Zettelkasten Forum


Using Zettelkasten for Creative Writing

edited February 1 in Writing

I've finally been reading Sönke Ahrens' "How To Take Smart Notes" (I am not that far in, but I tentatively recommend it). It is very explicitly oriented around academic and nonfiction writing, which is understandable, as that is the context in which ZK clearly shines.

It's gotten me thinking, though; ZK is very useful to me in thinking about ideas, and for writing the nonfiction that I do write, but I'm wondering how best I can leverage it for my fiction writing. I have a few files that are just seeds around which a story may accrue, but I haven't been consistent about that. Back when I was trying to use ZK for Everything, I put both notes and individual chapters of a novel in progress in there. I have been largely displeased with the times they come up in search, they are usually noise, but occasionally useful. Perhaps they would be more useful if I put all of my fiction in there? Or would that just be more noise, as that is very much the inverse of "atomic" ideas?

(I should note that I am currently in a sort of meta-phase of trying to clean up my Zetteln from the time I put Everything in there, in an attempt to make the ZK more functional in general. But that is probably another topic.)

I'm wondering if anyone has any thoughts on this topic.

EDIT: I'd like to specifically tag @kohled in this, as they have mentioned being a filmmaker. How, sir/madam/other, do you use ZK in that medium, if I may ask?

Comments

  • I use the ZKM for fiction writing. All the background search is basically identical with non-fictional writing. The difference is: Sometimes, it is just not true. (Or -- in philosophical terms -- has an imaginary truth maker instead of one in the real world)

    I have many fractional ideas for my fictional writing projects. So I write them down, archive them and add them to the acording structure note. Sometimes, I even mix fictional and non-fictional:

    • A non-fictional text is aided with a small fictional anecdote.
    • A fictional text becomes more real when it is enriched with real facts and thoughts.
    • etc.

    Additionally, I have one note for every fictional text idea (most of them books) and a structure note to govern them.

    But whole chapters are not in my archive.

  • @mediapathic said:
    I'm wondering if anyone has any thoughts on this topic.

    EDIT: I'd like to specifically tag @kohled in this, as they have mentioned being a filmmaker. How, sir/madam/other, do you use ZK in that medium, if I may ask?

    Hey @mediapathic. I have way more questions than answers regarding the application of a ZK to the creative - specifically fiction making - process, but I'm cool to share my current practice.

    I don't keep specific story development ideas in my primary ZK. There's just so much more noise than signal that is inherent to my process, I don't want to clutter up the root note archive with stuff that's gonna end up in the 'discard' pile. I build wikis (Devonthink) and link them with a project (Scrivener). I make a big pile of stuff, web links, images, character ideas, dramatic events, peripeteia and anagnorisis ideas, sift through the pile to spark ideas, build the story, get working. I'm not concerned with keeping these project specific ideas around for the long haul.

    In the ZK, I primarily draft notes reacting to some 'text' - that 'text' can be most anything - actual text or images or sound, an interaction I witnessed on the street. It can be a reaction to a movie - what moved me and why, how a story, visual, or aural idea did or didn't work. The text could be Soderbergh's 'Che', the Philip Glass symphony I just listened to at Town Hall, notes from reading Rudolf Arnheim's 'Film as Art'. Another example: As I continue studying Bruce Block's 'The Visual Story', I'll examine some concept of visual grammar - say Bergman's use of saturated hue in 'Cries and Whispers'. I re-watch the film, link stills from the film with stills from my own image library, go out and photograph in the city, hunt for images that express the concept. Tag and link, etc. Simply engaging with this process cultivates the foment from which story, screenplay, image sequences, and so forth get built. Once the creative process is cranking, I kind of drop everything else and just try to get out of the way and let it do its thing.

    All that said, I'm super interested creating an 'emergent structure' non-linear narrative. Building an imaginary micro-verse born from a zettelkasten substructure. I'm currently experimenting with what this process might look like in practice but I'm grasping around in the dark right now. All part of the fun I suppose.

    Anyway, hope this proves useful to your process and I look forward to hearing your ideas.

  • I'm only a poor aspiring writer. More of an aspiring poor writer. Skills are still developing. But an idea I'm exploring is to create a "third brain". A separate archive that isn't intermingled with my "second brain", the main archive.

    Advantages
    1. no signal pollution in main zettelkasten
    2. all links and search are relevant in both archives
    3. all fictional writing projects could intermingle
    4. one archive restrained by facts, one free, free, free!

    Disadvantages
    1. difficult to have the serendipitous interjunctions described by @sfast above
    2. two archive with the switching overhead

    This brings up a question, how might a note in one archive be linked to or referred to in a note in a different archive? Maybe this is sacrilegious to even ask.

