Professional writers: How do you organize your vaults?

I recently got laid off (for the fifth time in my career! which is how you can tell I am a professional writer) and I’m gearing up a freelance business while simultaneously looking for full time work.

And I’m rethinking how to organize my Obsidian setup, which has become an everything bucket: Working interview notes with lots of typos, PDF and Word document source materials, links to interview transcripts, early drafts in Markdown, and later drafts in Word. Also in the same vault: Meeting notes, a list of books to read, financial information, and other information unrelated to work.

Im curious how other professional writers—particularly journalists and content marketers—manage their vaults. One big vault for everything? Do you separate research materials from notes and drafts? Do you store source materials, such as PDFs, Word docs, and interview notes, separate from notes and drafts? Do you keep notes and drafts separate?

Please do go into as much detail on your Obsidian habits as you like—I’m looking for ideas.

PS. I’m directing this query to professional writers because we have special requirements. It’s like cooking—someone who cooks for friends and family might be a wizard in the kitchen, but that person has different needs from a restaurant cook who needs to feed hundreds of people every night.

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@pdworkman wrote about managing their novels in Obsidian:

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Hey there, content editor and copywriter here.

I have one big vault for everything. And I mostly use Obsidian as a tool to remember everything me and my colleagues have done in the past.

That means that I save all our articles in obsidian, clearly marked with tags and metadata, so I can find them. I have made everything searchable by:

  • season (Summer, Autumn, Winter, Spring)
  • campaign type (Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Prime Day)
  • author
  • content type (guide, product list, interview, buying tips…)
  • market (country)

And a bunch of other things we need. I use the Dataview plugin to show all the above on separate landing pages in neat, pre-formated tables.

I also save links to all our tools (with descriptions) that we use. For example, we use Data Studio to find statistics we need and it’s not very easy to remember all details, so Obsidian help me with that.

Now, writing. I actually write in a seperate app called IA Writer and copy/paste the content into Obsidian when I need. I never use images in my drafts so I don’t have to worry about that. Any separate digital file goes into my Google Drive for safe keeping (I also have my vault in Google Drive btw).

I use pre-formated templates to speed things up.

All notes are separated in different folders depening on the type. Drafts, finished articles, notes, and so on. EVERYTHING have metadata. Yes, that takes time (a lot), but if I want to keep it, I want it categorized.

  1. Create digital note in the main category
  2. If I keep it – move note to folder “Unsorted”
  3. At the end of the day – move all notes to the assigned folders

I use a MOC to make all major documents easily findable.

  1. A folder called MOC with all MOC-files
  2. One MOC-document with links to all MOC-files in a structured order

Not sure if the mess above is what you asked for, and I could have done it a bit more…easier to read, but that was my brain dump for the day :slight_smile:

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I think I tick most boxes for professional writer, but journalist only sometimes and never a content marketer and I don’t write for the web. Though how I describe myself might depend on which hat I’m wearing and which way round I have it. Range from entirely conceptual and ideas and notes based to academic with extensive use of sources. And I suspect my systems are a bit of an outlier.

Historically, I have usually written in txt - plain, pure text - whatever program I was writing in at the time. Then usually to docx/rtf for review, edit, restructure and thence to final formats.

I was attracted to using Obsidian because it worked with files and appeared to offer superior linking and PKM than the systems I had.

I quickly gravitated to a very highly nested hierarchical system (outlier 1). Everything in, but in their own containers. Projects existing as low level containers, making them very easy to move to other computers/systems; every project has Attachments and Linked Files folders, with additional folders for any other files that need to be grouped together.

At times I use very long files (outlier 2), making active use of headings and the core outline pane (though its usefulness falls well short of the Word equivalent). I don’t use YAML, nor do I actively use plugins (outlier 3) - txtasmd the most regular - although I have trialled many. (I say many, but users often mention actively using more than I have ever tested.) I use inline impressionist tags extensively (outlier 4) and actively use links, and sometimes embeds. System worked very well, linking was great, highly recommend it.

But my approach is now facing an evolutionary jump. Relevant to me, but possibly no-one else.

There was always grit in my use of Obsidian (outlier 5). First there was the impossibility of .txt being a first class citizen, which knocked some of my workflows on the head (aka out of Obsidian). Then the tab for code irritated. And then I realised that I had real issues in having Enter=New Line: hadn’t bothered me originally, it being so easy to switch lines and paragraphs, but Workflowy concatenates lines (though not paragraphs) so my new workflows involving OPML became more convoluted; and sometimes I wanted both lines and paragraphs. Often I’d write in other programs, but the behavioural and syntax incompatibilities added to overhead. Export was never smooth and I usually used other programs.

When I realised that Obsidian would always be optimised for programmers, I started to look at alternatives, drifted back towards pure word processor flows, stopped writing in Obsidian completely although I would still use it and sometimes edit in it. Then I started to use Tangent Notes (outlier 6) which brought me back towards markdown notes. It’s removed all the grit (bar .txt) and works comfortably with Obsidian. I find it comfortable to write in.

