Zettelkasten Forum


Fiction writer from France

Hello all!
I have been lurking for quite a while since discovering the Zettelkasten method and I finally decided to jump into the discussion. I'm a science-fiction and fantasy writer, living between France and Australia, and I'm interested in the Zettelkasten mostly to organise my "real world knowledge" that come useful when writing fictional worlds, as well as documenting and making sense of my artistic practice. Looking forward to exchange about the use of the Zettelkasten method in art!

"A writer should write what he has to say and not speak it." - Ernest Hemingway

Mac / iOS user, Zettelkasten built upon DEVONthink, GTD system upon OmniFocus.
Writing done using Drafts as an inbox, Scrivener and Ulysses for production.

Comments

  • @KillerWhale I am what you would call an "aspiring writer", having all my life scribbled down thoughts for stories and story segments. They used to be all over the place, on pieces of paper, in my journal and other notebooks, and randomly on my computer. They are now all in my budding Zettelkasten. So, I don't have any experience to share, but I think it's a perfect reason to have a Zettelkasten, and I hope mine will encourage and enable my story writing efforts.

  • Very nice. As two side projects, I have one fantasy epos (started when I was 8) and one cyberpunk book that is still in its worldbuilding phase (and perhaps will never leave it).

    So, I am looking forward on how you'll adapt your Zettelkasten to your needs.

    I am a Zettler

  • Hello and thanks for the welcome :smile:
    At this stage of my approach of the subject, I believe the Zettelkasten should be made for real-world notes, and thinking about the craft itself, but not for the fictional worlds themselves. Because they are, by nature, fictitious and so it seems to me that mixing fiction and fact is bound for trouble.

    Suppose I'm writing about elves: I could have the elves as they work in universe A, the elves as they work in universe B, and then background thinking about the way they've been treated in Tolkien, Feist, Japanese anime, and the mythical and symbolical roots. Putting everything in the same place seems dangerous to me. I would keep my own worlds separate, in two different wikis, and have the Zettelkasten for all the background thinking.

    An additional reason for that is that creating a work of fiction is a work of discovery (even if you take extensive notes beforehand) until the very last moment (when the book goes to the publisher). Only the writing itself defines the ideas and the trajectories in fiction, no matter how much preparative work you put into it. So everything can always change, and that seems too shaky ground for the Zettelkasten in my opinion.

    At least that's how I intend to start.

    "A writer should write what he has to say and not speak it." - Ernest Hemingway

    Mac / iOS user, Zettelkasten built upon DEVONthink, GTD system upon OmniFocus.
    Writing done using Drafts as an inbox, Scrivener and Ulysses for production.

  • Some additional thoughts as I'm toying with the use of a Zettelkasten for fiction (and not only craft learning, for which the Zettelkasten works beautifully, no doubt).

    I currently find myself at odds trying to mix two antagonistic approaches in my mind:

    • Fiction ideas are often unfinished – some shadows that need capturing so that they might be worked upon and teased out so as to reveal their shapes, which requires time, effort and research;
    • A Zettel can have an ideal, "finished" state or at least should be written with that goal in mind (your approach, @sfast , if I'm not mistaken, in some other thread I could not dig up, my apologies).

    I perfectly get the notion of aiming to write for a finished form when analysing knowledge or developing theoretical ideas – even if you can't immediately do that with the elements at your disposal, I think it's an interesting and ideal goal, which you can strive to attain.

    I don't think fiction ideas lend themselves well to that, because you need to work on creating them, if only to realise they're completely other things (or fit an existing project you have, you just couldn't see it yet).

    I am uncomfortable with the idea of "polluting" a Zettelkasten with half-finished captured thoughts that need elaboration. Maybe it's absurd, but that seems to go contrary to the whole method in my mind. If I'm missing something, feel free to whack my head. :smile:

    "A writer should write what he has to say and not speak it." - Ernest Hemingway

    Mac / iOS user, Zettelkasten built upon DEVONthink, GTD system upon OmniFocus.
    Writing done using Drafts as an inbox, Scrivener and Ulysses for production.

  • @KillerWhale said:
    Some additional thoughts as I'm toying with the use of a Zettelkasten for fiction (and not only craft learning, for which the Zettelkasten works beautifully, no doubt).
    ...
    I am uncomfortable with the idea of "polluting" a Zettelkasten with half-finished captured thoughts that need elaboration. Maybe it's absurd, but that seems to go contrary to the whole method in my mind. If I'm missing something, feel free to whack my head. :smile:

    Well, that is exactly what I am doing. About 10% (at present) of the notes in my ZK are half-finished story ideas. I don't find it negatively impacts the quality of the ZK in any way. Those particular Zettels have their own set of flags and their own internal connections. Occasionally, some other more complete Zettel gets linked to one of them, if it is relevant and will help later story development.

