Writing and Reflecting in Obsidian — Morning Pages and Daily Notes

This is part 3 of a series about how I write and reflect using Obsidian, an extensible digital note-taking interface with some surprising and unexpectedly useful features. This post details how I make use of plugins like Periodic Notes, Templater, QuickAdd, and Dataview to manage my Daily Notes Page and Morning Pages writing practice. I’ve been using Obsidian since 2021-02-06, and it has completely revolutionized my writing process. New posts every Wednesday until the series is complete.

The primary activity I use Obsidian for is writing. In terms of volume of words and time spent in the app, the majority of this writing would actually be classified as journaling. Journaling is what brought me to Obsidian in the first place, the promise of being able to see connections between different entries across the months and years of my writing, and it has certainly paid off to be able to to journal in this way.

Journaling Workbench

This journaling workbench relies heavily on Dataview to present dynamic text and up-to-date reviews of the past week’s notes.

Morning Pages

I practice Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages, sitting down first thing in the morning to write three pages every day. It’s not important what they’re about, only that they take place before I engage with any external thought (so no Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or News feeds,) and that they be conducted on paper, longhand. This slowing down of thought is essential for probing deeply into whatever is simmering just beneath the surface. Writing three pages instead of just one or two is another way to plumb those depths, as it forces me to write until I’m out of ideas every single time I sit down.

Well, okay, that’s not entirely accurate. I often don’t know what to start writing about, and that’s part of what this practice is about, too. All too often, we assume that we need to have something to say to sit down and write, that a creative spark has to strike us before we commit it to the page, but this is often not the case. As this video points out, creative output is often the result of the process, not its causa sui, and the best ideas come not before the pen hits the paper, but afterwards. Morning Pages are a daily leap of faith, a regular reminder that the biggest obstacle is a blank page, and the sooner you can mar it with anything, the sooner you’ll be able to write something of substance.

Despite the importance of writing these pages analog, I often wind up brainstorming about other stories I’m working on or processing the events of my life in a way I want to refer back to later. This series is about Obsidian, after all, and I wouldn’t be talking about my morning pages if they didn’t wind up there. About two months after I’ve written a given morning’s pages, I’ll pull them up to type a brief summary of the ideas I wrote about. This temporal delta is predictable, so I’ve put a link to the day’s transcription on my Journaling Workbench page to make it easy to jump to.

Of course, I can’t rely solely on Morning Pages to get all of my journaling done. There are any number of things that will come up throughout the day that I also want to record in my journaling, so I have designed my Daily Note Template to accommodate these different needs and ensure that I get them all taken care of.

Daily Notes

--- 
title: Needs title 
summary: Needs summary 
tags: 
--- 
# [[Journaling Workbench|{{date:dddd}}]], [[{{date:YYYY-MM MMMM}}|{{date:MMMM}}]] {{date:Do YYYY}} 
> [!summary]- Daily Summary 
> ```dataview 
> LIST WITHOUT ID 
> summary 
> FROM "00 Meta/01 Journal" 
> WHERE file.path = this.file.path 
> ``` 
> [!check]+ Due Today 
> ```tasks 
> not done 
> due before {{date+1d:YYYY-MM-DD}} 
> short mode 
> sort by priority 
> sort by due 
> sort by scheduled 
> ``` 
> [!info]+ Log 
> ```dataview 
> list 
> from "" 
> where (file.cday = date({{date:YYYY-MM-DD}}) OR file.mday = date({{date:YYYY-MM-DD}})) AND file.name != "Vault 111" AND file.name != "{{date:YYYY}}" AND file.name != "{{date:MM-MMMM}}" AND file.path != this.file.path 
> SORT file.mtime DESC 
> LIMIT 50 
> ``` 
> ```tasks 
> done on {{date:YYYY-MM-DD}} 
> ``` 
> [!note]+ On This Day 
> ```dataview 
> list 
> from "" 
> where contains(file.name, "{{date:-MM-DD}}") AND file.path != this.file.path 
> SORT file.day DESC 
> ``` 
## Morning Pages Summary
## Journal

My Daily Note Template does a lot of the heavy lifting for me in terms of laying out my day. I want to be able to see what tasks are due, keep a running log of notes I touch and things I discover throughout the day, as well as stay accountable to my journaling goals. The template has three callout boxes to show the data that will be relevant on the day that I am working from my daily note, as well as provide useful information when reviewing past daily notes from a simple page preview.

