Zettelkasten Forum


How often are you making permanent notes?

Hi everyone,

I am just starting out learning the Zettelkasten method and am reading How to Take Smart Notes while simultaneously learning how to use Roam. As I am figuring out how to understand and use these tools in a way that works best for me, there is something I am struggling with: how often should I be making permanent notes? I am working on my ZK every day and am mostly writing literature notes drawn from years of underlines in books, but I'm finding that I really don't have much to say yet in terms of permanent notes. Instead, I feel like I am having to stretch to have an original thought and that my permanent notes are pretty weak. Did anyone else experience this when first starting?

Second question is, once you had built up more of a critical mass, how many permanent notes are you making per day? I'm sure the specifics will vary for everyone, but I am curious about other people's experiences-- do you typically have multiple permanent notes per day, or are you okay with sometimes just working on literature notes and trusting that later on you will be able to synthesize the info? I don't want to water down my ZK with what feel like fluffy permanent notes just for the sake of having them, but at the same time it can be discouraging to have so few, especially since they do not really connect at this point. Thanks in advance for your thoughts!

Comments

  • To me, it sounds like you are probably making more permanent notes than you think you are. Unless I'm misunderstanding you, I think that many of the notes that you are calling "literature notes" are already permanent notes, or could be developed into permanent notes with a little work. Permanent notes don't have to be fully original thoughts. They can be, but they don't have to be. Often they are restatements of the thoughts of others. You rewrite those thoughts in your own words to make sure that you understand them, but the note still can be derived directly from a reading.

    As I read, I take fleeting notes on what I'm reading. I might also underline or mark a section I want to return to later. I then turn these fleeting notes into permanent notes. Those permanent notes may be a restatement of one of the things that I read in the book, or they may be my own elaboration on the book's contents, or a question or thought that I have about the reading. When I'm reading in a newish area, the majority are probably restatements on the points that the book made, marking the book down as the reference.

    Once I finish with a reading, I make my literature note which is just an executive summary of the reading as a whole and maybe a link or two to starting points in the clusters of notes that I took during that reading.

    I've averaged about 3 notes per day since I started building my ZK. In August, I averaged about 8 notes per day. If I only look at the last 30 days, I've averaged 4 notes per day. Of course, these are the averages and not the actual numbers. There are many days when I don't take notes, and other days when I take 15 or 20. In general, it varies a lot based on what I'm doing. Am I reading a book? Am I developing an idea? Am I in the middle of writing a draft?

    I wouldn't worry too much about the number of notes that you are making per day, nor would I worry if you're having trouble building links at first. Starting out is always the hardest part. It takes a while before you have enough notes built up that linking every note is a certainty. Similarly, I wouldn't worry if your early notes feel light on content. It takes practice to figure out the right length and depth of each note. The more you work in your ZK, the easier it will get.

  • @UplandAbbey said:
    Hi everyone,

    ... I am struggling with: how often should I be making permanent notes? I am working on my ZK every day and am mostly writing literature notes drawn from years of underlines in books, but I'm finding that I really don't have much to say yet in terms of permanent notes.

    Second question is, once you had built up more of a critical mass, how many permanent notes are you making per day?

    First, the comments from @prometheanhindsight reflect a lot of my experience and responses to your questions, which I will not repeat :)

    A couple of additional thoughts:

