Unfucking my writing workflow with Obsidian
My writing workflow this year has been kinda... fucked.
The work is spread across too many disparate tools, making the whole process feel tedious and redundant. And boy, it's been killing my desire to write, and my output.
But I should probably show you instead of telling.
Every big article I write starts in MindNode. I make these epic, sprawling mind maps to flesh out my thinking and structure it a bit.
From there, I write the early “vomit draft” in Cold Turkey Writer. It's a tool that locks me out of my computer until I hit a certain word count. For an avid twitter and email checker such as myself, this is the ultimate tool for forcing myself to get words on the page.
From there, I take the draft over to Ulysses, the greatest writing app known to man. This is where the rewriting, refining, and polishing happen. It's also where I add links and such.
Also, Ulysses integrates with Ghost, which is the publishing platform I use for both Ungated and Citizen Within. This integration means I can publish my work in a few clicks, without having to copy and paste anything. So that's pretty efficient.
But once that piece of writing is published, I copy it into Obsidian, and add all the relevant backlinks and metadata. After all, I want my “second brain” to include all of my latest work and best thinking.
It's a hell of a process.
Oh, and to make matters worse, the workflow also included Notion for awhile. I was using it as an editorial calendar to keep track of different ideas, and upload my header images, etc.
Just writing all of this out, it's no wonder I found the process frustrating and unsustainable. The whole thing is so fragmented, with more overlapping steps than an MC Escher painting.
For the longest time, I subscribed to the idea of “use the best tool for the job.” Mindnode is the best mind mapping tool out there. Cold Turkey is the best way to force yourself to write. Ulysses is the most elegant and full featured writing app. Notion is the most customizable workspace. Etc.
But what good is having the “best” of everything if the totality of the process just sucks the life out of you?
For me, the answer is not good at all. I enjoy my tools, but when combined in this way, they equal less than the sum of their parts. My quest for the perfect tools and workflow has, ironically, made me less productive.
Anyhow, now that I'm challenging myself to ship 100 creations by the end of the year—most of which will be writing—I want to unfuck this workflow big time. I want writing and shipping to feel easy and smooth and buttery and playful, instead of making me want to throw myself into traffic.
And I think Obsidian is just the tool for the job.
So here's my hypothesis going forward. I'm going to keep as much of the process I outlined above in Obsidian.
From brainstorming to vomit drafts to finished work. That shit is gonna live right inside Obsidian, with very few third party tools necessary.
For starters, I'm using the Kanban plugin to create a simple editorial calendar. It's a a centralized place to store ideas, and keep track of what I'm working on at any given moment. For instance, here's the dashboard I'm working from today.
You'll notice that some of those kanban cards have been turned into their own notes. That's where I'm brainstorming and writing. Right inside of Obsidian.
In fact, I'm writing this very post inside of Obsidian right now!
Now, Obsidian isn’t quite as lovely a writing experience as Ulysses. But with a little help from the Focus Mode plugin, I can get rid of the visual clutter of Obsidian's interface, and make it a fairly clean writing environment.
But still, writing this way doesn't quite “spark joy” like writing in Ulysses. But I suspect the ease and lack of stress from the rest of the workflow will more than make up for it. I mean, nothing beats the rush I get from publishing and getting great feedback on work. And with these workflow obstacles gone, I'll be getting that feeling a lot more as I continue to ship.
Besides, I can jump back into Ulysses at any point, especially for longer-form pieces, and for things I want to publish to Ghost. It also helps that I can work on Obsidian's markdown files right from Ulysses. No need to copy and paste anything.
So yeah, maybe I can have my writing tool cake and eat it too. ¯_(ツ)_/¯
Here's one other thing that excites me about this new workflow. Not only is it easier and less stressful, but it may just be the missing ingredient that finally makes PKM an integral and valuable part of my life.
Usually my “notes” app—whether it's Evernote, Roam, Obsidian, or whatever else—is completely disconnected from where my writing and intellectual work happens. And frankly, that's made my notes kind of haphazard.
But with all of my ideas, my outlines, my drafts, and my finished pieces right inside of Obsidian, it's possible that I'll finally reap all the grand promises of those expensive PKM courses. Maybe I'll have an honest to god “second brain” that will help spark new ideas and cause my knowledge to grow and compound over time.
I have no idea if that's true. But even if it's not, I'm stoked for the simplicity and elegance of this workflow. Let's see what happens.