# Getting Started: Confused on Zettel

edited April 2020

Hey there,
I have spent weeks reading and reading posts and now it's time to begin. This is hard stuff to grasp I must say.
I envision me using my zettel for 1 stop shop for a lifetime of knowledge that does not split into projects. I see that as more long term way of sparking far flung discoveries that limiting myself to project based zettelkastens would block.
I have gone to type my first note and am stuck to how to integrate three key use cases under one zettel. My plan is:

1. Thought or idea rewritten in my own words (based off handwritten notes, marginalia or kindle highlights)
2. Bibliogrpahy/Quoted Literature: I plan to quote ideas I like in their original form if I get inspiration
3. Reference any quoted literature/podcast link/article link or book properly in text form
4. Link the zettel with other ideas if appropriate.

The below is non factual random example to make my point.

Here is an example
202004191616 Crisis as a blessing
2. "Every blessing brings a new crisis. The crisis becomes the next frontier of facing how much of yourself remains unknown, unloved or unappreciated." [KM - quoting myself]
3. "Count every blessing" — Unknown Author
4. The Bible

My questions:
1. Using The Archive would I be doing this correct as my first note lets's say?
2. Does referencing need to take place somewhere else in a more formal structure (ie. page references) I may write a book one day but not here to get graded by a college teacher so I don't want to be too rigid.
3. Any pointers as to how to best outline a first zettle?
4. Still confused on the why when I press Command+N for a new zettel, it gives me this lengthy ID: 202004191616 I understand the date is in there but why all the other digits ie. 1616? What does that represent?
5. the '...1616'This confuses me as to how I actually begin my first set of notes now... a) I am confused how to number them and what first step I need to take there b) Should I start adding my set of re-written notes from the same general category ie. Business before I switch to different topics too soon? I want to get the hang of clearly making notes and links first before overwhelming myself.

My conflicts:
I swear I read Luhman having one zettel for Bibliography (facts, quotes, existing literature) and a seperate zettel to form his own original ideas (prouse, ideas, theories etc.) and that both zettels were used to dialogue back and broth against each other. Or am I wrong. If I am wrong, how do I merge the need for a bibliography and orginal thoughts scenario into one. That's what I am trying to do above of course.

Thanks for your help. I am both inspired and shit scared with the climb ahead.

• edited April 2020

A real example.
I handwrote the black quote because I loved it and may want to use it.
My red is my own prose or summary of it in lay in simple terms.
My fear now I am doing this wrong and that I should never copy and paste existing quotes - that's not the point of this. (torn between bibliograohy, original writings or having both).

• I'll try to answers your questions separately as well as I can

1. Using The Archive would I be doing this correct as my first note lets's say?

Seems fine The nice thing about Zettelkasten (and especially computer based solutions) is that connections and relations grow with what you put in it. So getting started and seeing what leads you new places is a good idea.

1. Does referencing need to take place somewhere else in a more formal structure (ie. page references) I may write a book one day but not here to get graded by a college teacher so I don't want to be too rigid.

I understand this is as "references to source material," please correct me if I misunderstand you.

I'd put the reference so that it is obvious what is being referenced. If it is enough to only cite/reference once for everything in the note, then it can just be at the end. Personally, I reference inline and as close to the text as possible, but I'm using it for work, so my needs might differ.

References/sources are nice to have and, for the most part, quite easy to insert. I like to be able to find the exact passages and books I've used.

1. Any pointers as to how to best outline a first zettle?

Unfortunately, I don't think anybody can really tell you how your notes and Zettelkasten will work for you. You have to find it out yourself. I think your note on "crisis as a blessing" is an good first note." The key to building up the Zettelkasten is then to build relationships: What notes will follow this?

1. Still confused on the why when I press Command+N for a new zettel, it gives me this lengthy ID: 202004191616 I understand the date is in there but why all the other digits ie. 1616? What does that represent?

I don't use The Archive, but from what I can read and know the 1616 is the hours and minutes: 16:16.

This is done such that each note has a unique identifier which will never change -- even if you edit the "name" / "title" of the note. In this way you can always "link" notes. This blog post explains it quite well.

1. the '...1616'This confuses me as to how I actually begin my first set of notes now... a) I am confused how to number them and what first step I need to take there

Numbering only / always happens by date-time identifiers, so no manual numbering or thinking about a numbering system is needed*.