    1. I find in the process of trying to capture and condense the main idea from someone else's writings, and stating it in my own words, that I discover I actually have something of "my own" to add. By "my own", I mean something that pops into my head. It may not be a truly original idea, which is rare, but nevertheless something additional that I've learned over the years in some manner.
    2. I write 1 to 2 Zettels per day, on average, but in fits and starts - so it's better to say 7 to 10 per week. It depends on how much I'm reading or having interesting conversations, and how energetic I feel.
    3. To start, it's difficult to connect all your Zettels, as you have so few threads of thought yet developed. I use an @unlinked tag on some Zettels, with a saved search on that particular tag, so that I check so often and see if there are Zettels to which I could now make connections (when I couldn't before). When I check these @unlinked Zettels, and find new connections for them, I often discover I have more of my own thoughts to write down as well.
    4. I also use an @unfinished tag when I haven't finished writing a Zettel or when I think its a bit rough, and want to come back to it later. Again - having a saved search on that tag makes it easy to find those Zettels later on. You might add this tag to those Zettels that you feel just summarize some idea and don't yet contain any of your own thinking.
  • @prometheanhindsight
    Thank you so much for the thoughtful answer. It sounds like I am maybe being too stringent on what a permanent is “supposed” to be. Is it fair to say that you consider permanent notes anything you don’t want to forget, hopefully with original insights/connections added but at the very least restated in your own words? If so, that would address another issue I’ve been having, which is figuring out how to revisit/make use of (what I was considering) literature notes later on in the process. I’ve been summarizing all of these points without really understanding how I would come back to them later.

  • @GeoEng51
    I love the idea of @unlinked and @unfinished. From what I can gather, so much of a ZK’s value comes from its density and scope, so at the beginning it’s feeling a little pointless to have these floating, one-off notes that don’t lead anywhere. I know it will build up over time, but @unlinked and @unfinished seems like a great way to pin these thinner, early notes so they can be revisited later and not disappear. Thanks so much for your help!

  • When you say permanent notes do you mean notes that have original thoughts or connections on them? Or just the restating of ideas that you found interesting while reading into note form?

    source: everything is a remix

    Permanent notes to me are all of the above. They are the copying, the transforming, and the combining. Each note you make will have different levels of those. I even have notes in my collection that are pure copy (e.g. APA psychology definitions) that I use as hubs (collection of links under definition) for that term I copied.

    When first starting out I tended to have a lot of copy notes. But as time goes on it became more about transforming and combining. But part of creativity is exposing yourself to novel information that you let intermingle with your existing knowledge base to see if new ideas or solutions emerge. This novel information are notes I still essentially copy.

    Did that help at all?

  • @UplandAbbey said:
    Thank you so much for the thoughtful answer. It sounds like I am maybe being too stringent on what a permanent is “supposed” to be. Is it fair to say that you consider permanent notes anything you don’t want to forget, hopefully with original insights/connections added but at the very least restated in your own words? If so, that would address another issue I’ve been having, which is figuring out how to revisit/make use of (what I was considering) literature notes later on in the process. I’ve been summarizing all of these points without really understanding how I would come back to them later.

    I definitely forget things that are in my ZK all the time. That's part of how the ZK can surprise me, as I stumble across something that I forgot. The "permanent" label refers to the strategy when designing a permanent note. You want the note to be permanently useful. If you forget about that note's contents, you want to be able to remember the purpose of the note by stumbling across it in the future. That's why people on this forum talk about notes needing to be atomic. You want them to contain a single idea, and you want them to be self contained, and you want them to make sense on their own. Your permanent notes need to make sense to a stranger because your future self that stumbles across that note is, in all the ways that matter, a stranger to your current self. You won't necessarily remember the context in which you took that note, and so you need to make sure that the note's context is explicit and written in a way that can be understood without returning to the reference that inspired the note.

    I make permanent notes of anything that I might find useful in the future, or anything that I might want to stumble across again in the future, or anything that I might find useful currently, or anything that I might want to remember again in the future. It's like every note is another tool in my toolbox, and so I make permanent notes out of any idea or thought that looks like it could be a useful tool for building something. I may not even know what I'm going to use it for yet, but I know that I could possibly use it. If I never stumble across it again or end up using it, that's alright. If it takes me ten years to stumble across that note again, that's OK, too, since I've written the note to be understood without needing to remember why I took that note in the first place.

    So, it's very much a fine approach to summarize point without knowing how you will come back to them later. So long as those notes can be understood without needing to return to the reading where you originally found them. That's part of why restating things in your own words is the bare minimum of making a permanent note. If you don't understand the note contents enough to even state it in your own words, then it's very unlikely that a future version of you will understand that note's contents. If that is the case, then the future you will have to return to the reading, which negates the benefit of trying to place your notes in a more personal context through linking.

