Commonplace and Zettelkasten
Hello, long-time observer and new poster here.
So, I have been intrigued by the ideas of both Zettelkasten and commonplace books for a while now, and I am trying to find a synthesis that fits my needs. First, I will give some definitions and differences according to my understanding.
A Zettelkasten is a place to not just store thoughts from other people, but to process them in your own words. The key thing here is linking the notes together to make an idea-generating resource. This can be accomplished with tags and with more direct internal links. Another important aspect is that the notes in the Zettelkasten, zettels, are atomic; that is, they are focused on one thing and one thing only. To summarize (at the risk of simplifying): A Zettelkasten is a network of interconnected, atomic ideas in your own words. Most here know this, I am merely getting a working definition to highlight some differences.
The term "commonplace book" has been used to mean a variety of things, but I will use the definition that I am concerned with here (Some context might help: I am interested in poetry and fiction writing, and just beautiful language in general). For me, a commonplace book is a place where you can record the words of other people, as they originally appeared. This is primarily for the function of imitation: You stumble across a phrase or paragraph that you particularly enjoy, and record it for future reference. The goal is to incorporate whatever you found interesting into your own style. Notes are not taken because of their content necessarily, though the ideas expressed in certain quotes may be interesting. This is about style, craft, and art.
So, some differences are immediately obvious. Zettelkastens deal with knowledge and ideas; commonplace books with language and style. Most apparent to me are the deficiencies in the commonplace book approach compared to the Zettelkasten. For one, there is no interconnectedness. How do you organize language? You could try to organize things by figures of speech, but this leads to two problems: 1) there is not a figure named to describe every effect possible with language, and 2) this will not scale -- categories like #zeugma will quickly become bloated with hundreds of entries.
The above is the chief concern for me: how do you create interconnectivity in a commonplace book? I have already found a solution to the "in your own words" part of my dilemma. Whenever I write down a commonplace (the equivalent of a zettel), I will write up a few sentences about what I like. I then will write some imitations. The atomic part can be mirrored to an extent, but the best sentences may contain many different stylistic takeaways. The problem still remains: how will I find and use these in the future?
To summarize: I enjoy the Zettelkasten method for building upon ideas. How can I imitate this when building upon language? Specifically, how can I organize such a word-hoard in a way that is interconnected and context-based, such that I can find what I need in the context that I need it? Stated another way, how can I avoid merely collecting sentences, but make something that will truly last, accrue value, and increase in usefulness the more that I put in?
Thank you for taking the time to read this.
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