Zettelkasten Forum


Who a Zettelkasten Is For (Especially an Analog One)

Hi everyone.

First off, in my brief stint being a member of this community, I must say how glad I am to have finally joined (after casually reading and lurking here from time to time, over the course of the past year).

I really love the editor and feel of writing on this forum. I like it better than Reddit. Shoutout to @ctietze

I just posted a new piece on my website. It's titled, Who a Zettelkasten Is For (Especially an Analog One).

Here's the link: https://scottscheper.com/letter/3/

I hope you enjoy it. Let me know any thoughts or comments you have on it.

I realize it's my own opinion and some of you may have a different take. I'd love to hear your feedback or alternative take(s).

Best regards,

Scott

Scott P. Scheper
Website | Twitter | Reddit | YouTube

Comments

  • edited February 24

    Thanks for posting the article. I was touched by your wanted to protect your dad from the ZK.

    Re. "bad writing." I can definitely say that my writing seems to be worse the closer I am to my zettelkasten during the actual act. In other words, my ZK is fantastic for ideation and outlining my references and atomic ideas. But, as far as writing style, voice, humor, an ability to establish intimacy with the reader? My ZK seems to negatively affect that. I see a direct correlative decline if I rely too heavily on my ZK once the down and dirty writing starts to happen. Basically, I have to take the ideas from my ZK and run! Go into another room, and keep the ZK far away.

    Mind you, I've written four books, dozens of half-completed manuscripts, and somewhere around 600 essays, blog posts, articles, zines, and pamphlets before I ever even heard of a zettelkasten. My ZK has turned even that output into high gear. But, the quality? I can always tell when my writing has been too closely connected to my ZK, cuz it sucks more.

    Side note: I see a lot of oafish, clunky, heavy handed, and seemingly reference-obsessed writing from ZKers out there. I don't know what they were like before, but yikes. My armchair theory is that the time spent processing and linking notes leads ZKers to think that they should include every note in every piece of writing they produce. People...one note = blog post; two notes = essay; three notes = longer essay.

  • edited February 24

    @taurusnoises said:
    Thanks for posting the article. I was touched by your wanted to protect your dad from the ZK.

    Re. "bad writing." I can definitely say that my writing seems to be worse the closer I am to my zettelkasten during the actual act. In other words, my ZK is fantastic for ideation and outlining my references and atomic ideas. But, as far as writing style, voice, humor, an ability to establish intimacy with the reader? My ZK seems to negatively affect that. I see a direct correlative decline if I rely too heavily on my ZK once the down and dirty writing starts to happen. Basically, I have to take the ideas from my ZK and run! Go into another room, and keep the ZK far away.

    That’s interesting. Yes this is why I try and write my cards out as if I’m writing it directly to my reader. That way it doesn’t come across as “note-y”

    Mind you, I've written four books, dozens of half-completed manuscripts, and somewhere around 600 essays, blog posts, articles, zines, and pamphlets before I ever even heard of a zettelkasten. My ZK has turned even that output into high gear. But, the quality? I can always tell when my writing has been too closely connected to my ZK.

    Very impressive!

    Side note: I see a lot of oafish, clunky, heavy handed, and seemingly reference-obsessed writing from ZKers out there. I don't know what they were like before, but yikes.

    Haha, I feel like this may be indicative of my writing. As I rely on my ZK heavily. Hopefully mine reads well, though. I intend to hire an editor eventually once I’m finished with the first draft of my book.

    Scott P. Scheper
    Website | Twitter | Reddit | YouTube

  • edited February 24

    @scottscheper Thanks. Happy to give you my two cents on writing if ever you want.

    Post edited by taurusnoises on
  • @taurusnoises said:
    @scottscheper Thanks. Happy to give you my two cents on writing if ever you want.

    That would be great. Whenever convenient for you.

    Scott P. Scheper
    Website | Twitter | Reddit | YouTube

  • @scottscheper

    Finally got around to reading your article "Who a Zettelkasten Is For (Especially an Analog One)". I enjoyed it, although I admit I was put off by the term "antinet". Who wants to be defined by being "anti-" something? That's really my only negative comment, though. Otherwise, I enjoyed reading the article and discovered some good ideas to chew over.

