. When note-taking, you are using the author’s original language.

The purpose of note-taking is to quickly capture content so you can refer to it later without looking at the original source.

Note-taking is fast, but is assimilates poorly, easily forgotten, and is hard to make connections between ideas.

Note-taking differs from note-making

Note-making is crafting your own ideas from raw notes

Note-making is when you flesh out your own ideas from raw notes. Note-making enables you to learn and create better. You use your own words to describe the ideas that you jot down during the note-taking phase.

Note-making makes use of The Generation Effect, which states that you remember information better if it is being actively created from one’s mind compared to passive consumption.

Note-making is slower and more tedious, but the ideas from note-making are easier to remember and understand. Note-making is active, while note-taking is passive.

Use action-driven tagging for making notes

You can move from note-taking to note-making by using action-driven tags such as #ToRead, #ToProcess, #ToCreate. By using action-driven tags, you can identify where a piece of idea is sitting in the creative process, and know what are the next steps needed.

Set up 3 types of inbox: reading inbox, processing inbox, writing inbox

Build a reading inbox #ToRead

A reading inbox is a method to capture content for you to read later.

  • You can use read it later apps such as Instapaper and Pocket. These apps have the advantage of being able to highlight and annotate directly on the document.
  • You can also save books you want to read into your Ebook readers such as Kindle.
  • You can also use your note-taking app as a reading inbox. Most note-taking apps have web clippers that allow you to save the links and the full article.

While reading, highlight and annotate the relevant key points and ideas from the article or book. These highlights are raw notes, so we must import them into our note-taking system and process them.

There are many ways to import your raw notes into your note-taking system. You could import them manually by copy-pasting highlights into the app, you could use apps that do this import automatically for you like Readwise, or you could just take raw notes straight inside your note-taking app.

Tag these raw notes as ToProcess.

Be selective when highlighting and annotating  only pick the ones that are relevant and resonate with you. Be selective or bad ones will drown your good ideas.

Build a processing inbox #ToProcess

Processing your raw notes means to elaborate further on these notes and make them your ideas. You can go beyond raw notes by asking questions on each of your raw notes.

  • Why do I find this idea interesting?
  • How could to apply this idea?
  • Could this idea be wrong?
  • Could it be right?

When processing notes, it’s important to think about your future self.

  • Add context to your notes. Add where and when you read it.
  • Ask yourself: How is this idea useful?
  • Ask yourself: What action is this idea asking me to take?

When note-making, turn each idea into its own note. Each of these notes should be about one thing and explain that one thing fully.

Be selective when note-making. Don’t turn each raw idea into a note. Only note-make notes that apply to you.

How do you know if we should turn a raw idea into its own note? It should be reusable, relevant or recurrent.

The last step to processing your notes is to tag these notes as #ToCreate. These notes will form the outline/building blocks for your original content.

It’s important to set aside time every week or even daily to process your notes. Instead of multitasking and doing reading and processing simultaneously, divide your time for reading and taking raw notes time, and time for processing notes.

Sometimes, we can have a backlog of raw notes. To prevent this, process regularly, or you might even leave them there, and come back to it for processing at a later date when they become more relevant to you.

Build a Writing Inbox #ToCreate

Use the notes you've tagged as #ToCreate to create something original. Mix and match the your notes, and build something from these notes.


Linear thinking

Linear thinking is when you think by following ideas through known cycles or sequential progressions. In linear thinking, we must elicit a step before we take another step. Linear thinking is akin to thinking of ideas in a straight line.

For example:

  • If A then B then C
  • If A=B, then B=C, then A=C
  • B results from A

Linear thinking can be quick when you know all the data and processes involved, but it often leads to linear bias and first-order thinking.

It is much easier to fight linear bias by visualising ideas, so you can see how each idea can connect with each another. Use mind maps and graphs to achieve this.

Second-order thinking

Second-order thinking is following and expanding upon the implications of first-order impacts.

For example:

  • A may cause B and C
  • B is more likely result than A

Second-order thinking avoids the pitfalls of linear bias by exploring more options, but it rarely leads to novel connections between ideas

Second-order thinking is essential so that we can consider the consequences and impacts of our ideas. The Cobra Effect occurred because we don’t consider first-order impacts.

Networked thinking

Networked thinking is the process of thought where you consider the complex interactions and connections between nodes and ideas in a specific set of problems

For example

  • A connects to C and D
  • B and C may influence E
  • Connecting B and C may improve A

Networked thinking generates creative ideas and novel thought patterns, but its never-ending exploratory nature makes it hard to solve problems with.

