Using Obsidian for world-building

Just a quick note to say thanks to @amberv and @kewms.

I didn’t think it was appropriate (in relation to the OP and topic) when Ioa split this thread off from the original question, and then Katherine’s post about compiling out of Scrivener made me stop and think about whether I actually still needed Scrivener as a companion app in my workflow at all.

So I have spent the last three weeks working solely in Obsidian and now know for certain that it’s the only app I need for writing. These are the things that I learned that are relevant to my work:

  1. That Scrivener’s greatest strength is its ability to compile to different formats.
  2. That Scrivener’s greatest weakness is also its ability to compile to different formats, because that focus on having multiple layers of formatting in a “sometimes but not always, sort of but not quite” WYSIWYG environment really does get in the way of thinking and writing.
  3. That having an app that looks and functions identically across macOS and iOS is a major plus for productivity.
  4. That having an app that syncs between multiple devices without having to close the app on any of the other devices is another major plus for productivity.
  5. That having an app that syncs between multiple devices without using Dropbox is yet another major plus for productivity.
  6. That while Scrivener’s compile is a powerful beast, it’s also an unnecessary one. Scrivener encourages users to break works down into folders and files and parts and chapters and scenes. And a lot of the time users really do need to break their work up because as the word count builds, a single RTF file (with or without a lot of formatting) gets to be a very sluggish beast. But in apps using Markdown, it simply isn’t necessary to break projects down – although that is still an option if that’s how a user wants to work. I’ve pulled multi-file 300,000-word projects out of Scrivener (which run slowly throughout the interface and especially so when in scrivenings) and can have them in a single file in Obsidian without any performance lag. And in Obsidian, I can easily move around the document using the outliner; drag and drop sections from place to place with a trackpad or keyboard; run search and replaces in the blink of an eye that in Scrivener take a “time to make a cuppa” age; and on and on and on. So in the end, I don’t “need” to compile anything: I already have a single file to take forward.
  7. As is often mentioned on this forum, it is possible to create a finished product using compile (an ebook, a PDF for printing, etc) but in the main users really need to see Scrivener as a step in the production process: compile and then use other apps to do whatever it is the user needs to do with their work. So Scrivener is a “sometimes but not always, sort of but not quite” WYSIWYG production tool.

And that’s the crux of it for me—Scrivener falls between the self-referencing gap of its own logic:

  • projects need to be broken up because they get slow if they get large
  • they need to be broken up because there is so much focus on the different formats offered by compile and the different on-the-page formatting that that requires
  • but even with all that focus and formatting, the compile process is a frustrating, time-consuming dark art for many users, and that – even after all that work – in many cases users have to do additional work anyway in Word, InDesign, NWP, Vellum, Pandoc, etc
  • and all that breaking down, formatting, and compiling comes at the expense of thinking and writing, which are the only two things I want to do when using my Mac or iPhone to get work done

And thanks to Ioa and Katherine, I‘ve looked again at my workflows and found that with Obsidian I can do everything (and a lot more besides) that I can do in Scrivener, ending up with squeaky clean Markdown files that can easily carry over to other apps or be dispatched to publishers for publishing.

I think writing inputs and outputs have changed a lot since Scrivener was released in 2007, and I think I have been swept along with those changes. For the last fifteen happy years – thank you. But I’m no longer ‘there’ (nor, you’ll be glad to learn, ‘here’).