    I also think that approaching your notes in this manner--focusing strongly on making notes that could be understood by a stranger who is your future self--can help with realizing what personal thoughts and ideas should be written down in notes. I've seen others on this forum discuss writing permanent notes as writing post cards to your future self explaining a new idea you've just stumbled across.

    Think about it this way: Even notes that you are directly restating from a book have two separate and distinct contexts. Those notes have the context of the book; this is the easy context to grasp since it is the context in which you stumbled across that idea. They also have a unique and personal context, which is the why of the note. Why are you making a note out of that bit of information specifically? What about that idea or information do you find note-worthy? This why context, this personal context, may be explicit in the links that you make to and from the note: "This note is interesting because it relates to these other thoughts and ideas that I have found interesting." The personal context may not yet be apparent in your ZK since it is a new interest that you are building, in which case you can add notes that describe your interest in that subject. That could be something as simple as a note that says, "I find this interesting because..." You can also make that interest explicit in the form of a question, which I treat as an IOU for future notes. "How does this relate to [blank concept]?" Then, in a separate note you can give your expectation of the answer to that question. "I wonder if [hypothesis of the question answer]." That is essentially marking out future territory that you want to tread or look into. The beautiful thing about the linking system is that these notes are never out of date. They are permanently useful and interesting notes. When you answer your question, you can link the answer to the question. If your hypothetical answer is proved wrong, you can write out the correct or more nuanced answer and similarly link it so that you can see how your thinking on the subject evolved.

    That's a long way around the idea that I was hoping to communicate, which is this: In choosing what notes to make and what links to put in those notes, you are adding your own thoughts to the note. Realizing that fact will hopefully help you to be able to more easily and explicitly express those thoughts directly in your ZK. Even if the only connections you make at first are the links that map out the arguments and flow of the book you are reading, you are still choosing which notes to take from that book and which notes to ignore. That is inherently setting you up for future personal insight. The act of choosing notes is a reflection of personal thought, and will naturally lead to insight in the future.

  • @Nick
    That is very helpful, thank you! I had been thinking of permanent notes as strictly original insights/combinations, but I’m realizing now that’s too narrow and unrealistic, especially at this point in my ZK process.

    @prometheanhindsight
    I really like the idea of “permanent” just meaning “permanently useful”. Even though it’s not stated anywhere, and is actually antithetical to the entire idea of ZK, I think I was getting tripped up on the phrase “permanent”, implicitly associating that with “unchanging/fully formed.” That’s a total misreading of the idea of permanent notes on my part, but it can be hard to pinpoint your automatic assumptions, so your definition has definitely helped clarify. Similarly, the idea of postcards to your future self is kind of beautiful and very useful. I also am going to work on making my interests/reasons more explicit; I’m sure it will feel a little forced at first, but that is just me being self-conscious about writing (which is what I’m trying to change by building my own ZK). Thank you again for such a thoughtful and thorough answer.

  • I don't have a quota for permanent notes per day. However, every wednesday and saturday night I spend some time completing notes and making some of them permanent.

    The way I do this is I set three different progress tags according how a note develops as if it was a scrum board (backlog-->sprint-->in-progress). For example, fleeting notes might only have links and some comments and instead of highlighting text in books I just write in my notes paragraph 4, p. 34 and some brief comment. Then I assigned those notes a tag (#0fn, fleeting note). The moment I decide to work on my fleeting notes I do them in batches, for those notes I change their tags to #0fs (sprint notes) in groups of 5 until they're moved to the next stage. Then I have a final tag for those notes in-progress (#0ip) and once they're done and permanent they won't have a progress tag.

  • Thanks everyone participating in this thread. As a new ZK user, the difference between literature notes and permanent notes seems straight forward but in practice the lines get hazy. In response to the thread, I feel clearer about how liberally to consider something a permanent note. But now I'm less clear about how to distinguish them from 'literature notes.' That feels strange to say...