    Will Simpson
    kestrelcreek.com

  • edited February 1

    @Will said:
    This brings up a question, how might a note in one archive be linked to or referred to in a note in a different archive? Maybe this is sacrilegious to even ask.

    So many great things have come from sac-religion. >:)

    I was actually reflecting on a similar question a few hours past. Nice hive mind happening here.

    A possible solution: Index my 'Zettelkasten' folder - currently connected to The Archive and iA Writer - in Devonthink. Use internal links in Devonthink to integrate with notes in the Zettelkasten folder. This is useful for me because a lot of the material that I use for brainstorming a story is not material that would go in the ZK - e.g. various media, web links, et al. I'm also perfectly cool with those links not being durable over the long haul. Projects rarely last more than a few years. When I'm done, I'm truly done. No need to revisit that stuff. Better to keep moving on the next project.

    This version of the idea would be a 'third brain' that exists on a per project basis. As I'm ramping up going into another first draft in the next month or so, I'll experiment presently. Curious as to what turns up.

  • @sfast said:
    I use the ZKM for fiction writing. All the background search is basically identical with non-fictional writing. The difference is: Sometimes, it is just not true. (Or -- in philosophical terms -- has an imaginary truth maker instead of one in the real world)

    I have many fractional ideas for my fictional writing projects. So I write them down, archive them and add them to the acording structure note. Sometimes, I even mix fictional and non-fictional:

    • A non-fictional text is aided with a small fictional anecdote.
    • A fictional text becomes more real when it is enriched with real facts and thoughts.
    • etc.

    Additionally, I have one note for every fictional text idea (most of them books) and a structure note to govern them.

    But whole chapters are not in my archive.

    This sounds very cool. Going to experiment with this.

  • Yet another disadvantage of using a second archive is the complications of different keyboard maestro playing fields. Can be overcome but not without some unwanted mental overhead.

    Will Simpson
    kestrelcreek.com

  • @kohled said:

    I don't keep specific story development ideas in my primary ZK. There's just so much more noise than signal that is inherent to my process, I don't want to clutter up the root note archive with stuff that's gonna end up in the 'discard' pile. I build wikis (Devonthink) and link them with a project (Scrivener). I make a big pile of stuff, web links, images, character ideas, dramatic events, peripeteia and anagnorisis ideas, sift through the pile to spark ideas, build the story, get working. I'm not concerned with keeping these project specific ideas around for the long haul.

    I am doing approximately the equivalent of this in org-mode, so this makes sense to me.

    In the ZK, I primarily draft notes reacting to some 'text' - that 'text' can be most anything - actual text or images or sound, an interaction I witnessed on the street. It can be a reaction to a movie - what moved me and why, how a story, visual, or aural idea did or didn't work. The text could be Soderbergh's 'Che', the Philip Glass symphony I just listened to at Town Hall,

    (I'm jealous)

    notes from reading Rudolf Arnheim's 'Film as Art'. Another example: As I continue studying Bruce Block's 'The Visual Story', I'll examine some concept of visual grammar - say Bergman's use of saturated hue in 'Cries and Whispers'. I re-watch the film, link stills from the film with stills from my own image library, go out and photograph in the city, hunt for images that express the concept. Tag and link, etc. Simply engaging with this process cultivates the foment from which story, screenplay, image sequences, and so forth get built. Once the creative process is cranking, I kind of drop everything else and just try to get out of the way and let it do its thing.

    So it sounds to me like what you keep in your ZK is information about structure, form, and technique, both how they manifest in other works and your responses to them, rather than the actual content of the works you are producing. Is this accurate?

    If so, that seems to be what I mostly am using ZK for in my own creative work. I have notes in there about Propp, the Lester Dent Pulp Method, the Snowflake Method, etc. I think I should probably transcribe the notes from a writing workshop I attended and put them in there as well. So, mostly notes about form rather than content.

    I wonder what the relative advantages to putting content in as well are? I can see immediately using my #seed notes for brainstorming, but that's not really about the connectivity that defines a ZK.

    All that said, I'm super interested creating an 'emergent structure' non-linear narrative. Building an imaginary micro-verse born from a zettelkasten substructure. I'm currently experimenting with what this process might look like in practice but I'm grasping around in the dark right now. All part of the fun I suppose.

    Huh. Something here about what something like Twine or Inkle looks like if there's a possibility of the one-to-many linkage inherent in a ZK instead of the one-to-one narrative structure in most hypertext. Interesting.

    Anyway, hope this proves useful to your process and I look forward to hearing your ideas.

    Absolutely. Thanks!

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