You will get the most use out of a zettelkasten as you become a graduate student, where the goal is to not only to create a deeper understanding but further develop the knowledge of your chosen field through a thesis/dissertation. In this way, you are using the zettelkasten to track where your knowledge currently stands and facilitate the generation of new ideas through connecting material.
149 - Fiction Writing with a Zettelkasten works particularly well because the novel writing process is one of creative development. You are creating characters, places, and events from scratch. These different pieces of the story are informed by your personal understanding of reality, which in turn can be further developed in a zettelkasten.
How the universe works in your story is informed by your own knowledge of physics and the other natural sciences. How the societies operate in your story is informed by your own knowledge of our social systems, which can be further understood through the social sciences. How the characters experience the world is shaped by their mental state which can be understood through the study of psychology. For example, on my bookshelf I have the textbook Personality: Classic Theories and Modern Research by Howard S. Friedman and Miriam W. Schustack. The idea of using the sciences to inform your writing is illustrated through the work of Will Storr and his book The Science of Storytellilng.
It doesn’t stop with the sciences though. You can study the existing body of literature (humanities) to understand the themes that have been important for our species and what has been said about them. By actively mapping them out, you can see how they have been already explored and use that information to say something new about a theme. The other option is to take a classic theme that has held true throughout human existence and illustrate an important point about it using a modern or new story.
First Question to Answer is what areas of information do writers develop?
Meta - further developing your understanding of storytelling itself
How do writers develop these various parts of a story?
You can use a zettelkasten to develop specific characters and your understanding of how people work.
A character you are developing could be a specific one in your universe/novel or a generalized one you are remixing from. Either basing it off an archetype or existing character you find interesting.
The reason a zettelkasten can help you with developing a specific character in your universe/novel is because you usually don’t fully develop a character in a single day. My hot take is that creativity comes about from the mixing of outside information with your internal knowledge. Therefore the best way to spark creativity is to be constantly exposing yourself to surprising & useful information. Because of our limited time and energy, you can’t expose yourself to large amounts of new information in one sitting through reading. Instead it happens over months and years, as you have to understand and reformulate the information.
An example of a remix would be taking the “wise wizard” and mapping out the different implementations of it (Gandalf, Dumbledore, Jiraiya). Then thinking about what new dimensions you can add to the character or interesting takes on themes associated with them.
154 - Zettelkasten for Everyday Living is about thinking how you can use a zettelkasten to further develop your understanding of the aspects of life that have the most day to day utility. In my zettelkasten this means collecting information on health, mental health, and productivity.
You now have Obsidian set up and ready to use, staring at a blank screen. It doesn’t really matter what your first note is. If you are having note creation paralysis then create a note describing what problem you want to solve or what area of information you want to develop knowledge in. Once you’ve done that then start with step 1 of the Core Zettelkasten Workflow.
Quadrant 1: High Utility & General Knowledge is knowledge that is widespread through society but is of high utility due to your ability to execute on it. Think about sports, where most people can play the game but only a handful can play at a high level. The two examples Cal Newport uses for these people in his 2012 book on skills are screenwriters and guitar players.
Quadrant 2: High Utility & Specialized Knowledge is the best type of knowledge you can learn. This is the knowledge that is highly sought after in society but not a lot of people can provide. This knowledge is often difficult to acquire (making it rare) because it is hard to understand or takes a long time to acquire.
Quadrant 3: Low Utility & General Knowledge is the information that still has utility but isn’t particularly valuable because of its ubiquitousness in society. Over time, more and more information gets slotted into this category due to the ability to search the internet and distributed learning (e.g. MOOCs).
Quadrant 4: Low Utility & Specialized Knowledge is the type of knowledge you often see liberal arts majors get mocked for in life. While knowledge about obscure literature still has utility as part of a larger picture, it isn’t highly sought after in society. If you have this type of knowledge, then you have to become much more creative in how you leverage it.
Zettelkasten is about creating and organizing notes in such a way that they build upon on each other and serve as a form of external long term memory.
Think of a book as a chain of ideas. With it you can either extract out the whole chain or individual links (ideas). Because ideas can be generalized, you will find the same ones across many different books.
If you were to think about it as a function then it would look like:
Input: Information (books as primary sources)
Abstract the information (Creating the Note)
Connect the information (Linking the Note)
Output: Organized Information - Order is the name of the game and what is important in life. For example, a car requires not only for all the parts (information) to be there but for them also to be ordered in a specific way. This is why the organizational component (latticework of note sequences) of a zettelkasten is important.
167 - Example of a Book Deconstruction - if you think of a book as a sequence of ideas, then you want to create a “note sequence” of the most important ideas within the book. You also want each idea in the sequence to live as a standalone note such that you can remove it from the context of the book and have it stand on its own. This allows you to reference the note in other ones while still having it make sense when you revisit it in the far future.
Chapter 1 - Learning is Misunderstood - people tend to be pretty bad at learning because parts of good learning is counter intuitive and we have been duped by ideas that are not well supported.
Chapter 2 - To Learn, Retrieve - the backbone of successful learning is Retrieval Practice and [[Testing]]
Chapter 3 - Mix Up Your Practice - [[practice]], the application of our acquired knowledge is misunderstood. You want to avoid the commonly used [[massed practice]], while engaging in [[spaced]], [[interleaved]], and [[varied]] practice. These promote [[discrimination skills]].
Chapter 4 - Embrace Difficulties - embrace [[desirable difficulties]] such as [[spacing]] and [[interleaving]] because the effort involved leads to more robust learning and better [[encoded] memories.
Chapter 5 - Avoid Illusions of Knowing - we suffer from various [[illusions of knowing]] that make it hard for students to understand how well they’ve actually learned a concept, so it is important to learn how to [[calibrate your judgement]].
Chapter 6 - Get Beyond Learning Styles - using [[learning styles]] are a poor strategy with little supporting evidence. Instead adopt [[active learning strategies]]. Distill the underlying principles ([[rule learning]]) and build the structure ([[mental model]] & [[structure building]]). Then update those models through [[Dynamic Testing]].
Chapter 7 - Increase Your Abilities - the brain is very mutable ([[neuroplasticity]]). While [[brain training]] has no evidence, we know [[nutrition]] is good for the developing brain. Other ways to increase your [[intelligence]] include having a [[growth mindset]], doing [[deliberate practice]] and [[harness mnemonics]].
Chapter 8 - Make It Stick - gives learning tips and applications of the above ideas for different types of students.
Sequence of Ideas
1 - Learning is Misunderstood
2 - To Learn, Retrieve
Learning through Reflection
The Testing Effect / The Retrieval Practice Effect