Weeknote, Sunday 4th September 2022

I spent yesterday at Interesting 2022, organised by the redoubtable Russell (Not T) Davies. Of course, the talks were all great, but it was also nice to bump into friends I hadn’t seen for a while, including Phil Gyford, Nick Ludlam, Zelda Rhiando, Matt Jones, John Willshire and many others. And it was great to finally meet Purplesime too.

This was the first time I’ve been out to any conference-style event since before the pandemic started, and it was a reminder of all the things that COVID robbed us of. Seeing friends, listening to talks, having fun — all the kinds of social stuff that previously were part of everyday life just vanished for a while. And, worse: it takes time to get used to doing them again. It’s not just a case of returning to normal, as the “new normal” was something we all got used to.

Afterwards, we took a long stroll down to the South Bank and went for a drink in the Royal Festival Hall. It wasn’t the first time I’ve been to the RFH since the “official” end of the pandemic, but it was great to go up to the member’s bar and look out over the Thames, something I used to do a lot when I worked just across the river.

I’ve been trying out Obsidian for my writing. My favourite writing app is Ulysses, but it has two issues: it’s only available on Apple devices and stores its files in an opaque way on iCloud. I would like something that’s cross-platform and which uses plain simple files in a regular directory — and Obsidian fits the bill for this. I tried it out a couple of years ago and didn’t like it because of its lack of a proper live preview as you write (unlike my friend Jason Snell I don’t want to see the Markdown all the time).

The way I tend to work involves a lot of quick note-taking. I have always been a jotter, writing down descriptions of people, places and events and quickly putting down any ideas I have. This is mostly out of necessity: I have a terrible memory. I always have thought it’s one of the reasons I made a good news writer because my bad memory meant I had to quickly get into the habit of writing everything down.

This means a good mobile client is essential, and Obsidian has one. It lacks Ulysses’ integration with the share sheet, but I have other tools I can use to save items, which means they end up in Obsidian.

Out of the box, though, Obsidian is a pretty poor writing environment. It lacks things I have come to rely on, like focus and typewriter writing modes, the ability to export as Word documents, and even the ability to break down a piece of writing into sections, dragging and dropping them into the right order. This last one is absolutely essential for fiction, where I tend to write in small discreet scenes.

The good news is that Obsidian is infinitely extensible using plugins and has a great community behind it who have built almost everything you could want. There’s a Longform plugin which lets you write and reorder scenes. There are typewriter scrolling and focus modes and Pandoc for exporting in virtually any format you could want. There are even plugins for footnotes and activity trackers so you can keep an eye on writing progress.

One thing I definitely like is the way you can use templates in Obsidian. It’s a very powerful system that, with the addition of the Templater add-on, lets us use things like variables in a template.

If you are considering using Obsidian for more than just note-taking, I recommend Curtis McHale’s site. Curtis has done a huge amount of work digging through the plugins and has many videos recommending the best stuff for writers, whether you’re creating long or short form, fiction or non-fiction.

Writing

  • About 750 words on a short story which has been newly renamed Abigail Harvey returns home. It’s a short story about a woman’s relationship with her mother. It’s been fun writing fiction!

Reading and watching

We finally got around to watching the new Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power series on Amazon last night and you can see where the money is going. It was, in almost every sense, epic. And that might be why I found it a little hard to engage with: it’s all a little overwhelming at this point.

I’m still reading Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, a wonderful exposition on writing and life that I would highly recommend.

3 Comments

  1. It was lovely to see you both too. More of that!

    Obsidian looks great. Only last week I was thinking that, after years of using it, that SimpleNote is slightly *too* simple for some of my needs.

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    1. Yes definitely more of that! I think it’s FIFTEEN YEARS since I last saw Zelda… Obsidian is great but it is definitely one of those things you can spend more time fiddling with than actually making proper use of if you’re not careful. It clicked for me when I realised I could use different vaults for different things, and customise accordingly, rather than a single vault for every note.

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