    It seems everything aside from actual quotes is better conceived as a permanent note. In the age of Roam and like apps, is a literature note only for quotes you intend to use in writing? If literature notes are paraphrased and therefore essentially transformed thoughts, are they not already just permanent notes who's first link is to the citation in the book which sparked the idea? Why have two separate notes when you can have a citation and links to other thoughts in the same note?

  • @James_CandAH said:
    Thanks everyone participating in this thread. As a new ZK user, the difference between literature notes and permanent notes seems straight forward but in practice the lines get hazy. In response to the thread, I feel clearer about how liberally to consider something a permanent note. But now I'm less clear about how to distinguish them from 'literature notes.' That feels strange to say...

    It seems everything aside from actual quotes is better conceived as a permanent note. In the age of Roam and like apps, is a literature note only for quotes you intend to use in writing? If literature notes are paraphrased and therefore essentially transformed thoughts, are they not already just permanent notes who's first link is to the citation in the book which sparked the idea? Why have two separate notes when you can have a citation and links to other thoughts in the same note?

    I have the same question re: the potential duplicate work of writing a literature note in your own words and any transformation it might need to make to become a permanent note.

  • @James_CandAH said:
    [...]
    It seems everything aside from actual quotes is better conceived as a permanent note. In the age of Roam and like apps, is a literature note only for quotes you intend to use in writing? If literature notes are paraphrased and therefore essentially transformed thoughts, are they not already just permanent notes who's first link is to the citation in the book which sparked the idea? Why have two separate notes when you can have a citation and links to other thoughts in the same note?

    @jameslongley said: [...] the potential duplicate work of writing a literature note in your own words and any transformation it might need to make to become a permanent note.

    I will encourage you both to reread @prometheanhindsight 's comment above, but I'll also do my best to give my perspective. Don't be let down if you find it confusing -- I think there are a lot of people talking in many different directions on this topic :smile:

    If you go by Ahrens' "How to take smart notes", "literature notes"* and "permanent notes" are not discussed as distinct types of notes in the Zettelkasten. This is something many gloss over. They are used by Ahrens to explain the role of the notes which should be in the Zettelkasten, but not to make categories of the types of notes people should take.

    "Study notes" and "literature notes" are, as I read Ahrens' book, the notes which are taken in association with studies or reading. Aka. the notes we probably all took during class or while reading. We do this for many reasons: keeping attention, preparing for a test, clarifying connections, simplifying wording, paraphrasing. However, in Ahrens' terminology, they are not fit for the Zettelkasten, because the purpose of the Zettelkasten is different.

    As @prometheanhindsight said, permanent notes have permanent relevance [ahrensHowTakeSmart2017, p. 41, p. 85]. That is, they should be able to stand on their own outside of the context in which they were originally considered.

    The notes in your Zettelkasten should be the permanent notes because of the purpose they fulfill. Not because of their origin. Permanent notes are written based upon thoughts, other notes, etc., but just because a book is referenced or quoted that doesn't change its purpose.

    With that said, it is still relevant to take literature notes and Ahrens even encourages to keep them [ahrensHowTakeSmart2017, p. 24]. F.x. the way I write notes while reading is not at all suitable for directly entering in my Zettelkasten. So I read through my study notes and then write notes in my Zettelkasten. For me they serve different purposes. Someone who took notes in a different manner, might be able to save a step.

    But in the end you put some notes into your Zettelkasten and they are your notes. Ignore all the dogma about right or wrong and look at what fits your workflow. Be willing to experiment and be critical of what works and what feels like it works.

    * I don't actually think Ahrens uses that word. I think it is "study notes".

  • @henrikenggaard said:

    @James_CandAH said:
    [...]
    It seems everything aside from actual quotes is better conceived as a permanent note. In the age of Roam and like apps, is a literature note only for quotes you intend to use in writing? If literature notes are paraphrased and therefore essentially transformed thoughts, are they not already just permanent notes who's first link is to the citation in the book which sparked the idea? Why have two separate notes when you can have a citation and links to other thoughts in the same note?

