Zettelkasten Forum


Moving from notes and ideas to written text

I'm an academic that has been doing some sort of informal Zettelkasten (ZK)-like notetaking for a while but I just discovered the ZK concept. ZK appeals to me but almost all of the discussion is about the initial notetaking and linking and not much seems to be about translating the notes into publishable text. Does anyone here have experience actually using their ZK to create articles or books? I see how the notes linking can help clarify thinking and connections, but not how to actually use it to WRITE something, especially taking it all the way to a properly cited and formatted paper. Is the ZK supposed to be primarily for the thinking stage, or even thinking & outlining, but then you use another program/format/method to write the text? How do you manage the back-and-forth as your writing inspires your thinking and text structure? I'm looking forward to comments.

Comments

  • @cobblepot,

    Others hopefully will chime in with academic use cases. I'm writing a book with The Archive. It is a non-academic commentary on a 12th century Tibetan text called Lojong. It is 59 slogans and I have created one note per slogan with will be a chapter. I have a cover image and notes for the intro, dedication, afterword, etc. I export the notes to a separate directory and run pandoc on them. Pandoc is the command-line tool used to convert and merge all the files into a single epub and pdf. It makes a TOC, can control all formatting and much more.

    LaTeX is another doc conversion tool used by scientific journals and most journals supply LaTeX templates for text formating and biblo formating.

    Will Simpson
    kestrelcreek.com

  • Thanks for the info. So each slogan will have a chapter of commentary, and 59 chapters in the book? How long will each chapter be? I thought the atomization idea of ZK was to have one idea per note, but I assume you will have many ideas in each chapter, so wouldn't you need many notes per chapter?

  • edited February 14

    I finished three books with the Zettelkasten Method and finishing the second Edition of one of them (completly re-written) at the moment. It works good.

    The simple process is: Create an outline, sort the Zettel to their place. When satisfied copy paste the content of the notes. Rough first draft ist finished. Then edit until satisfied.

    The first draft is stored outside of the Zettelkasten.

  • @cobblepot, @sfast describes the established way of forming notes into papers or books. That is the way I understand Luhmann did his work. My particular example is a one-off bastardization. If there weren't 59 slogans or if they required long commentary, likely I wouldn't be doing it this way. The Archive is so good at organizing via linking lots of little files I couldn't resist.

    For this particular project, I am treating each slogan as an atomic unit of the whole project. Each commentary is between 1k and 2k words. Not huge and the intent is to be focused on the particular slogan. It didn't start out fully formed but evolved into this. I use smart searches to quasi create a separate writing environment to work in. The super advantage of having this writing project within the Zettelkasten is the power of linking. I am still able to link into a slogan with a new atom of knowledge, thereby enriching both the new note and the slogan. Super valuable. I won't give this up.

    I have a saved search the shows only the book project and a "Default" search that shows only everything else. Tapping the ESC key clears the search and shows completely everything. I also have a saved search that shows current work ie: structured notes I'm building while reading, I record class notes in a structured note and the note containing the slogan I'm working on.

    @sfast, The method you describe sounds intriguing. I have an assignment to write a creative non-fiction paper. I'm going to give you suggestions for a spin. The current plan is to write about Grave Peak and its Native American lore, its literary lore, and give some focus to the old lookout and its history. I'll keep the research notes short and then piece them together for a first draft outside the Zettelkasten. What writing environment do you use in working with the first draft? I pray not emacs!

    Will Simpson
    kestrelcreek.com

  • I think it really depends on your field and/or method. I store my "data" (= mostly old texts and text notes) in the ZK but don't do my writing in it. When I write, I have the Archive open as a database of sources/notes, while I do the writing itself in another program (Scrivener and eventually LaTeX (Atom) but whatever you are used to).
    I strongly wish there was an easy algorithm for converting random notes to good writing, but alas in my experience there is no such -- writing is work, and sometimes difficult work.

  • @sfast, how do you manage the back-and-forth as your writing inspires your thinking and text structure? Or have you not had to face that issue? Another way to ask this is: once you have exported a first draft, do any of the changes in that draft cause you to change any Zettels, and when/why?

    One thing I'm not quite understanding is how you can outline a book just by linking to Zettels in a structured note. I find that in my outlines, the ideas are complex enough that they cannot be summarized in the short space that would be the title of a Zettel. Do you put other text in the structured note to describe the Zettel content further?

