Literary Machine

This isn’t specifically a feature request. Rather, it’s to point out a piece of software that’s outdated and idiosyncratic but was way ahead of its time. I’m thinking that it might be worth looking at as a source of ideas for Obsidian features. The software is called Literary Machine and is available here:

Here are my personal notes about how to use this (rather unintuitive) program. I hope you find them useful. Thanks for listening.

The core items in LM are:

  1. Concept/category words (in the Dictionary pane).
  2. Text items (notes; little boxes in which you write text).
  3. Projects (collections of selected text items).

In a regular outliner program, you add items to a category (in a tree view or hierarchical list); in LM, it’s just the opposite: you add categories to an item (similar to tagging with #hashtags. This is true for LM projects, too. You don’t add items to a project; you add projects to an item. All of this is done by dragging a concept (dictionary word) or a project onto an item. (Both concepts and projects work the same way.) This counterintuitive approach makes it possible to use any single item with multiple projects or multiple concepts.

Dragging a category (dictionary/concept) word to the desktop displays all of the items associated with that category. This makes it possible to see connections between items that you might otherwise miss.

Dragging a project to the desktop displays only the items associated with that project. This makes it possible to see specifically chosen items from various categories that you want to open together.

After the items are on your desktop, you can put them in the order you want them to appear. Then right-click the project and select “Add Desktop/Reorder.” That will “freeze” the arrangement of the items on the desktop. If you then put items away or rearrange them, you can right-click the project and select “Get Frozen Positions” to display the items back in their original order.

Projects can be ordered hierarchically in an outline in the Project pane. You can export the items in the outline by right-clicking a project and selecting “Make Document.” You’ll then find the document here:

C:\Users\edito\AppData\Local\VirtualStore\Program Files\Sommestad\LM2007\outltxt

You can also drop a project on the desktop, and LM will ask, “Do you want this project rendered as a concatenated text file?” Say yes, and you’ll find the document here:

C:\Users\edito\AppData\Local\VirtualStore\Program Files\Sommestad\LM2007\projects


  1. Create text items (cards) with category (dictionary) words attached. Each item is a chunk of information you can later recall and use. You can have lots of category words, and it’s nice to have them readily accessible and visible in the Dictionary pane. Also, the point of having chunks of information is so that you can use them over again in different projects and publications; also so that you can manipulate and ponder them in table view. You can put several category words together into a “concept” that you can drop on the desktop to retrieve all items categorized under any of the words in the concept. A “concept” is an amalgamation of different category words.

  2. Drag a word or concept to the desktop to display the items you intend to use in a book or paper, based on the category words you assigned to them. Note that one category can be the name of the publication in which you want to use them. Or, you can put items into a “project” to accomplish the same purpose.

  3. Arrange the items in the order you want them to be for the book or paper you’re working on. Then add them to a project.

  4. “Freeze” the order of the items in a project with “Add Desktop/Reorder.” This is basically the whole point of a project–to preserve a certain selection and arrangement of text items. Often, a project will be a chapter. An outline of projects in order can be considered as a book.

  5. You can also categorize projects and then display only a certain category of them to make arranging them easier.

  6. Export a project, outline, or part of an outline as a “book” in text or HTML format. If you export as an HTML file, the outline folder (project) names will be saved as heading styles that can be used in Word or Typora and later used for writing and typesetting in LyX.

1 Like

This is interesting. Thanks for this excursion into a past I never experienced.

I am not sure what of these features are currently not possible in obsidian, even though, of course, using a different UI approach than LM.

  1. is supported via tags. The dragging aspect is not something I consider crucial though it is more intuitive than typing tags into YAML

  2. Can be realised by transclusion, Kanban or plain file numbering in folders (this is how I organise work that has more than one part)

  3. The same goes for this aspect and number 4

  4. I am not sure I understand category right in this conext, but all my projects have multiple tags also including their project name. I experiment with project status but so far find it more work for too little result.

  5. Can be done by exporting.

1 Like

Ok, there is a lot to talk about here because this tool is so powerful. I was using it in the early 2000’s…

  1. Dragging aspect can be super important/powerful.

QUESTION: Can you drag the results of a search, or all results for a tag onto a canvas automatically? Because that is what LM would do.

And that would rock.

Note: you can already do this with a folder (which is freaking amazing)…after which you can reorder or whatever. This would be amazing to do with tags and search results.