Highlight

Writers only need one sentence to tell a story. It shapes the story. It informs readers. It makes you think.

It’s the highlight.

This is the part where you, as a reader, pulls out a highlighter to mark that sentence as the most important part in the story. As you flip through the books you’ve read, you’ll see yourself in between those colored sentences. These highlights reflects who you are, and what you aim to be.

When I started reading as my habit, I didn’t highlight the important sentences in the stories. Reading, for me, was just another hobby.

Writing demands me to start learning from the writers I read. I begin paying attention to the sentences they compose, the words they choose, and the lessons they share. Each story carries a writer’s message.

I begin to save those messages — it starts with writing them down in my notes, and eventually simplifies with the combination of read later services and Evernote. I have this setup running for a while, and I encourage you to start highlighting the stories you’ve read, not necessarily with the same setup, but as a starting guide.

Pick Your Silo

I often use the term silo to describe the room where I store information. Evernote where you store notes is your silo. Flickr where you store photos is your silo. A folder on your computer? Yes, it’s also a silo. They come in many forms; you just have to pick the one that suits you.

Here are the few things you should consider when picking a silo to store your highlights:

  • Silo must be exportable. The service must provides an easy way to export all your information in the most common, if not original, format. The process shouldn’t call for the help of customer support; you must have the direct access to your information. You want to be able keep your information safe even if the company decides to close down tomorrow.
  • Silo must be searchable. Instead of browsing through the list of highlights, we use search — it’s the main way for people to access information. A powerful search engine can show the relevant result with just a few keywords. Find a silo where search is its main strength.
  • Silo must be organizable. The highlights can come from different medium: web articles, books, or images (and it doesn’t include the different devices and apps for each medium). At the very least, make sure the silo supports tags. You then mark the source of the highlights with tags. If the source is Instapaper, tag with Instapaper. If the source is iBooks, tag with iBooks.
  • Silo must be integrable. Saving highlights through email is the most basic form of integration. The highlights you save in iBooks stays in iBooks. The highlights you save in Instapaper stays in Instapaper. You need a way to send them to your silo, and email is the best option for one reason: it’s available everywhere.

Recommended Silo

My silo is Evernote.1

As much as I love plain text, I prefer the way Evernote stores notes. New users will find Evernote cumbersome for being over-featured with tags, notes, and reminders — this can be remedied by a solid setup: read this timeless Evernote tips.

Search engine is great because all the webpages stay hidden from us. I only see what I search. Evernote, without the file system like access, is my personalized search engine. I only search for the notes I want to see, and the highlights I want to read.

I have a notebook called “Highlights” where I store all my highlights. They’re mostly sent from Pocket, Instapaper, or the web articles I read in the browser. Some of them are sent from iBooks. This setup is possible because Evernote is available in most apps or services, and most importantly, supports email for creating notes.

Sending Highlights to Silo

  • From Instapaper: I start using Instapaper again. I used to dismiss Instapaper as an incompetent read later service because the lack of IFTTT triggers and the article rendering issue. The latest update added a new trigger that makes sending highlights to Evernote seamless. By using this recipe, all the highlights are immediately saved to your selected notebook.
  • From Pocket: Before switching back to Instapaper, I save the highlights to Evernote by using Pocket built-in Save to Evernote feature. Instead of saving the whole copy of the article, I manually copy the sentences I want to save, and paste it from Pocket. It’s more time consuming but the result is the same format I expect from Instapaper.
  • From iBooks: There is no Evernote integration with iBooks yet, but that doesn’t mean we can’t save the important quotes to Evernote. Fortunately email can bypass this kind of limitation. By saving your Evernote email as a new contact, you can highlight a certain section in the book, and share it via email to Evernote. Make sure to add #iBooks @Highlights at the end of email subject to make sure it’s tagged with iBooks and saved in the notebook called Highlights.[^2]
  • From web browser: Evernote users can install the web clipper extension, select the group of text, and activate web clipping to save the highlighted text into Evernote. It’s a quick way to save highlights when you don’t send the articles to your read later services.
  • From email: Many have tried to create email alternative but none has successfully replace it. We still use email as the primary way to communicate with each other. By learning how to send email to Evernote, you can create note from everywhere, as long the platform supports email.

Remembrance

The point of saving those highlights is to make a deliberate effort to remember and keep a record of what we’ve read.

Reading is the journey into the thought of others, while writing is process of uncovering the thought of ours. Only by keeping a record of those pieces do we have the means to form a new story.

Once in a while, read what you’ve highlighted. Those pieces are meant to be connected; we just have to connect them.


  1. The alternative is Pinboard. This setup by Charlie Sorrel stores notes in Pinboard and uses Evernote as backup. Although I use Pinboard for saving bookmarks, I still prefer Evernote for storing notes because a company usually lasts longer and scales faster than a one person army.