The evolutionary jump is the realisation that Tangent can open files directly from the file explorer. In the file explorer I have a column for word count in files in all formats, I can use a manual sort order, I have faster, more powerful search options than Obsidian and across all file formats. I can tag all files, and have virtual folders. And these programs work reliably and smoothly having been developed over many years. My nested hierarchy remains, but is less relevant. Sources that weren’t worth bringing inside are now an equal part of the system. Still exploring exactly how best to tweak the system. I’m not sure how relevant this methodology would be to anyone else - I probably have a more extensive file utility toolset than many, my need to work with multiple formats will be greater than many and my workflows have always been idiosyncratic.

I noticed this tendency myself. When I first saw a description of Obsidian, I visualised it as a spider sitting above my files and helping to make best use of them. In use, it prefers to be a dragon pulling everything into its hoard; an ersatz similacrum of a database. The file explorer methodology frees me from this and allows Tangent/Obsidian to focus on the files and workflows that suit them best.

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@Dor Your workflow sounds very similar to mine, actually—I have similar outliers and points of friction with Obsidian.

Like you, I put projects each in their own folder, for similar reasons.

My biggest point of friction with Obsidian is I really want to be able to flip between the system explorer (the Finder, in my case—I’m a Mac guy) and Obsidian MOCs more easily.

One item on my to-do list is to put in a feature request to let me open an Obsidian document from the Finder. I want to be able open an individual markdown document in a vault from the Finder, using Obsidian, and then at that point be inside the vault, so to speak. The Finder becomes an alternative to the native Obsidian File Explorer.

Hmmm… I believe I’ve just written that feature request, haven’t I? Time to submit it!

And, yeah, what I want is for Obsidian to be a framework surrounding my document structure, but instead it becomes the document structure. Even though Obsidian is standards based, based on documents, and folders, and plain text, it still becomes proprietary and a closed system for everyday use, like Evernote, Roam or Notion.

Are you using Tangent now, instead of Obsidian?

Yours is the second reference to Tangent that I’ve seen the past few days (though it’s possible the other one may have also been yours?). I think I need to take a closer look at it. (Sigh. I swore I was done with my evil app-hopping ways.)

@exzrael Your workflow sounds very different from mine and tbh I don’t know whether it would work for me, but your write-up was interesting and thoughtful and I am sincerely grateful for it nonetheless.

I do need to start devoting time to organizing my Obsidian vault. Now, I do it on the fly, when creating and importing documents, which is not good enough.

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Yes. And no.
For me, Tangent is really great for writing. And linking.
And obviously for the ability to open files direct from the OS (Finder in your case).

But there are many layers of functionality that haven’t been added yet (eg no tags yet). And in those cases, it’s possible just to use Obsidian on the same vaults. Tangent uses the same syntax as Obsidian. It’s possible to use Tangent just as the editor for Obsidian. Tangent has no plugins and far fewer features than Obsidian. Early stage, but stable, and development speed seems steady rather than frantic. The aim is that it’s good for writing (particularly web writing).

I haven’t actually missed those layers since I discovered that I could work directly with the OS. Tangent does have its own file explorer, similar to Obsidian, but I rarely use it now that I can use the OS.

Probably was. Tangent has a relatively small number of users at the moment, and, judging from comments on the discord and forum, most Obsidian users are interested in adding features and plugins; and value automated database-like functionality rather than a deliberate and thoughtful workflow.

So you can trial and even use Tangent without switching. They work easily together. There’s a bit of a learning curve. The graph is very different. Focus options are core. Check out its discord. Developer is very responsive: when I requested Enter=New Paragraphs it was added four days later; very different experience to here.

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No worries, we can’t all use the same methods and work flows :slight_smile: Very interesting question and good discussion to read. Have a great day.

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Writer, editor, copy-editor, publisher, etc…

I keep everything in one vault. For one, I want my writing to be where my zettelkasten lives, since there are enumerable notes/references/sources and resources I like pulling from and building off of in there.

Second, it’s really beneficial for me to be able to directly link to other writing projects if need be. I may want to refer to something said in another piece, etc.

Another reason has to do with how I engage with my writing docs.

For organizing I go off a basic folder set-up (nothing fancy), but almost never root around in there. Instead, I build “CLOGs” (basically “creative log” or “catalog” files) for all my many active writing projects. Can read about how I do that here:

“How I Use CLOGs to Organize My Writing Files”

Using CLOGs allows me to create custom user interfaces to engage with my work, log what I achieved during the session, and refer back to these notes when I pick something up again (sometimes after long stretches of time). None of which would be possible (or convenient) were I to parse things out in separate vaults.

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Your CLOGs remind me of why I started with Obsidian in the first place: Folders and document names are great, but they don’t give me enough information and context about a document to see at a glance what the document is, and whether it’s the document I need at the moment.

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Thanks for the mention!

Yes, for novel writing, I have one vault per series. That way, each “world” has one wiki/bible and each book is a folder with a set of subfolders.

For stuff like blogging and research, I use one vault. My research folder has many sub-folders (121) and sub-sub-folders.

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