Recently my productivity slumped. I became preoccupied with my systems again. It's not an unexpected stage in an evolving workflow. Two steps forward and one step back is better than one step forward and two steps back, and both are better than three steps forward which inevitably emerges as a delusion.Where was I? Why did it happen?
I had reached the point of using simple plaintext files, often in markdown. I had programs that, for all their deficiencies, could be made to work. I always understood that markdown itself was a pernicious collection of time-bound prejudices but it was ubiquitous and there seemed no avoiding it.
I stumbled with creative workflows (usual), realised the utility, and availability, of mindmaps and then kanban. Plaintext filing preserved through Markdown-OPML identity. Which led me to longer markdown files (many advantages and closer to Luhmann's actual system than many small ones since each atomic note is embedded in a structure as well as having links), but also to outlines and outliners which I had never found especially useful before.
The value of outliners not being intrinsic to outliners alone, but being a disregarded and poorly implemented feature in markdown editors; viz. the visualisation and speed when moving sections. Plaintext editors ought to be better at this but they aren't.
But this made me more sensitive to conversion glitches. And raised again the issue of whether the md or opml file should take precedence. And raised the question again of databases, since outliners are databases and the opml merely a particularly valuable export format. Which in turn raised again the question of rich text and word processors; outliner > word processor > md/opml being more efficient than editor >< md/opml >< outliner > word processor > md/opml.The Rock in the Road
And then the big stumble. I had always been unconcerned about whether I was typing in lines or paragraphs. Conversion at the next stage, should it be needed, was a minor issue since the next stage required deliberate thought anyway. But this is when most of the writing would be done in a single program (with occasional paste into it, when I'd done a little writing elsewhere). But back and forth needed more consistency. Cut and paste was not entirely reliable, and Workflowy - which I needed for the kanban - had a problem retaining the integrity of lines. Which meant standardisation on paragraphs. Which shouldn't have been an issue. Word processors have paragraphs; markdown has paragraphs. And many of the programs I use have configurable shortcuts.
But Obsidian was an obdurate unyielding obstacle. Many users appeared to have the belief that Enter=New Line (and New Paragraph was therefore Enter Enter) was part of the markdown specification, instead of it simply being an old code/line/text editor convention. Only a minor irritation in practical terms since I'd already stopped writing in most of the time. WriteMonkey was a bigger loss. But Typora and MarkText were fine (so long as I wrote in WYSIWYG mode). So was Logseq (though I had to edit a config file to achieve the same behaviour in bullet and document mode which is hardly the most user-friendly design). And naturally all word processors. FocusWriter is a funny one, according to my initial testing: its behaviour is fine in docx files, but txt/md files have only lines. I quite like FocusWriter, so that's a small pressure to use docx rather than plaintext.While I'm on Enter Enter, what is it about the plaintext markup languages that so many instructions involve flapping at the same key and counting? I could only imagine they were invented by two finger typists who had never been taught, or accustomed to, touch typing. One key is a simpler target, but multiple keypresses takes longer and counting is always an additional cognitive load even if it becomes a habit or automatism.Habit, automatism and muscle memory
The keypress issue might seem minor. I know what lines and paragraphs are, and how each program works. I can convert easily between the two. I can even do Enter Enter in one press (using the thumb and little finger of right hand) and Shift-Enter with one finger. And for most people that is probably true. But I'm a touch typing writer. My keyboard use goes beyond habit, and is at least an automatism and largely muscle memory. When I'm writing, my mind already has threads for content, words, grammar and punctuation; adding another thread for the Enter or Enter Enter question pulls in my conscious mind and disrupts the flow of the writing. It's actually a process disrupt.So Markdown? Really??
I fully appreciate and agree with the arguments against word processor formats and in favour of plaintext. But also aware that my writing usually has to be converted to .docx or equivalent at some stage. That's writing not note-taking. And I have become increasingly aware that markdown isn't as virtuous as usually painted.
To come close to duplicating what a word processor file can do, it involves detailed understanding of markdown specifications, and also those for CSS, not forgetting HTML. That's time consuming. And though doc/docx has been criticised for having a number of versions, there are even more versions of markdown, CSS and HTML. Plus all the program configurations - the typical markdown editor is not designed to be friendly or accessible to the non-technical user. I've sometimes thought that Obsidian was designed as an equivalent to the Marine training obstacle course for aspiring programmers. As a structure it feels rickety with multiple points of failure. I know what such a construction looks like; I've watched Wallace and Gromit.Next steps
- Notes will stay as markdown/OPML. Large files rather than tiny ones.
- Writing is best as OPML/docx. OPML is a plaintext format, so plaintext is always available and the final copy can always be converted and kept as markdown. Or it can be done at any point when Obsidian linking is wanted.
- All files will be kept in Obsidian vaults.
- All plaintext files will use Obsidian syntax ([], ![], #tags, (@tags added since they are used in a number of programs including Workflowy), **bold**, *italic*, <u>underline</u>, ~~strikethrough~~, ==highlight==)
- Programs to type in to include FocusWriter, Typora, MarkText, Logseq, Atlantis, Word and Workflowy; maybe Dynalist.
In the end, it's only a mild system tweak. Files remain central, with databases used for WIP only. WriteMonkey is a major loss, though I could still use it for long files, where the folding is especially useful. Obsidian becomes more marginal in terms of regular use. Logseq enters; I'm not fond of it as an Obsidian competitor but it's fine to write in.
It's ironic that Word has entered. It's a very long time since I chose to use word processors for writing; when I wrote in rich text it was always in other programs; in practice, I don't expect to write in it now either. But giving up databases for long-term storage remains a very good idea.