You can use networked thinking by using idea sex and thinking in maps

Combine ideas with idea sex

Idea sex a technique where you combine ideas to create new ideas. Your ideas mate to produce new idea babies.

Idea sex is a form of combinational creativity, where you remix existing ideas to create a new idea.

There’s a famous saying that goes: Nothing is original. All new ideas are just remixes of what has come before it. If you find something original, 9/10 of the time, you just don’t know where the source is from.

We can practice idea sex by using 3 techniques

Chaining of ideas

Chain ideas together by asking this question: How does idea A impact idea B?

For example:

  • How does nutrition affect learning?
  • How does leisure time impact productivity?
  • How do hobbies impact studying?
  • Create better ideas by chaining > 2 ideas together

For example:

“Fast food on blood glucose levels” + “Blood glucose levels on heart disease” = “what are the effects of fast food on heart disease?”

Clustering of ideas

Cluster ideas together by asking this question: What are the common themes between idea A and idea B?

For example:

  • What do tennis and medical school have in common?
  • What do writing and cooking have in common?

Create better ideas by clustering > 2 ideas

What does self-development, productivity and metacognition have in common?

Contrasting of ideas

Contrast ideas together by asking yourself: How are idea A and idea B different?

Pick ideas that seem similar and deconstruct the differences between them

For example

  • How are online writing and blogging different?
  • How are UX and UI design different?

Use these 3 methods to create your original and unique ‘idea babies’

By using idea sex, we can go from passive consumption to active creation, as we are constantly generating original ideas.

How to think in maps

There are 4 types of maps that we can use to think in maps

  • Radial maps are maps that start from a central concept. Connected ideas expand from this central point outwards radially. Using radial maps has the disadvantage of not being able to interconnect child nodes.
  • Nested maps are maps that start from a general concept and move inwards. Instead of moving outwards like a radial map, it moves inwards. It’s difficult to change the relationship between nodes in this map.
  • Topic maps are maps where you interlink topics by linking associations between topics. Topic maps usually capture associations rather than relationships.
  • Concept maps are maps that capture the relationship between ideas, using bi-directional links, labels and terms to capture the complex relationships between ideas. Concept maps can be hard to interpret as they can get complex.


5 step process to go from idea to original content

1. Evaluate the idea with the evaluation matrix

After generating a lot of ideas, whether from reading, connecting or by capturing each idea that comes to mind, it’s important to reflect on each idea

You can reflect the idea by using the Evaluation Matrix.

Ask yourself: What is the impact of this idea? How much effort does it need to create content based on this idea? Place the idea based on how impactful it is and how much effort it takes to create it.

  • A great idea is one with high impact and low effort.
  • A good idea is one with high impact by high effort.
  • A weak idea is one with low impact and low effort
  • A bad idea is one with low impact and high effort
  • It’s important to factor enjoyment into this matrix as well. Any good idea which you enjoy can easily be a great idea.

How do you measure the impact of your content?

There are 3 factors to consider, which are business growth, personal curiosity and brand building. An idea with great impact should be one that overlaps between these factors.

You can measure the impact of your content by asking these questions

  • Will there be a specific call to action?
  • Is it aligned with your content thesis?
  • Could it bring more qualified traffic?
  • Could you use the content for sales or marketing?
  • Will it help you learn something?

2. List key takeaways to create an outline

You can create an outline by going through 3 simple steps

1. List your takeaways

Takeaways are the key points you want the reader to learn and remember.

For example:

  • Know how to apply Y
  • Understand concept X
  • Understand why X is such

You can generate takeaways by considering subtopics, key points, and results

Subtopics: ask yourself, how can I break down my idea further? These are question-based takeaways. eg; We can break your idea down into...

For example, ‘Effective learning for medical students’

  • What is effective learning?
  • What tools do you need to learn effectively?
  • What is the science behind effective learning?
  • If you were reading about your idea, what questions would you want answers to?

Key points: What are the ideas that I want my reader to remember and share with others? These are statement-based takeaways. Your audience should remember... For example:

  • Active recall helps us keep information longer
  • Use spaced repetition to remember forever
  • Interleave your practice to learn faster
  • Avoid passive learning strategies

Results: What do you want your reader to achieve after they’ve read/watched/listened to my content? Your audience can take action on... These are action-based takeaways, and they start with verbs.

  • Build an effective learning workflow
  • Make reading a habit
  • Avoid procrastinating when learning

2. Group takeaways into questions

Try to group your takeaways into sections, preferably 3-4 sections

The first step is to identify any takeaway that can be its own section. After doing that, try to group your takeaways by theme, angle and result.