    @jameslongley said: [...] the potential duplicate work of writing a literature note in your own words and any transformation it might need to make to become a permanent note.

    I will encourage you both to reread @prometheanhindsight 's comment above, but I'll also do my best to give my perspective. Don't be let down if you find it confusing -- I think there are a lot of people talking in many different directions on this topic :smile:

    If you go by Ahrens' "How to take smart notes", "literature notes"* and "permanent notes" are not discussed as distinct types of notes in the Zettelkasten. This is something many gloss over. They are used by Ahrens to explain the role of the notes which should be in the Zettelkasten, but not to make categories of the types of notes people should take.

    "Study notes" and "literature notes" are, as I read Ahrens' book, the notes which are taken in association with studies or reading. Aka. the notes we probably all took during class or while reading. We do this for many reasons: keeping attention, preparing for a test, clarifying connections, simplifying wording, paraphrasing. However, in Ahrens' terminology, they are not fit for the Zettelkasten, because the purpose of the Zettelkasten is different.

    As @prometheanhindsight said, permanent notes have permanent relevance [ahrensHowTakeSmart2017, p. 41, p. 85]. That is, they should be able to stand on their own outside of the context in which they were originally considered.

    The notes in your Zettelkasten should be the permanent notes because of the purpose they fulfill. Not because of their origin. Permanent notes are written based upon thoughts, other notes, etc., but just because a book is referenced or quoted that doesn't change its purpose.

    With that said, it is still relevant to take literature notes and Ahrens even encourages to keep them [ahrensHowTakeSmart2017, p. 24]. F.x. the way I write notes while reading is not at all suitable for directly entering in my Zettelkasten. So I read through my study notes and then write notes in my Zettelkasten. For me they serve different purposes. Someone who took notes in a different manner, might be able to save a step.

    But in the end you put some notes into your Zettelkasten and they are your notes. Ignore all the dogma about right or wrong and look at what fits your workflow. Be willing to experiment and be critical of what works and what feels like it works.

    * I don't actually think Ahrens uses that word. I think it is "study notes".

    Very helpful perspective, @henrikenggaard, thank you. I'll check out @prometheanhindsight's comment 👍

  • @henrikenggaard said:
    "Study notes" and "literature notes" are, as I read Ahrens' book, the notes which are taken in association with studies or reading. Aka. the notes we probably all took during class or while reading. We do this for many reasons: keeping attention, preparing for a test, clarifying connections, simplifying wording, paraphrasing. However, in Ahrens' terminology, they are not fit for the Zettelkasten, because the purpose of the Zettelkasten is different.

    As @prometheanhindsight said, permanent notes have permanent relevance [ahrensHowTakeSmart2017, p. 41, p. 85]. That is, they should be able to stand on their own outside of the context in which they were originally considered.

    I definitely agree with this statement. I think there is common confusion about the providence of ideas stored in permanent notes. Can you put someone else's ideas in your permanent notes? Should your permanent notes only contain ideas unique to you? The concern that I've seen new people express is that they don't have enough personal ideas to make permanent notes with, and that all the notes they are making end up as literature notes. I think this is a misunderstanding of what can be contained in a permanent note and the role of a literature note.

    @James_CandAH said:
    Thanks everyone participating in this thread. As a new ZK user, the difference between literature notes and permanent notes seems straight forward but in practice the lines get hazy. In response to the thread, I feel clearer about how liberally to consider something a permanent note. But now I'm less clear about how to distinguish them from 'literature notes.' That feels strange to say...

    It seems everything aside from actual quotes is better conceived as a permanent note. In the age of Roam and like apps, is a literature note only for quotes you intend to use in writing? If literature notes are paraphrased and therefore essentially transformed thoughts, are they not already just permanent notes who's first link is to the citation in the book which sparked the idea? Why have two separate notes when you can have a citation and links to other thoughts in the same note?