    I'm not sure what you mean by "polluting". My Zettels are at various stages of completeness or maturity. I use tags like #unfinished and #unlinked if I feel I could do more work on them, but there are many Zettels with neither tag that still get polished if I happen to read them at some point and find they need a bit of work.

  • Thank you very much @GeoEng51 . That's very enlightening – and reassuring to read.

    I'm not sure what you mean by "polluting". My Zettels are at various stages of completeness or maturity.

    Maybe I'm overthinking the Zettelkasten in terms of Platonic ideals of distilled knowledge – but that's what I got from reading Ahrens and the impressive work @ctietze invested in Range. It seems to me that the Zettelkasten benefits hugely from investing deep thought and writing into it – otherwise, what is the difference with a pile of transient notes? (Links, I know, but links alone a Zettelkasten do not make – there's still the atomicity, etc.)

    … well, it seems I may well be overthinking it.

    Can unfinished, random stuff end up in there without undermining the whole point of the system? Isn't it about putting material that can stand the test of time (or at least, the writer's life)? Maybe I'm getting it completely backwards :blush:

    "A writer should write what he has to say and not speak it." - Ernest Hemingway

    Mac / iOS user, Zettelkasten built upon DEVONthink, GTD system upon OmniFocus.
    Writing done using Drafts as an inbox, Scrivener and Ulysses for production.

  • @KillerWhale said:
    Thank you very much @GeoEng51 . That's very enlightening – and reassuring to read.

    Can unfinished, random stuff end up in there without undermining the whole point of the system? Isn't it about putting material that can stand the test of time (or at least, the writer's life)? Maybe I'm getting it completely backwards :blush:

    I believe the right idea is to have most of your notes in a "mature" state - well-considered (by you), reflective of your thinking, concise, etc. Some of mine start that way or get to that state quickly, but others require some rumination time. They start as perhaps a title and a couple of bullets, then get a bit more detail, then get massaged to be more reflective of what I really think and more concise (I've for a long time admired the pithiness of writers like Ernest Hemingway), and eventually might get to a mature state - often as I write other notes and link them together. So, getting to a mature state is a process. In the meantime, I use various tags, as I mentioned, to indicate their incomplete state, and occasionally search on those tags to make sure I don't have notes languishing in mediocrity.

  • Thank you @GeoEng51 . I can totally see the use of tags to reflect the state of a Zettel, and keep working on them; I was more or less using an inbox for that, but the system would probably benefit from having even incomplete data in it, so as to leverage the power of other notes.

    A couple follow-up questions / comments if I may

    • Sometimes some ideas get discarded as they don't fit anything anymore, or turn out to be dead-ends. I'm guessing you can remove those Zettels if needed – that's what I was thinking to do (allow myself that freedom) but is there something that would go against that practice?
    • In the same way, sometimes ideas get used in a finished product; for instance a specific story idea. I would think leaving it in the Zettelkasten as such could muddle the system, since it's a "spent" idea you would not want to stumble upon (it's been built upon in a story). Do you tag or remove those notes?

    Thank you very much for that discussion – and your distinction between "mature" and "finished" is very helpful. Things can be mature and yet not finished, still under construction. There's indeed a lot of work that goes into being finally concise and simple about something.

    "A writer should write what he has to say and not speak it." - Ernest Hemingway

    Mac / iOS user, Zettelkasten built upon DEVONthink, GTD system upon OmniFocus.
    Writing done using Drafts as an inbox, Scrivener and Ulysses for production.

  • @KillerWhale There is quite a differnce between fiction and non-fiction. Fiction is never finished.

    I am a Zettler

  • @sfast Okay! So we are in agreement. :smile: A Zettel can be finished, but if it is not fictitious.

    "A writer should write what he has to say and not speak it." - Ernest Hemingway

    Mac / iOS user, Zettelkasten built upon DEVONthink, GTD system upon OmniFocus.
    Writing done using Drafts as an inbox, Scrivener and Ulysses for production.

  • @KillerWhale said:
    Thank you @GeoEng51 . I can totally see the use of tags to reflect the state of a Zettel, and keep working on them; I was more or less using an inbox for that, but the system would probably benefit from having even incomplete data in it, so as to leverage the power of other notes.

