Speculation, Inquiry, and a Quest for Purpose

Opening the Garage


Here, let me show you my workbench.

For too long, I’ve been working with the garage door closed, making my machinations invisible to the curiosity of any passers-by. That closed-off outward appearance might even make it look like I haven’t been working on anything at all.

But I have. And I’d like to share some of it with you. Let me start by showing you my tools and—in time—we might see some of the end result.

All of the work starts in one of three places: my bullet journal, an app called Drafts, or another app, Obsidian.

My Bullet Journal

This is my favorite tool, and there was a time when it was the main one I used.

I use a dot grid A5 notebook and a refillable fountain pen for my primary writing whenever I’m writing analog. Over the past several years, I’ve experimented with a modified Bullet Journal Method that combines longform writing with bullet journaling using the gridlines of each page.

Like most of my tools, my notebook is simple and direct. I use an index in the front to keep track of my thoughts, and the notebook comes printed with page numbers for reference. At regular intervals, I would type up this handwritten material on my computer.

You’ll notice that the green notebook, “Volume VI” ends in August 2019. When my son was born, the blue notebook I had started became the journal of his life thus far.

It was then that I had to adopt a more casual and immediate note-taking system. For the time being, I’m letting my current notebook and digital writing be bound to each other only by date, for reasons I may get into later.


Drafts is where most of my text starts because it has configurable actions to send whatever I write wherever it needs to go. Sporadically, I need to look something up on YouTube, sometimes I need to add a reminder to do something later, and sometimes I’m dictating an idea about one of my writing projects, but the thing all those needs have in common is a piece of text in a window.

It works exactly like a sticky note pad, offering a blank screen every time I open it and letting me tear off whatever I’m working on to take to the next tool.

I use three primary action groups. One is just basic iPhone actions like sending a text, adding a reminder, or creating a calendar event. The second is a search bar that lets me search sites like YouTube, Google Images, Wikipedia, Snopes or Amazon with the press of a button.

The third is all about formatting my Draft to act as a digital bullet journal entry and getting it into Obisidian for development and long-term storage.

Obsidian, Ulysses, and Scrivener

I have made Obsidian the main workhorse of my garage for two reasons: it works with plain text Markdown files and is designed with linking notes in mind.

Picture me taking a walk with my toddler and having one hand free when I get an idea I want to use for my upcoming novel. I take my phone out of my pocket, type a couple of lines into a blank Draft, and send it to Obsidian later.

Using links, anything I add to my daily notes page can reference any other document in my Vault. I can generate an outline of a work-in-progress to remind myself what I still have to write. There are also many user-submitted plugins that contribute additional functionality, like a consolidated to-do list. It’s like having a digital bullet journal.

Obsidian also offers some neat visualization options to view the relationships between these linked notes. The graph above is my entire Vault, including all of my digitized journals going back to 2003 and some references to documents that I haven’t had the chance to write yet. I can click on any node to jump right back into the thought or see its connections to related ideas.

Since Obsidian works in plain text and Markdown, I need other tools for finished work, something I’m going to submit to a client or publish to a weblog.

Ulysses loves Markdown, and is by far the easiest way for me to convert finished copy into something submittable. It supports user-configurable export formats, so the same raw text can be turned into a manuscript submission, print-ready prose, or a weblog entry. I use it for anything less complicated than a full-length novel, although I have certainly written an entire novel draft using nothing but Ulysses.

Scrivener, on the other hand, is like its own production facility. Instead of working solely with text, Scrivener will store any kind of media file in a virtual “binder” alongside the prose in progress. It supports linking between documents, annotations, comments, and it has a robust export suite to dial in specific print requirements. I like it for planning large-scale projects that have a lot of moving parts and multimedia inspiration. I’ve even converted some of my writing references like John Truby’s The Anatomy of Story into Scrivener templates to facilitate the creation of new projects.

The Work

Regardless of what I end up working on, my writing days all start the same way: with morning pages. “Morning Pages are three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning,” according to Julia Cameron who popularized the term. On average, three pages in my notebook amounts to about a thousand words, so that’s my target when my morning pages take place digitally. Since I type twice as fast as I write and I’m the parent of a young child, these usually take place in Obsidian.

I use my morning pages to get a sense of what I’m going to be working on for the day and what challenges might oppose that progress. They start a daily note page for each day that I’ll add to as the day goes on using timestamps to cross-reference notes that might exist elsewhere, like in my journal.

Most of the time, I’m writing for my copywriting job or working on my novels, but I’ve also been studying personal essays and I think there’s room in my workflow to experiment with some more of those. Since I have this weblog, I’m going to start thinking out loud a bit more and making more of these thoughts public.

This is my first post in a long while, but in the interest of sharing my work with any interested onlookers, I’m going to be publishing something new here every Friday, weather permitting.

Thanks for stopping by to check in, and I hope to see you around again soon.

About the author

Ian Hayes

Former technical support and customer service professional, now freelance writer and entrepreneur writing Horror, Narrative Nonfiction, and Literary/Speculative Fiction.

Also backpacker, rock climber, casual biker, woodworker and armchair philosopher.

Currently living in Portland, Oregon, but also from New York, Alabama, New Mexico, Virginia, Georgia, Connecticut and Tennessee.

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By Ian Hayes
Speculation, Inquiry, and a Quest for Purpose