Zettelkasten Forum

Writing with the Zettelkasten is like building a fieldstone wall

edited February 2018 in Writing

An interview with programmer and author Gerald M. Weinberg contains a part about his ebook on writing. He calls his method the "fieldstone method", and from the transcript of the interview, I have a strong feeling it's just as experimental and playful in design as writing with a Zettelkasten:

[James Bach asked Weinberg for advice on writing after he spent $30k in book advances without feeling able to write the actual book.] So I had a consultation with him. He came out here to New Mexico in my living room. And we sat down, spent a couple days, and he asked me to help him write books. I explained to him how I write books. I described the fieldstone method - I had never thought about it as a method, it's was just what I did.

So I was thinking of a metaphor and I said, "Well, it's like building a fieldstone wall," - I had done some work building fieldstone walls - and he says, "What's a fieldstone?" He didn't know what that was. So I had to explain to him what a fieldstone was, and how you gather lots of stones, more than you're going to need. And you're always looking for interesting stones, even if you don't have a specific project in mind.

And then eventually you have a project and you look at your pile of stones and you start picking them out. This one fits here, no, that one doesn't. Ideally, you hardly ever modify any of them, but you might have to sometimes to just get a little fit. And you build the thing, and you have lots of leftover stones that you don't use. That's how you have these beautiful walls.

(Bold emphasis mine)

Author at Zettelkasten.de • https://christiantietze.de/


  • Gerald Weinberg is amazing. I have many of his books including General System Thinking, Perfect Software and others.

  • I really like that. Helps clarify the purpose of adding more notes when there doesn't seem to be a clear endgame at the time.

  • I love metaphors and this one sends the ball in for the game-winning score! @ctietze, thanks and worth the rehash from 2/2018.

    Store lots of notes without thinking about their particular usefulness. If an idea is enticing, capture it. You have only a peripheral way of knowing what will fit when it comes time to build a metaphoric fieldstone wall. If you collect more stones/notes than you expect to use then you will have a vast multitude of options as to what fits. Be careful about making judgments about the notes. **"A stone you maybe thought belonged in one place could belong somewhere else." **1

    Using your zettelkasten when you are faced with a project, is as simple as gathering notes, and sorting and placing them where they fit. You start with a pile of notes, some fitting here, there, or left in reserve. Small edits might be needed to connect ideas but this is vastly easier than writing from a blank page. "you have lots of leftover stones that you don't use. That's how you have these beautiful walls." 1

    Will Simpson
    My zettelkasten is for my ideas, not the ideas of others. I will try to remember this. I must keep doing my best even though I'm a failure. My peak cognition is behind me. One day soon, I will read my last book, write my last note, eat my last meal, and kiss my sweetie for the last time.

  • I'm new (and worse, a lurker) here, but I have to second this idea. There is more to it, too.

    When you select your ideas from an inventory, you can retire them back to inventory without losing them

    In a conventional outline, if you delete something, it's gone.

    Plus the same "fieldstone" can appear in multiple groups representing chapters, or however you are structuring your work. Add a personality quirk to Colonel Mustard's character in the final confrontation, and when you look back at his act of infamy with the candlestick in the library, the edit you added while reviewing the denouement is there to remind you to foreshadow.

    It's a very strong technique.

  • edited November 2021

    Thank you all for this thread. My mind has continued to return to the 'fieldstone' concept for some days. It is a lens through which to experience life. It's also just a great and freeing way to think about a slip box of notes.

    Not sure if folks are familiar with the artist Andy Goldsworthy, but his work manifests the physical equivalent of this idea. He also happens to build actual fieldstone walls from time to time, among other far more ephemeral works of art. One could also say the foundational material of his medium is time.

    If you're ever in upstate New York, I encourage a visit to Storm King Arts Center to see his Storm King Wall.

    There's an excellent documentary about his work called Rivers and Tides.

  • @kohled Thanks for that information on Andy Goldsworthy!

  • @GeoEng51 Glad it's useful! :+1:

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