Zettelkasten Forum


What do I do with my hundreds of notes I have outside of Zettelkästen?

I've been reading the bookie that ppl recommend, called "How to Take Smart Notes" and the guy says some stuff about how it's not necessary to pass your notes to your "slipbox" system.

However, I'm a fiction writer, and I've already struggled a fuckton because my note organization system was so disorderly. I couldn't find shit and I have hundreds of ideas that I thought I'd never use because I wouldn't be able to systematically browse them. Now I find Zettelkästen, as I'm sure y'all found it, and I think it would be a better way to organize my folder (which I'd been looking for for months because my old system is seriously terrible).

Now, I see that there's just so many notes, and the usual "content consumption" process of a nonfiction writer is translated to a "content creation" process as a fiction writer. I may consume, but I spend most of my day writing and imagining for my own world, and reinterpreting existing content. My creation process is slowed by the fact that I'm so inefficient at using what I create.

  • Should I just use my existing note system as an inbox and digest it all into Zettels? Or what do? I rarely ever read my notes, so I think they're useless in their current state.
  • If you were to do this, how would you do it?

Comments

  • Welcome to the forums.

    I feel your pain. Many of us have a history of notes before discovering this method.

    @MotorUnicycle said:
    Now, I see that there are just so many notes, and the usual "content consumption" process of a nonfiction writer is translated to a "content creation" process as a fiction writer.

    I don't understand how different genres of writers are relative to consumption vs. creation?

    • Should I use my existing note system as an inbox and digest it all into Zettels? Or what does? I rarely ever read my notes, so I think they're useless in their current state.
    • If you were to do this, how would you do it?

    Are these prior notes digital?
    How many are there?
    What format are they in?
    Is the time spent processing them in a note archive, rewriting them, adding links and references, worth the expected value?
    Are they needed all at the same time or can this process be incremented over time?

    Will Simpson
    I'm a Zettelnant.
    Research: Rationalism, Zen, Dzogchen, Non-fiction Creative Writing
    kestrelcreek.com

  • edited November 6

    @Will said:
    I don't understand how different genres of writers are relative to consumption vs. creation?

    Ok so someone getting a PhD will read a lot and take hundreds of notes regarding the topic (while reading books, analyzing books, analyzing reality. In a sense, nonfiction is digestion. It is creation in the sense that you're making something new, but it's much more of a consume-then-create process.

    Fiction writers on the other hand, at least in my case, will just sit down and create a fictional world, characters, ideas, etc. This is obviously controversial because you'll find the idea that nothing is actually original, and that even fiction is digestion, but I'm talking about practical matters: a nonfiction writer will take notes about the outside world, and a fiction writer (me) will take notes about a fictional world, without consulting as many outside sources for reference.

    A normal fiction writer will write all of this on Scrivener in a character folder, theme folder, plot folder, etc., and then expand on everything. I intend to organize differently according to this system we have at hand.

    Are these prior notes digital?
    How many are there?
    What format are they in?

    Ye, about 800 markdown files I used to edit on Typora.

    Is the time spent processing them in a note archive, rewriting them, adding links and references, worth the expected value?

    Idk. I can write new things, but I feel bad about what I've already written that I loved and may never come to use due to my lack of organization and discipline.

    Are they needed all at the same time or can this process be incremented over time?

    I'm not sure what you mean with the second part of this question.

    I've created at least 3 worlds, and researched a lot, but I have no idea where those files are most of the time, and each time I have to spend a long time searching and can't paint a full picture of it in my head, so it becomes useless. My idea is that if I redigest it all into Zettels, and incorporate some structural tags, it may be easier to access the past, but it will definitely take time from the future, and I don't know if it's more worth it to restructure instead of creating from scratch within this system.

    I think that answering your question requires more experience that I don't have. :)

  • Should I just use my existing note system as an inbox and digest it all into Zettels?

    Yes.

    I am a Zettler

  • edited November 7

    @MotorUnicycle said:
    I'm not sure what you mean with the second part of this question.

    I think what @Will means is, do you need to process them all to Zettel’s at the same time for them to be useful, or is that something you could just chip away at, a couple here, a couple there, and slowly churn them out over 6 months.
    That’s why I think @sfast answered the question perfectly.
    They are already of no use right now, as you said, so I would just set myself a target of 3 zettels (even if they are 1 liners) a day. That ends up completing the stack in <1 year. Yes, it’s a while, but they are more use to you being a part of the Zettelkasten where you can get at the ideas, instead of sitting in a pile of notes that are inaccessible.

    Sounds like you know you’ve got some gems in there that you can’t get to at the moment, so it’s probably something you should do...

  • @MotorUnicycle said:
    Ye, about 800 markdown files I used to edit on Typora.

    This is good news and bad news. It's great they are in markdown, but 800 is a lot of zettels. Even if they are all fiction, you'd still want them to follow a similar format to be linked and tagged.

    Maybe they would be best imported into a program like Scribner, which is a tool many fiction writers use.

    Have you thought about a software package to support your Zettelkasten?
    Are all the files now in one directory or in category folders?
    How are the files named? Do the names follow any convention? Are there a lot of exceptions?
    How big are these files?
    Might they want to be refactored into shorter notes? The ideal zettel is short and atomic so that it can be mixed and matched many times with many other zettel.

    Are they needed all at the same time, or can this process be incremented over time?

    I'm not sure what you mean with the second part of this question.

    I mean with your current project, do you need to be able to synthesize all 800 notes or just a subset of maybe 100. Working on another 100 when you start your next project. Reviewing tagging, connecting, potentially refactoring 100 zettel is a less daunting task.