    Also, I currently use a mind mapping program, FreePlane, to outline my papers, and it's hard to imagine that a simple hierarchical Markdown outline without drag-and-drop would be as efficient for exploring different organization methods.

    @zvt, yes, I'm trying to figure out a good method for my field, which involves a lot of theoretical/philosophical discussion. Of course there is no easy algorithm for good writing!

    Currently, after I outline and write rough draft text in FreePlane, I export that to Microsoft Word for editing and citation using Zotero. The problem is that once I have exported and edited it, if I want to change the outline, there is no easy way to sync the changes back for further editing. Maybe my writing process is more iterative than other people's.

  • I’m curious about what @cobblepot asks too @sfast - how to deal with new thinking or elaborations whilst working on your draft outside the ZK, for example in Scrivener or other writing environment.

    Is that where @ctietze uses his buffer notes, if I understood that correctly? To note down changes in thinking or new information on a topic since the current ‘state’ that you are now basing your writing / draft on?

    I am a Zettler, ie 'one who zettles'
    research: pragmatism, 4e cognitive science, metaphor | you can't be neutral on a moving train

  • I like Scrivener because you can write in little chunks that you can rearrange afterwards if you need to -- so makes the outline-writing easier too. I don't tend to change my Zettels except if I have some new links or information to add.

  • @sfast said:
    ...

    The first draft is stored outside of the Zettelkasten.

    I was starting to wonder if people actually write within the Zettelkasten system and this answered my question. Thanks!

    I'm thinking the main reason to NOT write essays as a Zettel is that it would make future searches become clunky as you'd have to ignore the items in it that are not actually a note.

  • @zvt said:
    I don't tend to change my Zettels except if I have some new links or information to add.

    I also don't "change my Zettels except if I have some new links or information to add." The difference is it feels like near half of the work I do in my zettelkasten is editing, adding links, and new information. I try to be a bayesian. I consider my zettelkasten as a second brain, a knowledge partner and I refuse to keep it static.

    @nickang said:
    I was starting to wonder if people actually write within the Zettelkasten system and this answered my question. Thanks!

    I write in my Zettelkasten. I try and create each zettel from exclusively my own writing.
    I am also using The Archive as a poor man's plain text Scrivener. I created a structure note for an outline then each note is a scene or topic. I'm currently writing a paper no wolf reintroduction into Hells Canyon Wilderness in Oregon. So far it looks like this:

    This will be the first draft, other drafts will be worked in IA Writer. As I write the other drafts and the final paper, I am on the lookout for any nugget of knowledge to add to my zettelkasten rather it comes from my synthesis of the paper I'm working on or some other source. If a note represents an atom of knowledge and I get new information about that atom, one of the joyous parts of keeping a Zettelkasten is updating old thinking with new thinking.

    I'm thinking the main reason to NOT write essays as a Zettel is that it would make future searches become clunky as you'd have to ignore the items in it that are not actually a note.

    When I search my Zettelkasten I want to see all I can from the isolated note to the structure note to anything I've published. I treat each published article and blog post differently. Some I collect the entire article or blog post (around 500-1000 words) or if larger I use a media link. I can see if you are talking about a 100-page dissertation your strategy would be different. There I might be worried about polluting a search but then again maybe not as the big paper would only be one line in a search and because I wrote it, I'd know its level of relavence

    Will Simpson
    kestrelcreek.com

  • It is quite easy: If you write something just treat your writing as source material. Processing it is mostly copypasta. :smile:

  • @sfast said:
    It is quite easy: If you write something just treat your writing as source material.

    Unfortunately, your meaning is not coming across to me. I understand that you have a general principle that all writing should be treated similarly as you process it for the ZK whether you wrote it or not, but the question is how to apply that and other principles to specific writing situations.

    Presumably, your first draft is organized in accordance with a structured zettle. Maybe as you write you realize that your first and 3rd main points really should be grouped together and you want to add something new. Are you literally suggesting that you treat the draft like a published source and take new permanent notes on it and incorporate those into your ZK? Do you abandon the previous structured zettle?

    Maybe it would help if you answered the question as I put it the second time: once you have exported a first draft, do any of the changes in that draft cause you to change any Zettels, and when/why?

    Processing it is mostly copypasta. :smile:

    Apologies again, but I have no idea what this means in terms of taking concrete actions. Thanks for any explanation.

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