    @jameslongley said:
    I have the same question re: the potential duplicate work of writing a literature note in your own words and any transformation it might need to make to become a permanent note.

    My understanding is that a literature note is just a quick summary of a reference to help you remember what the reference was about. A literature note is not any note that you take based on a reference. When you take a note based on a reference, you rephrase it and place it into the context of other notes in your ZK. This is a permanent note. You should make sure to put a reference list so that you can properly cite your work, but this note is not worth any less than a note you take that originates 100% whole-cloth from your own head.

    What I would call study notes are the fleeting notes I take while reading.

    My workflow is this: While reading a reference, I take notes into a single text file. Anything that I feel like writing down about this reference goes into this text file. When I'm done reading the reference, I put this text file into an inbox folder. This text file is my study note--the notes I took while studying the reference. Ultimately, this ends up being deleted. Writing notes while reading the reference is a tool to help me think through the reference, as well as to pull out the bits of knowledge that I think might be work making into a permanent note later.

    A day or two later, I return to my study-note with an eye towards making permanent notes. I go through my study notes looking for knowledge or thoughts that I want to make into permanent notes. The permanent notes I make are sometimes copied sections of my study notes, if parts of my study-notes are sufficiently self-contained and atomic. Most permanent notes end up being edited sections of my study-notes. These permanent notes will have a references section where I list the reference that supports the information in the permanent note.

    Once I have made the permanent notes that I'm interested in making, I make my literature note. This is a single note that contains the reference information, a link to the reference, and a summary of the reference. The summary is just a few sentences long. I try to capture what I think is the thesis of the work, and maybe a sentence about why I found it valuable or why I disagree with it. I then go through the permanent notes I made based on this reference and put a link to this literature note along with their references section.

    Then, I delete the study-notes for that reference.

    The point of this literature note is just to remind me what the reference was about. I'm not storing any useful information here, this is purely a way of jogging my memory about a reference in the future. I most commonly use it to determine which reference I want to return to in the future. For example, I have maybe read a few dozen references discussing a particular analytical technique. One of them had a very useful figure that I want to look at again. Instead of opening several dozen PDFs to figure out which reference had the figure, I'll look through my literature notes and glance over my summaries. Usually this is enough to help me remember which reference I'm looking for.

  • @prometheanhindsight I don't really have anything to add; just that my workflow is very similar. Notes are taken while reading which are reworked for the Zettelkasten.

    The permanent notes are about concepts across many references; the "literature notes" are about a specific reference and mainly for aiding a revisit to that reference.

  • Thank you @prometheanhindsight and @henrikenggaard. This is very clarifying. Like the question which started this thread, most of my 'literature notes' are 'permanent notes.' Luckily this is just an organizational tweak, not a real change in my work flow or how Obsidian works with my notes. Having short summaries of references which notes can link to for future reference makes a lot of sense. The permanent notes can have a link and a page number if needed.

  • @prometheanhindsight said:
    In choosing what notes to make and what links to put in those notes, you are adding your own thoughts to the note… The act of choosing notes is a reflection of personal thought, and will naturally lead to insight in the future.

    Just want to say that this is enormously helpful -- both the insight and the practical advice on how to make good notes of this type. I've been struggling as others in this thread have, but I feel this is a great starting point to make things easier. Thank you!

  • @James_CandAH said:
    Thank you @prometheanhindsight and @henrikenggaard. This is very clarifying. Like the question which started this thread, most of my 'literature notes' are 'permanent notes.' Luckily this is just an organizational tweak, not a real change in my work flow or how Obsidian works with my notes. Having short summaries of references which notes can link to for future reference makes a lot of sense. The permanent notes can have a link and a page number if needed.

    @James_CandAH has it been an issue/do you foresee it becoming an issue that you have both literature and permanent notes in Obsidian?

  • @jameslongley I don't think so at the moment. I only have a few hundred notes so it will take some more time for maps of content to be useful, as I understand them. If there's a problem with my system, I don't think I'll find it until I'm able to try to find new connections among my notes.