    Some off the cuff remarks, without trying to polish them too much (these aren't zettels ;) ):

    • Does a Zettelkasten have to be "useful" for "helpful" in the context of doing a job? Or can it simply be valuable as a way of sharpening and enriching your thinking (for some)? I get that you want to set people off on the ZK path with the right expectations. Some of them will want to increase their productivity and quality, but some of them will just want an exploratory experience - especially those committed to life-time of learning that is not driven by specific goals.
    • We shouldn't assume that developing and using a Zettelkasten will result in superb "quality" thinking and, eventually, writing. It may, or perhaps the thinking and writing will just be better than it would have been without the ZK. What if my mind is just not that good or original? What if it is encumbered by years of poor thinking? That must limit the final result in some manner.
    • But no doubt, a Zettelkasten does evolve the mind.
    • I think one of my main disagreements is on your point of "preserving consciousness" - that a handwritten document is much better than a digital document. I don't buy it. I have 30+ years' worth of hand-written documents (notes taken during reading and during lectures, to preserve ideas and thoughts) - 10 from university and many more afterwards. I don't consider them superior to my digital notes. The net result of typing up zettels in say The Archive is not just informational; it is also visual. I'd argue it's just as good as going over my handwritten notes. However, the experience will be different for every person and certainly some will benefit from staying in the paper ZK world or even learning about it in the first place.
    • I would argue that producing genius level work is only one possible end result of creating and using a Zettelkasten. Perhaps I would just like to understand life better than I do now. I'd like to promote the idea that it is possible to create and use a ZK in a more relaxed manner, a manner that improves my thinking and develops ideas without having a specific end goal of a thesis or book or play or musical score in mind. Can't I also pursue education and improvement for the love of doing so and in an "organic" manner, following what interests me over time? And clearly, the two objectives can both live together and be met in the same ZK.
    • To be a bit more specific, you make the point that many people make the mistake of organizing their information and thinking on a project by project basis, and that they could improve the quality of what they produce by managing their information and thinking over a life time. I agree with that. But I also believe there is a whole other side of life time learning that is related not to what we produce but to who we become. So there is more than one reason supporting the idea of having a long-term system.
    • By unconventional interactions, do you refer basically to serendipity and increasing the chances for serendipity to occur in our thinking? That is a powerful concept!

    Again, thanks for a thought-provoking article!

  • edited February 27

    @taurusnoises said:
    Side note: I see a lot of oafish, clunky, heavy handed, and seemingly reference-obsessed writing from ZKers out there. I don't know what they were like before, but yikes.

    Who, me?

    @GeoEng51 said:

    Finally got around to reading your article "Who a Zettelkasten Is For (Especially an Analog One)". I enjoyed it, although I admit I was put off by the term "antinet". Who wants to be defined by being "anti-" something? That's really my only negative comment, though. Otherwise, I enjoyed reading the article and discovered some good ideas to chew over.

    I'm in agreement with @GeoEng51 on "antinet," though I tried to parse it as "ant Inet" (ant Internet). Why not call it a physical Zettelkasten? For me, though this admission is so personal as to be almost intimate, a Zettelkasten is for writing. In this I follow Niklas Luhmann and Sönke Ahrens. Others have their uses for Zettelkasten, such as ascension to a higher plane of being. But this is my problem.

    Erdös #2. ZK software components.~~~~ “If you’re thinking without writing, you only think you’re thinking.” -- Leslie Lamport.

  • Jumping in on the discussion of “Antinet” as a term – I don’t find it as off-putting as @ZettelDistraction and @GeoEng51, though I respect their sentiments about being defined in opposition to something.

    I do think, however, for the sake of discussion in the forums, that it would be helpful for you to outline the four principles you mention in the letter, especially since they have a direct correspondence to the A-N-T-I portion of your term, as it were. I forget, do you have a piece of writing somewhere that outlines what you see as the four principles? @scottscheper

  • @ZettelDistraction no, me.

    @GeoEng51 has put into words a good deal of what I feel re the ZK, even beyond the article at hand, so I'll just leave it at that.

    As for "antinet," I feel like maybe you've explained your particular etymological take on this somewhere before. Maybe you should mention that in this thread? I'll leave your coinages up to you.