In the future, when you want to link to the "crisis as a blessing" note, you simply insert [[202004191616]] and voila! you have a permanent and reliable link to that note (of course you will have to decide which connections and relationships makes sense)

b) Should I start adding my set of re-written notes from the same general category ie. Business before I switch to different topics too soon? I want to get the hang of clearly making notes and links first before overwhelming myself.

You should try some things out, build connections, break ideas down to their simplest form etc. Figure out what kind of setup is valuable to you. If you have a stronger grasp on "business," then it might make sense try writing notes and making connections with that first. You decide.

You could also write notes about Zettelkasten. My first note was:

Zettelkasten is a collection of notes, consisting of many small notes describing a Atomized ideas and Connections between ideas.

(Note IDs removed.)

Writing notes about Zettelkasten is a nice way of learning it, at least I think so.

As a final comment: I'd recommend directly quoting. Or, at least, directly quoting as the primary content of a note. To make the note and knowledge yours, you have to break it down and formulate it yourself. Quotes are nice because they give you a verbatim text to use, but they don't help you with the real matter at hand: what is the meaning to you in this moment?

* There has been a lot of discussion about how to do IDs lately. I'd recommend that you ignore it if it confuses you. I don't say this to discredit the discussion; I think it is an important and good discussion. But if you are still only learning about Zettelkasten then I'd rather recommend that you go in a direction and learn rather than spend too much time thinking about "the best way."

I swear I read Luhman having one zettel for Bibliography (facts, quotes, existing literature) and a seperate zettel to form his own original ideas (prouse, ideas, theories etc.) and that both zettels were used to dialogue back and broth against each other. Or am I wrong. If I am wrong, how do I merge the need for a bibliography and orginal thoughts scenario into one. That's what I am trying to do above of course.

(Aside, I think "zettel" would refer to a single note, whereas "zettelkasten" is the whole collection.)

If you have a lot of literature and source material, then I'd recommend using a digital reference manager (like Zotero,) but if you think that it is a bit too much, then I would suggest that you create notes for source material, say, one for "the Bible" and then reference (using date-time ID) as needed. Maybe give a tag like #reference. Just a suggestion. I think others might have more experience with this.

• I used to separate notes wherein I cite a source from notes with totally unique ideas. That over time, resulted in blockquotes + reference to the source, and extra Zettel with the commentary. This kinda sucked

When you write, you don't write 2 books (one full of references, one full of ideas), but make a cohesive whole. When you learn e.g. academic writing and citing, then you'll also learn that

• if you copy the words from a source, you put that in quotation marks and reference the source; that's a proper quotation
• if your quote is a bit longer, you make a blockquote; it's a separate paragraph, but the same rules apply: denote visually what's from you and what's from someone else
• if you put something in your own words and paraphrase, you don't have anything to put between quotation marks; but you still cite the source of the inspiration

So I tore down the strict wall in my Zettelkasten and since then adhere to the same, simple rules. I write about an idea, a thought, or whatever, and then make sure I properly cite the original and make clear what's mine and what isn't.

If I read a source reference after a sentence without quotation marks, it's a summary in my own words, e.g.

There exist market research showing that some U.S. ZIP codes correlate with product failure if early adopters live there.[#duncan2019fail][]

And when there are quotation marks, I can rely on the stuff being in the original author's words:

"Harbinger zip codes":

• "If households in these zip codes adopt a new product, this is a signal that the new product will fail."[abstract][#duncan2019fail]
• "households in harbinger zip codes [...] donate to donate to [congressional election] candidates who are less likely to win."[abstract][#duncan2019fail]
• "House prices in harbinger zip codes also increase at slower rates than in neighboring zip codes."[abstract][#duncan2019fail]

This might be followed by another summary in my own words,

So if you find you sell a lot initially in these regions at the very start, your chances to survival are actually worse than if you sold less.

Rough overview of data analysis because I doubted how they got to the numbers:

• at least 100'000 purchases
• at least 1'000 new product purchases
• at least 200 orders of new products from [the store]

Plus the sources:

(via https://john.do/harbinger-customers/)

[#duncan2019fail]: Duncan I. Simester, Catherine E. Tucker, and Clair Yang (2019): The Surprising Breadth of Harbingers of Failure, Journal of Marketing Research 6, 2019, Vol. 56, S. 1034-1049.

Here's the whole Zettel:

It's a bad example because I haven't found the whole paper and just took note of this concept from the abstract alone

Also: the perfect first note is the note you have taken, as opposed to all the many notes you hesitate to write down You can only get better from there, rewrite, and improve.