    With my lit notes, I had been learning to make them short and autonomous, linking back to the main book review note or project from where they came. I tended to make a lot of backlinks on them, both to references, projects, topics and other notes. It was sort of messy which is what lead me to this thread and eventually to my earlier question. With how backlinks work though, I don't see a real functional difference between my past lit notes and permanent notes.

    Going forward I think I'll pair down the kind of links I place on a note to have fewer redundancies. But since everything can be found in search, I don't see a problem yet either with leaving the existing notes as they are, or with having permanent notes that also link back to their reference. I'll probably clean up old notes as I bump into them, but I don't see any handicap that would warrant reformatting my whole vault.

    Anything I'm missing?

  • @James_CandAH said:
    @jameslongley I don't think so at the moment. I only have a few hundred notes so it will take some more time for maps of content to be useful, as I understand them. If there's a problem with my system, I don't think I'll find it until I'm able to try to find new connections among my notes.

    With my lit notes, I had been learning to make them short and autonomous, linking back to the main book review note or project from where they came. I tended to make a lot of backlinks on them, both to references, projects, topics and other notes. It was sort of messy which is what lead me to this thread and eventually to my earlier question. With how backlinks work though, I don't see a real functional difference between my past lit notes and permanent notes.

    Going forward I think I'll pair down the kind of links I place on a note to have fewer redundancies. But since everything can be found in search, I don't see a problem yet either with leaving the existing notes as they are, or with having permanent notes that also link back to their reference. I'll probably clean up old notes as I bump into them, but I don't see any handicap that would warrant reformatting my whole vault.

    Anything I'm missing?

    Nope, that all makes sense to me. It'll be interesting to see what emerges over time.

    On a separate but related note, have you read @sfast's post on the trouble/danger(s) of backlinks (https://zettelkasten.de/posts/backlinks-are-bad-links/)? I found it a compelling argument to stay away from software that lends itself to automatic connections. I was an early user of Roam and I've tried Obsidian but I've eventually decided to go as manual as possible in terms of note connections so I'm building my zk in Scrivener.

  • @jameslongley In Scrivener? That’s interesting. I use Scrivener for a lot of note-taking and most of my writing. In the process, I pull Zettels into Scrivener.

    However, I hadn’t thought Scrivener to be very friendly if your purpose is to create a Zettelkasten. Can you share how you do that?

  • edited February 8

    @GeoEng51 said:
    @jameslongley In Scrivener? That’s interesting. I use Scrivener for a lot of note-taking and most of my writing. In the process, I pull Zettels into Scrivener.

    However, I hadn’t thought Scrivener to be very friendly if your purpose is to create a Zettelkasten. Can you share how you do that?

    @GeoEng51 sure. I took to heart the idea either @sfast or @ctietze shared in a recent blog post about the shortcomings/dangers of backlinks in software like Roam/Logseq/Obsidian (in that they lend themselves to connecting information rather than knowledge).

    In addition to it 'forcing' me to think about how I connect knowledge, I decided to go with Scrivener for a few reasons:

    1. I use it daily in my work across three projects I work on
    2. It's a distraction-free offline environment
    3. For me it's a pleasure to work in as I'm comfortable with all its intricacies (keyboard shortcuts etc)
    4. The splitscreen view, copyholders, binder structure, inspector etc gives me all the functionality I like to have available
    5. It allows internal links in the same way they work in Evernote
    6. It has native Zotero integration
    7. I use Scapple (their mindmapping tool) daily and it also integrates with Scrivener

    In terms of setup, I'm playing with my own hybrid structure:

    • Daily note: based on the way tools like Roam and co work (dumping everything into a Daily note as default). Eliminates needing to think about where does this go?
    • In process: Notes/ideas I've pulled from the Daily note/created directly and am developing into permanent notes
    • Permanent notes: Permanently-useful notes that will change over time and be connected to others
    • Index notes: Entry points into topics (I don't have enough content at this stage to start building these)
    • Writing inbox: Derived from Andy Matuschak A writing inbox for transient and incomplete thoughts - this is a staging point for articles I'm going to write based on ideas that surface in the zettelkasten.

