Zettelkasten Forum


Tempted to start all over

I became interested in the zettelkasten method over two years ago after reading Sönke Ahrens' book. I've maintained it with different levels of care since then but recently I've been looking at my notes and wondering if I should just start over.

I see a few problems with my notes:

1) There are too many notes that are not my own ideas, just things I've captured from other places.
2) Collector's fallacy: I think I have simply stored too many things and now I have trouble making any use out of what I have
3) Speaking of making use, I am not really working on this kind of writing these days as I've been doing more creative writing. (I have accumulated a number of notes on the craft of writing in the process)
4) Because I haven't been tending my notes regularly, I find it hard to get back into them; this suggests to me that the notes weren't written well enough to begin with.

All this to say, I am thinking of starting anew. (I wouldn't actually delete any of my existing notes.) I feel like I have too much of a mess on my hands and want to begin with a blank page.

Has anyone else done this? Been tempted to and decided against it? Why or why not?

Comments

  • Hi, @djdrysdale.
    I have two trains of thought about your question.

    1. Go for it. Why not start fresh and don't look back!
    • I've been zettelkasting for over two years too. I started fresh and kept the old heap of Evernote notes on the side when I started. I've completely abandoned all those old notes now. Those Evernote notes were of the same quality as the notes you described. It has not been any problem at all. I may have imported a couple of Evernote notes in my ZK, but I think it was only 3 or 4 before I got bored. There is no reason you couldn't do something similar.
    1. Hell no, start from here. Iterate and improve the notes you find useful when you find them useful. It will be too time-consuming to filter out the keepers from the trash. Who knows what tidbits lurk in that heap that will make future relevant connections to your new stealthy ZK notes as you become more careful and skilled.
    • Now, let's get philosophical. Every time we approach our ZK, we approach it as if for the first time, fresh and without expectations. We all have made poor choices in feeding our ZK in the past. Our only mistake is not to learn from these mistakes and strive to be a little better next time.
    1. I have notes that are just things I've captured. I learned to do this much less so that I used to.
    2. It is easy to succumb to the Collector's Fallacy. You can stop now that you've noticed that you're randomly collecting stuff.
    3. Use your ZK to support your interests. It sounds like you are currently interested in creative writing. My current interest is also creative writing. Make more notes on this subject and let the rest slide into the background. Things may change. Ignore all that irrelevant stuff. You don't have to look at it, do you?
    4. As a creative writer, I sometimes write well, and sometimes my writing is like vomit in the alley behind The Anytime Bar and Grill. Things you'll write today will look childish in five years. But if you don't write that awful thing today, you won't improve to the point wherein, after five years, you'll see the awfulness in your earlier writing.

    Our discussion reminds me of Ira Glass's meme on the gap we experience when trying to be creative.
    The Taste Gap: Ira Glass on the Secret of Creative Success, Animated in Living Typography – The Marginalian

    Will Simpson
    “Read Poetry, Listen to Good Music, and Get Exercise”
    kestrelcreek.com

  • @djdrysdale said:
    I see a few problems with my notes:

    1) There are too many notes that are not my own ideas, just things I've captured from other places.

    This is absolutely not issue. Then you'll used your Zettelkasten to learn instead of producing new knowledge.

    2) Collector's fallacy: I think I have simply stored too many things and now I have trouble making any use out of what I have

    Clean up those notes incrementally. Also not a problem. I think I have hundreds of poorely written notes in my ZK with not issue at all.

    3) Speaking of making use, I am not really working on this kind of writing these days as I've been doing more creative writing. (I have accumulated a number of notes on the craft of writing in the process)

    Both styles can live happily in the same ZK. I have fragments of my fantasy novel and other stories as well as many notes that are non-fiction. No problem at all.

    4) Because I haven't been tending my notes regularly, I find it hard to get back into them; this suggests to me that the notes weren't written well enough to begin with.

    This might be a symptom of not having created entry points and to less structure. Not so much a symptom of the content of the noes.

    All this to say, I am thinking of starting anew. (I wouldn't actually delete any of my existing notes.) I feel like I have too much of a mess on my hands and want to begin with a blank page.

    Has anyone else done this? Been tempted to and decided against it? Why or why not?

    It is similar like in life. Sometimes, you think you start over but incrementely you'll clean up your old mess anyhow. :)

    I am a Zettler

  • As George Clinton sang in Funkadelic in "Free your mind and your ass will follow" :

    "Freedom is free of the need to be free"

    You feel like your set of notes is a huge big mess. I can relate to that sometimes as well. But is start over is the right question ?

    Why did you end up with a mess, at first ? @Sascha emphasize the probably lack of structures notes and entry points. @Will suggests to be more tolerant about your notes and accept that everyting is not perfect. We all have just citations notes, ideas, test and practice in our Zettelkästen. Which is a tool, not an end by itself by the way.

    I think you need to find a process, a workflow, a way to work that suits you.

    Right now, you can not be clear about the quality of your notes : you are blind because of your "mess" feeling. It makes you underestimate the value of what you allready did, and overestimate the amount of work needed.

    When I feel the urge to start over, I tend to follow this feeling, to see where it leads. It is easier to understand main principles and the system you would like to follow with a smaller an neater pack of notes. It is easier to make experimentations too.

    When you'll find it, come back to your older notes.

    You'll see your older notes with a newer eye. And the path to follow will appears more clearly. You will forget the "mess" feeling, see the work you have in front of you totaly differently.

  • edited April 11

    @djdrysdale

    I'm in the process of organizing my messy Zettelkasten. No Structure Notes. Some poorly written Zettels. Zettels that faded into nothingness because they weren't well-worked on. My plan is this:

    • [x] Create a Structure Note for all ~700 Zettels.
    • [x] Group related Zettels.
    • [ ] Create Structure Notes for each group and merge sub-atomic Zettels. As I do this, I apply my workflow to every Zettel created, as if I started anew.

    The process is made easier thanks to Christian's zettel_outline script, Obsidian's "Copy search results", and my Zettelkasten workflow.

    Maybe this knowledge could be of some use to you.

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