Author at Zettelkasten.de • https://christiantietze.de/

• @kmichail said:
I am both inspired and shit scared with the climb ahead.

Like we say down on the farm, "Get you shit boots on!" Everybody's first notes look like shit to them after they have a couple of hundred notes under their belt but you can't get there without the early of 'shit' notes. Just start. Improvement and confidence will follow. You can always improve those 'shit' notes later. Or not.

https://forum.zettelkasten.de/discussion/comment/4110/#Comment_4110

@ctietze said:
When you learn e.g. academic writing and citing, then you'll also learn that

• if you copy the words from a source, you put that in quotation marks and reference the source; that's a proper quotation
• if your quote is a bit longer, you make a blockquote; it's a separate paragraph, but the same rules apply: denote visually what's from you and what's from someone else
• if you put something in your own words and paraphrase, you don't have anything to put between quotation marks; but you still cite the source of the inspiration

So I tore down the strict wall in my Zettelkasten and since then adhere to the same, simple rules. I write about an idea, a thought, or whatever, and then make sure I properly cite the original and make clear what's mine and what isn't.

Yes! I learned this the hard way. I didn't mark quotes as quotes early on and now I look at some of my old notes and can't tell if by using them in a paper I might be plagiarizing. I learned from @ctietze his method as he describes it above. It's not that you can't have quotes in your Zettelkasten, it is just that they need to be clearly marked and have accurate references. I'd say this is equally important in the humanities as it is in science.

@ctietze said:
Also: the perfect first note is the note you have taken, as opposed to all the many notes you hesitate to write down You can only get better from there, rewrite, and improve.

Yes!

Will Simpson
I'm a zettelnant.
Research areas: Attention Horizon, Productive Procrastination, Dzogchen, Non-fiction Creative Writing
kestrelcreek.com

:wq

• YES! What @sbicknel said.
I want to echo the advice

@sbicknel said:
Don't worry over the formatting or what to include and how, especially for your first note. Just write it. You can always return to it later when you figure out what works best for you and rewrite it.

It took me a while to get over my desire to "get it right" and to just dive in and see what happens.

As a sample here is what I think is my oldest note. That very first note. I was reading 'The other end of the leash: why we do what we do around dogs' by Patricia McConnell.

I see lots of problems now but at the time I was so proud. I didn't quote properly so I don't know if this is a verbatim note or a direct quote. There is no reference to a page so I'd be hard to check. Spelling and grammar mistakes. No indication if this was a physical book or an audiobook or ebook. Nonexistent YAML block. No links integrating it into the next note. A weird link as a title/header [[Pryer 1999]], the meaning of which escapes me now, and it leads nowhere. Oh well - this got me started and because of that, this is a special note which I keep as is to remind me to stay humble.

I wonder if others sharing there very first note and showing those early attempts might not help some beginners get over the hump.

Will Simpson
I'm a zettelnant.
Research areas: Attention Horizon, Productive Procrastination, Dzogchen, Non-fiction Creative Writing
kestrelcreek.com

• @Will YES! This is exactly what I'm talking about. It get's you over the hump and starts you on your way. It only gets easier.

:wq

• @sbicknel I am in the same boat as you in reference to “I got tired of reading a book and months later forgetting what I'd read.” This is exactly what lead me to the Zettelkasten system. What does your reading system look like? Just curious. Thank you.

• I usually read (when not on quarantine) at work. I'm mobile a lot. I mark passages I want to make notes on in the book and keep a notebook where I write down the page number I marked. At home I go back and re-read the marked passages and make notes on them.

My zettelkasten is implemented in Vim with Vimwiki and Vim-Zettel. My notes live in a folder that is watched by a background syncing daemon on my Linux computer and end up on a removable drive connected to my router and is accessible anywhere within my local network. If I upgrade my router I'll be able to implement a private dropbox-like server and read my notes from anywhere.

Nothing about it is pretty, but it works well.

:wq

• edited May 2020

@sbicknel thank you. Sounds like a solid system. Do you every write the quite directly or just your thoughts that were stimulated by the thought?

• edited May 2020

@VDL1516 I occasionally make direct quotes, but mostly I write my own thoughts on what I read. The direct quotes I have are nearly all things the author said that I could not have expressed better myself. I prefer to write my own thoughts to summarize a passage because it proves to me that I understand what was written and makes it more clear why the passage was worth noting.

:wq

• @sbicknel thank you.