    I'm sure the structure will develop further from here but that's the current setup and it's working pretty well so far.

  • @jameslongley Thanks James; that was very informative. I'm pretty familiar with Scrivener but one feature I hadn't used was creating links to other notes within the same project. I can see how this would work well.

    It is possible, by looking within a Scrivener project (using "Show Package Contents" in the Finder) to recover plain text files of each note in a project. Thus you don't have to rely strictly on the export function in Scrivener (which I normally use) to recover your plain text notes, if something went wrong with Scrivener or it was no longer being updated (unlikely, I know). However, you have to dig pretty deep through what seems to be randomly named folders to do so - much easier for Scrivener to do the accounting on that for you.

    With The Archive, the location of each note is known and the file name makes sense and includes your UID. So if The Archive went defunct or if you wanted to try out some other ZK software, it is simple to do so (I've tried out Zettlr and Obsidian on a copy of my ZK folder, just to see what that other software can do).

  • @jameslongley said:
    On a separate but related note, have you read @sfast's post on the trouble/danger(s) of backlinks (https://zettelkasten.de/posts/backlinks-are-bad-links/)? I found it a compelling argument to stay away from software that lends itself to automatic connections. I was an early user of Roam and I've tried Obsidian but I've eventually decided to go as manual as possible in terms of note connections so I'm building my zk in Scrivener.

    @jameslongley Thanks for the article about backlinks. I think the distinctions made are really helpful for new ZK users like myself. The comments pick it apart but I think the main observation is still pretty relevant. The key skills of capturing knowledge and creating meaningful links are pretty easy for me to lose sight of. The full features of PKM apps are exciting but auto backlinks can be deceptive. While they still can be useful, they don't replace the steps that can make ZK powerful.

    For my needs I think I can stick with Obsidian. It does not need to automatically generate links. So its a feature that does not need to get in the way until I have a real use for it. Thanks

  • I talk about Ahrens' terminology (i.e., 'permanent') a bit here in this thread. His book needs a bit of copy-editing IMHO to add clarity. He implies a label when he is really using a description. Notes in the Bibliographical Slip Box (Literature Notes aka Reference Notes) and notes in the Main Slip Box (Main Notes aka simply Notes) are both 'permanent' notes. He says 'permanent notes' and he assumes you know which notes he is talking about in the context of whatever he is saying at the moment.

    In my words, I am adding notes to the slip box all the time. If I am reading I am taking notes. At some point, I stumble on a thought that I just know should be added. If I read an article for more than just pleasure, I will often add it to the Biblio Slip Box and write a short summary on the back. If it warrants, I'll add another card with a short citation to the first card and bullet point a bunch of worthy elements of the article. From this will be spawned a note or several notes to the Main Slip Box invariably. So, the rate of adding notes depends on what I am reading. Or if I am personally reflecting on something (a lot of my notes come from me and not from my reading).

    The trigger (for me) that something should be added is "Do I want this thought to be permanent accessible?" "Is it relevant to my interests?" If so, in the box! I start with that. I don't doubt that someday I will do a cruft removal process where I find duplicates, poorly written notes (try to avoid that), and stuff that I thought was relevant and permanent-worthy, but turns out I was wrong. Luhmanns apparently didn't remove stuff, but I bet in the beginning he did at least a bit (though, he was a far greater academic thinker than me, so maybe not).

    Just reading Ahrens' book probably spawned 8 to 10 notes or so. I read into his bibliography a bit as well. Use his book as practice. Read and note to understanding and add relevant bits to your slip box (or Roam or whatever you use — I use paper).

    Anyway. Just get into the habit of taking notes on things even if it is a scribble on a notepad. Review it later, see if it leads to something you want to add to your knowledgebase of ideas, thoughts, and commentary. At some point, you will fleet a bit less and just add things. But I scribble A LOT and then cherrypick and toss the rest. You will get better at it as you go.

    I am a Zettler.

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