Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Taking the Other Fork in the Road: Redirecting ideas from my brain to the printed page, not just the mouth

Written by: on January 11, 2024

I was a late bloomer when it comes to reading. I did not take to reading very well or very much until middle school, and didn’t take to writing very well until my Undergrad. But it seems that the techniques of linear writing processes were at odds with the way my brain is wired.

In completing a Masters degree just 1.5 years ago, what I loved most was the rhythm and discipline of learning, not simply from digesting lectures and writings, but from the interactive peer-learning. I describe this as ‘having used lung capacity I hadn’t in a while’. So, I’m grateful for recent experience of interacting with materials and making connection and contrasts between them. In interacting with Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren’s framing, my assessment is that I have a basic foundation of “catching every sort of communication” to build on. Although I have not used the language of syntopical reading, I have a growing ability to lean into the interplay between various authors and ideas. This shows up in how I share those ideas with others in conversations and writings, but I look forward to deepening my abilities, starting with better note-taking.

Up until now, I have limited my note-taking to a gathering of quotes from books, without incorporating any of my own analysis, categorization, or defining of issues. I take up this challenge: I now embark on a new note-taking era. As I highlight and interact with ideas from various authors, I am beginning to align my notes and improve my tags, but the new discipline will be to make smarter notes, using my note-taking as my thought process, and honing my craft of developing tags that focus on what I glean.

I confess that without a good note system, I have been reluctant to write, or afraid of the blank page, feeling that it would add a lot of additional work to my routine. I would also relay that my critical thinking has often led to verbal articulation rather than writing practices. So I’m left with a simple but extraordinary challenge – take the other fork in the road. How might I extend my critical thinking to the page, adapting critical self-discipline and self-awareness already taken from input-to-brain-to-mouth, and start applying it to written record? I am truly confident that my Doctoral work will grow my capacity to write as a more natural and regular part of the rhythm of my life, and I am relieved to come to terms with how I have been doing this verbally, so that I might adapt and build on my strengths, rather than feel that I’m starting from scratch.

So, I am here for it! I am here to learn from you, together with you, and as we have been asked to do, to trust the process.

About the Author


Joel Zantingh

Joel Zantingh serves as the Canadian Coordinator of the World Evangelical Alliance's Peace and Reconciliation Network, and as Director of Engagement with Lausanne Movement Canada. He has served in local and national roles within the Evangelical Missionary Church of Canada, and led their global mission arm. He has experience teaching in formal and informal settings with Bible college students and leaders from various cultures and generations. Joel and Christie are parents to adult children, as well as grandparents. They reside in Guelph, Ont., situated on the treaty lands and territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit, and home to many past, present and future First Nations peoples, including the Anishinnabe and Hodinöhsö:ni'.

11 responses to “Taking the Other Fork in the Road: Redirecting ideas from my brain to the printed page, not just the mouth”

  1. Graham English says:

    Joel, great reflection on the need to write rather than verbally process. I had a prof back in my twenties who said, “Thoughts disentangle themselves when they pass by your lips to your fingertips”. I struggle with this one because, as a speaker, I found it incredibly helpful to process my thinking and writing verbally. Oftentimes, I realized that what I had written doesn’t sound quite right when it’s spoken. I have also found it helpful to share what I’m learning with others who are interested. Sharing verbally sparks new ideas and helps my thinking progress. I’m glad you see this as an opportunity to build on the strengths you have. I wonder how we might incorporate both methods into our writing process.

    • Graham, this will be a generative process for me. I’ve often been accused of being a good summarizer, even being referred to “explainer in chief”, which was a label given to US President Bill Clinton. I will likely experiment with speech to text for clarity, and then scrutinize for clarity. As a fellow “speaker”, thanks for understanding how they differ.

  2. mm Ryan Thorson says:

    Hey Joel thanks for sharing your thoughts and this simple but difficult challenge. I’m with you, learning to take engaged notes rather than just storing information that I think I’ll go back to later, but never do, is my challenge as well.

    I’m finding I have to circle back to notes to tag and categorize but I don’t always remember to do so. Are you tagging in the moment? Are you using Obsidian or some other resource?

    • Ryan, thanks for your comments. I have started using Obsidian as my Permanent note-taking system, but supplementing with Notes (Apple) for Fleeting and Literature Notes from which to make them. I have already adjusted my literature note-taking ways as well. Thanks for asking. I’ll look for your post 🙂

  3. Nancy Blackman says:

    I love how you said, “the rhythm and discipline of learning,” because there is a rhythm to learning and it’s within us to decide how disciplined we want to be. So,
    I hope that your brain to paper process will be smooth and easy. I have a saying … practice makes perfect, so I hope over the course of this doctorate program that the more you take notes, the easier it will become and all will be well in Joel’s writing world.

    Blessings to you!

  4. mm Shela Sullivan says:

    Hi Joel,
    Your reflection on experiences with materials and the process of making connections and contrasts is admirable. It is clear that engaging with Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren’s framing has provided you with a foundation for “catching every sort of communication.” The acknowledgment of a growing ability to navigate the interplay between various authors and ideas is promising, especially in the context of sharing these insights in conversations and writings.
    Expressing a desire to deepen your abilities, starting with better notetaking, reflects a proactive approach to continuous improvement. I must say that your self-awareness and commitment to ongoing development are evident in this passage.
    Curious, what note-taking tool(s) are you considering?

  5. Elysse Burns says:

    Joel, I appreciated reading a little bit more of your story in this post. Thank you for sharing.

    I share similar feelings about syntopical reading. Although I never had the language for it (until now), over the past few years I have enjoyed identifying connections between authors and different ideas, comparing and contrasting. I also look forward to furthering my abilities in this area.

    My note-taking abilities look very similar to yours. I have pages and pages of quotes, but little of my own analysis, categorization, or defining issues. Sadly, I think I had a fear to give any of my own thought to the all-powerful, all-knowing authors I have read. However, I am ready to enter this new note-taking era too!

    I am looking forward to learning with you and from you during this program.

  6. mm Chris Blackman says:

    Hi Joel,
    I don’t have a question for you, but I wanted to write in agreement with your statement, “the rhythm and discipline of learning, not simply from digesting lectures and writings, but from the interactive peer-learning.” I LOVED that part of my master’s journey and am so excited to be getting back into that rhythm again. Hanging out and learning from all of you is precious to me. Looking forward to getting to know you through your writings as time goes on.

  7. Daren Jaime says:

    Hey Joel! You truly amplify the polemic many face in being able to get down to writing. I enjoyed your transparency as verbal articulation has been a helpful crutch for me in avoiding this disciplined practice. My notetaking surely needs to improve and as you shared your gameplan I also am aligning myself with a similar strategy. Thanks for this!

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