Zettelkasten Forum


Zettelkasten vs One Big Text File

JonJon
edited November 2020 in Writing

I'm interested if anyone has tried using "One Big Text File" for their writing, rather than the multiple individual text files of a Zettelkasten.

I like the idea of capturing interesting things in one file, then over time copy/pasting them around into similar groups. I imagine that over time organic structure and themes would emerge.

The main use I see for this would be if you have a particular writing project that you are researching already in mind, rather than just reading for general interest and knowledge.

Ideas are linked to other ideas by proximity in the text file rather than [[links]]. This is a limitation, but would be the same limitation encountered when eventually trying to publish a final piece.

Another thought is that individual zettels must eventually be copied into a single file to be combined into a finished piece of writing. Maybe it can be conceptualised that a Zettelkasten adds an extra layer of complexity to provide a higher level of organisation, where as using just one big text file gives more efficiency.

It seems like David Epstein used something similar to this while writing his book "Range"

Another very specific thing I’ve done for both books is create what I’ve called a “master thought list.” Just a document where I put down thoughts, quotes, questions, interesting tidbits from studies, and citations or links to interesting articles. And I sort of start organizing these into groups that address a common aspect of my core question. And as a group grows, I give it a “tag,” which is just a title, but I also jot a bunch of words that I think I might search if I wanted to get back to that idea cluster. And eventually, I move some of the tagged groups that are more alike toward one another, and it can become almost a bit like a rough storyboard. For Range, it ended up being like 60,000 words long, so it can get a little unwieldy, but I find that to be a useful process, and also it gives me this nice searchable space for ideas I’ve had and research I’ve done.

https://www.writingroutines.com/david-epstein-interview/

Comments

  • Thanks for the link. Very interesting, especially the section about copying and pasting the texts from notes vs the references from notes.

    There are two possible ways to assemble a draft with the help of notes from the archive:

    Copy and paste everything into a single document and rewrite later. This creates a strong relationship between your draft and your notes right away. If you change the notes in the process, the changes won’t be reflected in your draft.

    Reference notes instead of pasting their content. This is a much weaker relationship. You don’t rely on the content of a note itself, but on the note’s existence.

  • I thought about that. I think managing a whole book that way is to much cognitive load. The same mechanisms are at play if you work in your Zettelkasten. One could rephrase the whole quote by Epstein for the Zettelkasten with no problem.

    But when I process difficult parts of a book I use something similar to break it down (Structure Notes as Work Benches). It is messy at first and the more I progress the more I kind make it orderly and pretty. It is enough cogntive load to do it in a very microscoping way.

    When creating a longer text, I am very happy to have the more granular file-length to assist me to focus on a tiny part of the text.

    So, in my experience I do achieve the same like Epstein but with less downsides.

    I am a Zettler

  • What Epstein seems to be describing sounds like working in Scrivener but without the advantages that you get with Scrivener.

  • @sfast said:
    I thought about that. I think managing a whole book that way is to much cognitive load. The same mechanisms are at play if you work in your Zettelkasten. One could rephrase the whole quote by Epstein for the Zettelkasten with no problem.

    But when I process difficult parts of a book I use something similar to break it down (Structure Notes as Work Benches). It is messy at first and the more I progress the more I kind make it orderly and pretty. It is enough cogntive load to do it in a very microscoping way.

    When creating a longer text, I am very happy to have the more granular file-length to assist me to focus on a tiny part of the text.

    So, in my experience I do achieve the same like Epstein but with less downsides.

    Thats a good point about cognitive load. Also just pragmatically scrolling through massive walls of text to copy and past/move things around would be fatiguing. Having the structure note/outline provides a higher level of abstraction.

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