A Zettelkasten makes writing texts easy. It encourages you to prepare research and the most of your writing before you compile your first draft. This way you can focus on one task at a time and needn’t sweat about getting through. This works excruciatingly well with longer texts but it’s proven indispensable for any of my shorter writing projects, too.
When you start a writing project, expect your first draft to be imperfect. It will require work and polishing anyway, so it’s only reasonable to complete the first draft quickly: the sooner you finish, the sooner you’ll know what’s left to do. When you’re done researching, you will find everything in your Zettelkasten to compile a draft based on the notes you took. It stores fragments of the text you’re working on, based on the research you completed and fed into its archive. You can deeply focus on either research or compiling a draft instead of switching gears between the two tasks all the time. Separating these tasks makes you more productive at both. All the while, instead of interfering with each other, these tasks mutually enhance one another when your research notes find their way into the draft and the draft’s outline drives future research.
A Zettelkasten helps you focus on your research. It also helps you focus on writing. Both tasks should be separated in order to deeply focus on each of them.
You should do research and writing separately because it’s too costly if you don’t. To get into a writing flow takes time. It’s cost-inefficient to constantly interrupt your writing just because you find your research foundation to be lacking. Doing research requires another mode of attention which, too, takes time to get into. Switching between these procedures or a regular basis is an uncomfortable waste of energy and, ultimately, a waste of your precious time.
Preparing beforehand small snippets of texts, each one of them exploring an idea, and then merging them together in a draft of a text later makes it easier to do a writing project. Separate the research from the writing.
I need to do research for most of my writing. During this research the notes are formed into Zettels and go into my Zettelkasten. The “secret ingredient” here is to attach the ID to an outline.
As I progress through the research I can see the outline growing and changing. Sometimes I just begin with an empty file and just make a list of Zettels related to that topic. After a while clusters will form to topics and subtopics, which I mark up as headings and subheadings.
I thrive on that kind of writing because it divides the big behemoth of a complex writing project into smaller little text snippets that are easy to deal with.
The book on writing I mentioned came to be in the same manner. I work on a book on nutrition, so I decided to research how to write a book and writing in general. Each note I turned into a Zettel got its place in an outline. After a while, I satisfied my need for readings on that topic. When I looked at the outline I realized that I had notes worth a book already. I replaced the IDs with the content of the Zettels. Voilá. A manuscript was ready.
Start a research project and create small notes with each idea, linking to the original research. Collect all those notes on a single outline file. After you make some progress, you can divide those notes into Sections and Chapters, and this will make your writing on a big project (like a book) as easy as to do a careful research and note-making.