    I've created at least 3 worlds, and researched a lot, but I have no idea where those files are most of the time, and each time I have to spend a long time searching and can't paint a full picture of it in my head, so it becomes useless. My idea is that if I redigest it all into Zettels and incorporate some structural tags, it may be easier to access the past. Still, it will definitely take time from the future, and I don't know if it's more worth it to restructure instead of creating from scratch within this system.

    I have little experience with fiction. But there is nothing so special about fiction that would exclude it from a zettelkasten. As I see it, the problems would be developing a file naming convention that could be imported and the effort at redigestion into a useable format and tagging. If you spent a brief 10 mins refactoring each note you'd be talking 133 hours of focused work. It might be a fruitful 133 hours but it would feel like drudgery at the time.

    Will Simpson
    I'm a Zettelnant.
    Research: Rationalism, Zen, Dzogchen, Non-fiction Creative Writing
    kestrelcreek.com

  • @MotorUnicycle said:

    • Should I just use my existing note system as an inbox and digest it all into Zettels? Or what do? I rarely ever read my notes, so I think they're useless in their current state.
    • If you were to do this, how would you do it?

    I can relate. I started using the Zettelkasten approach about nine months ago. One major non-work area that I use it for is fiction. I have notes going back many years about two fantasy worlds regularly used for a role playing campaign. My existing notes were a wide mix of large markdown files, hand scribbled notes, older Mac Pages docs or even older Word documents.

    Since I started using The Archive, my approach has been to move things into it incrementally as I am using and interested in particular areas. I'm glad I didn't try to do it all too quickly, I both probably would have burnt out before seeing much benefit and as I've been writing these notes (and reading about note writing on this site and elsewhere) I've grown more skilled with Zettels.

    At first I just moved whole existing markdown files into The Archive just adding a title and tags line. Also I would make small notes to summarize some key ideas and then linked to the existing, external documents. And at this point, for the areas I've worked actively on, I've split up those older large documents into separate, cross linked Zettels. I've rediscovered many great, very relevant ideas I had forgotten about and been inspired to write new ideas.

  • Bravo, @eric_arthen, you said in a couple of compact sentences what I stumbled to say with a couple of hundred words.

    @eric_arthen said:
    Since I started using The Archive, my approach has been to move things into it incrementally as I am using and interested in particular areas. I'm glad I didn't try to do it all too quickly, I both probably would have burnt out before seeing much benefit, and as I've been writing these notes (and reading about note writing on this site and elsewhere), I've grown more skilled with Zettels.

    Stellar advice. This is my worry, getting burnt out before seeing results when deciding to import a mass of notes into the present project of making a note archive. This applies to all areas of study, not just fiction. I have years worth of note in various forms that I move into my note archive as I'm moved or a project requires. Relooking at the notes indeed does spark new and exciting ideas. And my skills at creating and integrating Zettels has grown.

    Will Simpson
    I'm a Zettelnant.
    Research: Rationalism, Zen, Dzogchen, Non-fiction Creative Writing
    kestrelcreek.com

  • Hello. Long time reader of these boards but not an active contributor here.

    This topic, journaling, zetteling, note taking for creative writing has been well digested in places like the Scrivener Boards, on Alex Payne's web site, as well as others. I have some links below that my be of help, but before that a few comments.

    I'm a LitFic writer so my journaling is a combination of character ideas, opening lines, characterizations, scene snips, as well as a fairly massive set of notes on literary criticism, literary theory, and my reviews of other people's writings. Long ago I was taught that the first job of a LitFic author is to read and critique everyone else's work, and the bulk of my journaling consists of notes derived from that effort. I sense you're working in another genera, (SciFi, fantasy???) but I'm not sure that that the same rules don't apply.

    Having said that, In my system I have about 9,000 of what this community would call zettles: roughly half my own stuff (snips of proses, characterizations, vocabulary pallets. . .), and half criticism. Also mixed in are notes about trips to Disney World, current politics, old lovers and such, but I assume all that falls into Creation Support in some way. The basic design of one individual text file (zettel) per thought works great for me even on that scale.

    Everyone's suggestions in the above posts are excellent. I'll summarize and extend:

    • Yes, dump it all into one system. (I've had paper; I've used separate folders; I've use different apps at the same time; I've used "One Giant Text File". Nothing can compete with a single folder with all your notes in discreet, searchable, future-proof text files broken up as unique thoughts.)
    • Title and Tag each text file in some consistent way. (I come up with opening lines almost every day, like in the supermarket, or between sets of heavy deadlifts. I tap them into 1Writer, or IAWriter on my phone, then at home trolling through the #opeingLines tag is always a fruitful way to get the blank page turned on Monday morning.)
    • Use the process as you are creating it. (I have, what some, eleven paper journals that predate these computer things, and I dedicate a few hours every week to transcribing them into text files. Sure enough, every time I do I find some gold for my current project. Also: tagging text files that are not yet formatted does the same -- I always find something just messing around with the zettles.)

    I had an extensive conversation about this with amberV over on the Scrivener boards a number of years ago and wrote up my own File System Information Management system based on those chats. You can find all that stuff here:

    http://dougist.com/2009/08/file-system-infobase-manager/

    http://dougist.com/category/productivity-web-20/

    I believe the Alex Payne commentary is included, but if not google "The Case Against Everything Buckets" to find a robust discussion of electronic journaling.

    Oh, and The Archiver is the best app out there do do all this stuff in right now, better in many ways than the basic OSX file system plus a good text editor. The only thing missing in The Archiver is a robust tag management system like Bear and 1Writer have (and it looks like nvUltra is developing), but that's a topic for another post.

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