Zettelkasten Forum

Literary Machine

Some of you Zettelkasten fans might be interested in an outdated and idiosyncratic program called Literary Machine. You can learn more here:


The program is powerful but far from intuitive, so here are my personal notes about how to use it:

The core items in LM are:

  1. Concept/category words (in the Dictionary pane).
  2. Text items (notes; little boxes in which you write text).
  3. Projects (collections of selected text items).

In a regular outliner program, you add items to a category (in a tree view or hierarchical list); in LM, it's just the opposite: you add categories to an item (similar to tagging with #hashtags. This is true for LM projects, too. You don't add items to a project; you add projects to an item. All of this is done by dragging a concept (dictionary word) or a project onto an item. (Both concepts and projects work the same way.) This counterintuitive approach makes it possible to use any single item with multiple projects or multiple concepts.

Dragging a category (dictionary/concept) word to the desktop displays all of the items associated with that category. This makes it possible to see connections between items that you might otherwise miss.

Dragging a project to the desktop displays only the items associated with that project. This makes it possible to see specifically chosen items from various categories that you want to open together.

After the items are on your desktop, you can put them in the order you want them to appear. Then right-click the project and select "Add Desktop/Reorder." That will "freeze" the arrangement of the items on the desktop. If you then put items away or rearrange them, you can right-click the project and select "Get Frozen Positions" to display the items back in their original order.

Projects can be ordered hierarchically in an outline in the Project pane. You can export the items in the outline by right-clicking a project and selecting "Make Document." You'll then find the document here:

C:\Users\edito\AppData\Local\VirtualStore\Program Files\Sommestad\LM2007\outltxt

You can also drop a project on the desktop, and LM will ask, "Do you want this project rendered as a concatenated text file?" Say yes, and you'll find the document here:

C:\Users\edito\AppData\Local\VirtualStore\Program Files\Sommestad\LM2007\projects


  1. Create text items (cards) with category (dictionary) words attached. Each item is a chunk of information you can later recall and use. You can have lots of category words, and it's nice to have them readily accessible and visible in the Dictionary pane. Also, the point of having chunks of information is so that you can use them over again in different projects and publications; also so that you can manipulate and ponder them in table view. You can put several category words together into a "concept" that you can drop on the desktop to retrieve all items categorized under any of the words in the concept. A "concept" is an amalgamation of different category words.

  2. Drag a word or concept to the desktop to display the items you intend to use in a book or paper, based on the category words you assigned to them. Note that one category can be the name of the publication in which you want to use them. Or, you can put items into a "project" to accomplish the same purpose.

  3. Arrange the items in the order you want them to be for the book or paper you're working on. Then add them to a project.

  4. "Freeze" the order of the items in a project with "Add Desktop/Reorder." This is basically the whole point of a project--to preserve a certain selection and arrangement of text items. Often, a project will be a chapter. An outline of projects in order can be considered as a book.

  5. You can also categorize projects and then display only a certain category of them to make arranging them easier.

  6. Export a project, outline, or part of an outline as a "book" in text or HTML format. If you export as an HTML file, the outline folder (project) names will be saved as heading styles that can be used used for writing and typesetting.


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