    A couple follow-up questions / comments if I may

    • Sometimes some ideas get discarded as they don't fit anything anymore, or turn out to be dead-ends. I'm guessing you can remove those Zettels if needed – that's what I was thinking to do (allow myself that freedom) but is there something that would go against that practice?

    I'm not a Zettelnaut, as I think Will calls himself (i.e., I've only been at this a short time). Nevertheless, every time I update a Zettel, some material gets trashed and replaced with "better thinking" or new ideas. Sometimes a complete Zettel gets trashed. It's just part of the process, at least the way I do it.

    • In the same way, sometimes ideas get used in a finished product; for instance a specific story idea. I would think leaving it in the Zettelkasten as such could muddle the system, since it's a "spent" idea you would not want to stumble upon (it's been built upon in a story). Do you tag or remove those notes?

    I would say on this question - it's up to you. If the idea is truly "spent" and has no continuing value in your ZK, I don't see any problem with removing it. I do have some fiction writing aspirations, but I haven't got to that point yet. I think I'd ask myself "Is there still a valuable idea in this Zettel, independent of writing the fictional story?". If so, I'd keep it; if not, I'd probably turf it.

  • Thank you very much @GeoEng51 , that's very liberating! I'm realising I'm really going at it from a too rigid point of view, but that's what I got from reading Ahrens. (Maybe it's just me though) I guess I really need to start experimenting and I'm starting to think that putting Zettel ideas in an inbox for later processing is not a good approach. It's probably better to put half-formed Zettels in your system to prompt later revisiting and incremental refining, rather than have them lie in an inbox where they might forever be stuck in limbo. In other words, half a thought that allows itself to be revisited is better than no thought at all. (Of course, a processed and refined thought is the ideal, but we don't always have the time for that.)

    If I may put in a suggestion for the upcoming course to @ctietze and @sfast , it would be to emphasise (if they agree of course) the organic and growing aspect of the Zettelkasten. I got from Ahrens and the fascinating videos on Range that this was a very involved and lengthy process, which it can be (and ideally should be, you should put in the time and effort) but it probably involves more freedom that can be deduced from the currently available material on the subject. Especially when time is limited. A little bit like GTD, of course the system gives maximum benefits when you adhere to the whole model, but even picking up a few new habits – if you can't do better at the moment – will help.

    "A writer should write what he has to say and not speak it." - Ernest Hemingway

    Mac / iOS user, Zettelkasten built upon DEVONthink, GTD system upon OmniFocus.
    Writing done using Drafts as an inbox, Scrivener and Ulysses for production.

  • @KillerWhale said:
    Thank you very much @GeoEng51 , that's very liberating! I'm realising I'm really going at it from a too rigid point of view, but that's what I got from reading Ahrens.

    Haha! I didn't really understand the concept of "liberating" until I came under the influence of my wife while trying to downsize for retirement. At first, I was that prototypical old granny who couldn't bear to give anything away and dithered about any item I looked at. But she coaxed me to start throwing stuff out and the more I did it, the more I enjoyed and wanted to do it. In the end, one day I just opened up the door to our large garage and put a sign out in the street - "Help yourself to anything you want - it's all free". Within an hour or so, it was all gone (this was on the day of a community garage sale, mind you). Now that was liberating :>)

    We subsequently moved from Canada to Melbourne, Australia for two years, taking no more than what we could carry in 2 medium-sized suitcases each. That confirmed what I should have figured out a long time ago - you don't really need much "stuff" to be comfortable and happy.

    We now live happily in a two-bedroom flat in Vancouver with a minimal amount of belongings. We're liberated oldsters! As I said to a friend the other day, death is the ultimate liberator (he thought I was joking).

  • That's a wonderful journey @GeoEng51 ! I'm supposed to move to the other side of the world once the pandemic subsides (… fingers crossed) so I will indeed need to liberate myself as I can't take all my stuff with me! Digital is great for this as well I find, you can have access many books, lots of music, and not a single gram more of worldly possessions. Strangely enough, it's also my fiancée who has a strong influence about this on myself :blush:

    I'm glad to read you're happy and liberated (… but not too much, eh…!)

    "A writer should write what he has to say and not speak it." - Ernest Hemingway

    Mac / iOS user, Zettelkasten built upon DEVONthink, GTD system upon OmniFocus.
    Writing done using Drafts as an inbox, Scrivener and Ulysses for production.

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