  • Group your takeaways by theme by grouping similar concepts together.
  • Group your takeaways by angle by discussing the different sides of arguments
  • Group your takeaways by result or outcomes. For example: How to learn effectively.

3. Ask questions to fill in the gaps

Is there any additional research you need to do?

They could be:

  • Gaps in your knowledge. Read up more about a theme in your outline and identify potential sources which may be useful in the future.
  • Missing sources to back your claims. Find research papers that prove your ideas and see if anyone supports your argument.
  • Potential examples to strengthen your ideas. Find related quotes.

Some questions to ask yourself:

  • Is there any research to back up your claim?
  • Is anyone disagreeing with your argument?
  • Is there evidence behind your opinion?
  • Who are the experts on this topic?

3. A draft is the first version of an article

To create the first draft, develop your argument and talking points based on the takeaways you have created.

The best way to develop your is by using research. This step is not only for fact-based content but applies to other types of content as well.

  • An experience-based content with research will be more detailed
  • An opinion-based content with research makes the opinion more convincing
  • A fact-based content with research makes it more accurate

Where to do research?

Thanks to the Internet, there’s a surplus of options for your research. Google, YouTube and Wikipedia, your choices are endless.

  • If you subscribe to newsletters, you can also use them as a resource. Search for the keyword in your email archives.
  • To make researching with Wikipedia more interesting and serendipitous, go to the left side of the Wikipedia page, and click on “What links here”. This will show less obvious sources.
  • You can also go through online courses to look for research, such as Udemy, Coursera and Skillshare.
  • If you have a following, consider asking your Twitter followers
  • For research papers, use Google Scholar. You can find papers that are similar by using Connected Papers.

Malcolm Gladwell has another approach to analogue research. He goes to the library, asks the librarian for the best resource on said topic, and goes to the footnote of the said resource. The footnotes will show you the best research on the said topic.

What are the rules of excellent research?

  • Start with Wikipedia. More often than not, Wikipedia can be an excellent starting point to learn about something.
  • Explore footnotes and references of the articles you’re reading
  • Question your sources. Is it true? Is there anyone saying otherwise? Look at it at both sides of the argument.
  • Reach out to experts and ask them for the best resources
  • Ask for additional insights in public. Ask your friends, family, Twitter followers, newsletter subscribers!

The first draft is strengthening your takeaways with relevant sources. Make sure that each takeaway has its valid source.

4. Format and fix to edit

Anne-Laure Le Cunff has a simple 3 step editing process:

  • She cleans up her articles by fixing typos, jargon, and removes unnecessary fluff
  • She formats her article by adding titles and subtitles, formats quotes and headings, and adds visuals to her article. She uses visuals such as tables, diagrams and graphs to enhance her story.
  • She interlinks the new piece with existing content

Interlinking your content has many benefits:

  • It is good for SEO
  • Strengthens your content thesis
  • Allows you to revisit old content
  • Give your readers a rabbit hole for your content

5. Publish, promote and revisit your original content

Publish your content on your blog and newsletter. After publishing, don’t forget to promote it! Without promotion, no one will see your work.

Get over the fear of promoting your work. I like to think of it this way: By not promoting my article; I am depriving someone of something that could be useful to them.

It’s essential to identify where you should promote your content.

  • Where does your audience spend their time?
  • Which relevant communities are you actively taking part in?
  • Where do people go to find answers to the question your content is answering?
  • Which experts would share it with their audience?
  • Can you repurpose your content on other channels?
  • Which channels need the lowest effort, but has the highest impact?

It’s also essential to revisit your content. Whenever you receive feedback from your audience, consider using this feedback to update your content. This is a great way to involve your audience in your work. Update your work with the latest discoveries and research by revisiting regularly.

Allowing yourself to revisit your content later, instead of just leaving it like that permits you to publish as quickly as possible. I am personally afraid of hitting publish because I keep on wanting to make my article as perfect as possible. By allowing myself to revisit and update over time, I get over my perfectionistic side.

By revisiting your older content, you get to see how your content has evolved. While revisiting, you might even see recurrent topics and interesting patterns which may lead to new ideas.

A 5 step process sounds simple enough, but to be consistent, keep yourself accountable. An excellent way is by using commitment devices and accountability partners.

Keep yourself accountable to your goals

  • Find a thinking buddy, someone who you contact weekly to keep each other accountable to create content
  • Join a support group so you can get feedback and camaraderie with others who are pursuing the same thing
  • When life gets in the way, think about your processes. Reflect on what’s working and what’s not, plan for the changes, monitor your progress, and reflect again. Repeat until you get where you want.

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