    What I will say, though, cuz I think I should get this on the record, is that your ZK take tends to be very "the one true way." At least in the past. The article above hints at that here and there, but your other writing can be burdened by it. I think you'll get a lot more mileage (and knowledge?) out of taking the principles of the zettelkasten and applying them to your own take on zettelkasten. Look for and establish connections. How can things work together? If they can't, can the work side by side? Have an opinion, have a take, but be able to affirm the take of others (who are not likewise limiting other's takes).

    The spirit of inquiry and curiosity about other people's ZK takes and experiences you've brought to this group is awesome (and I'll admit, surprising, based on some of the stances I've seen you take elsewhere). I'd love to see more of that in your actual writing.

  • @iamaustinha @taurusnoises

    A guest post on the meaning behind the Antinet is already in the making. :)

    I am a Zettler

  • @sfast said:
    @iamaustinha @taurusnoises

    A guest post on the meaning behind the Antinet is already in the making. :)

    Boo yah

  • Apologies I didn't mean to cut my comments off short (I think I have developed an infected tooth).

    I like your emphasis on commitment:

    ... you must be committed over the long term to developing your knowledge using an Antinet. Think decades, not years.

    Are there enough examples to provide some baseline figure for when a slip-box becomes more than a filing cabinet? I joined this site in March 2021, and in the year since I seem to have settled on a more or less workable system. The LaTeX pandoc integration is pretty much settled. Periodically I get the urge to futz with "backward compatible IDs." (I'm trying to document this in a wiki on GitHub.

    It's not analog, except for the "fleeting notes" portion. Here's another place of agreement. Ahrens suggests that if you aren't taking notes while reading, or at least shortly thereafter, you aren't really following the ZK method. This is the most useful aspect of it for me, since I should be taking more notes (e.g., when I read mathematics I try to calculate in my head.)

    Unlike digital notes, which may grow endlessly due to virtually unlimited space limits, notes in an Antinet serve as a cue for generating the recall process in your mind.

    I might phrase this differently. There ought to be (or at least hopefully there is) a balance between copying entire textbooks, which is woefully inefficient (people do this--case in point), and not taking notes at all (that's the default it seems). Ideally there is a sweet spot where the notes are telegraphic but say just enough to serve as a cue. It helps to be judicious. That sweet spot might be at odds with the advice that notes have to be self-contained.

    Andy Matuschak writes that many eminent thinkers need a writing surface to think.

    As for developing the intellectual virtues, since I've started with the Zettelkasten, I'm somewhat less confident about what I thought I knew than I was when I started.

    Erdös #2. ZK software components.~~~~ “If you’re thinking without writing, you only think you’re thinking.” -- Leslie Lamport.

  • @ZettelDistraction said:

    As for developing the intellectual virtues, since I've started with the Zettelkasten, I'm somewhat less confident about what I thought I knew than I was when I started.

    Ah yes - I'm in the same boat and I think it's a good place to be :wink:

  • @GeoEng51 Thank you so much for the detailed feedback on the post! I won't reply now on all of the points but will ruminate on them and make sure I consider them when I publish my book and future writings.

    @ZettelDistraction thanks for also reviewing and for introducing me to the book The Excellent Mind. I hadn't heard of it. I, too, have become less certain and polarized in my opinions since working with the Antinet Zettelkasten. I've gone through the exercise of Introversion and have experimented with the practice of dividing my card into two sides. The left side is the main point I try to make, and the right side is the inverse point arguing against it. This has introduced many interesting thoughts. The best system, or the best track, in my opinion, is when you hold two opposing views in your mind at the same time. When you encounter paradoxes in your writing and Zettelkasten, then I think it's a sign you're on the right track.

    @taurusnoises Yep @sfast and I have been working behind the scenes for quite some time on an Antinet Zettelkasten introductory post. I think we're pretty close.

    @iamaustinha I have shared them in bits and pieces, but they'll be clearly outlined in the upcoming post on Zettelkasten.de's blog. In this video I've outlined it briefly: at 6:30 -

    Scott P. Scheper
    Website | Twitter | Reddit | YouTube

  • @scottscheper said:
    @iamaustinha I have shared them in bits and pieces, but they'll be clearly outlined in the upcoming post on Zettelkasten.de's blog. In this video I've outlined it briefly: at 6:30 -

    Ah, yes, I knew I had seen them collected somewhere! Thanks for the link and I’m looking forward to your post!

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