What looks like a bunch of code is actually a combination of Dataview, callout boxes, and Tasks, arranged so that I can always see what I’m working on. The “Summary” callout box draws its content from the YAML header for each daily notes page, where I manually input a title and summary for the day. (This is the same source for the data that populates the “Past Week” table of my journaling workbench.) “Due Today” is a simple list of tasks that are due before tomorrow (in Tasks parlance,) drawn from anywhere in my Vault. Then, the “Log” is a combination of manual entries (usually accomplished via the QuickAdd plugin) and a Dataview table configured to show me all of the files I have created or modified on this day. I wish it could also serve as a historical record of files created/modified on a given day, but as soon as I return to the same file again, it disappears because its mtime value changes.

The first thing I do with my daily notes is to start with two things I am grateful for. I have a whole battery of QuickAdd actions that all do essentially the same thing: they add a line to the “Log” section with the Dataview field and whatever information I’m looking to record.

Daily Gratitude QuickAdd Action

As I encounter new things I want to remember throughout the day, whether they’re books, articles, podcast recommendations, or ideas for house projects, I use the associated QuickAdd action to quickly insert them in the “Log” section and then I can pick them up later on their corresponding workbench or dashboard—all thanks to Dataview.

Lastly, the “On This Day” callout replaces my favorite feature of Day One by showing me all of the Daily Notes I created in years past on this same date.

Quicker than QuickAdd?

At the bottom of each Daily Note Page is a header for “Journal” and that’s where all my ideas go when I have them. I’m a big fan of rubber ducking anything from story ideas to Dataview problem-solving, so most of my Journal is just explaining things to myself so I can act on them later. If I’m sitting at my desk, Obsidian is already always open and I can just use the ⌘+. shortcut I have assigned to my “Add to Daily Note” action to append whatever I want to write down with a timestamp. But what about when I’m not at my desk?

As fast as Obsidian has gotten on iOS, it could never complete with the quick-acting, always ready-to-go blank sheet of Drafts. Drafts lets me put a widget right on my iPhone’s lockscreen to add new notes as soon as I think of them, and I have a Drafts Action configured to append any notes I want to send to Obsidian to the bottom of the corresponding Daily Notes Page, also prepended with a timestamp from the moment I created the draft. The best part about this is that I don’t have to process the note in Drafts immediately. The Drafts Action I have configured draws from the metadata of the Draft note itself, so if I forget to file something for a day (or a week,) it still goes to the right daily note with the right time. I also have it set up to include a link back to the Draft, in case I want to see additional metadata, like where I was when I created the note.

Daily Notes Page from 2023-11-15

The end result looks and acts a lot simpler than all of the setup, and although I have tweaked it somewhat over time, this current configuration has been serving my needs pretty well for the past four months. One of the temptations with Obsidian is endless tweaking, a problem most users in the forum can readily attest to having to combat, but I wanted my Daily Notes Page to be as simple and future-proof as possible.

Currently, I use the Homepage plugin to open a nearly-blank static 📝 Scratchpad note on each of my devices so I can do quick text entry like when I’m using Drafts. I include an embedded Canvas of my larger dashboard-style homepage so I can get to it just as easily, but I’ve found that it’s too busy to want to load from scratch every time. In fact, to do so on my iPhone crashes it every time.

Scratchpad

This setup and workflow gives me opportunities for serendipitous discovery, as I am regularly encountering my past ideas as I transcribe and review them. When I have thoughts about something I read from a past entry, I’ll often insert a footnote with a link to the current date, and this opens up a sort of dialogue with my past selves’ thoughts on the matter.

As an example, on January 13th, I was transcribing my notes from November 13th of last year, about two months prior. Back then (and again in January,) I was trying to troubleshoot my workflow with writing and journaling, wracking my brains trying to figure out how I was still behind on the projects I wanted to do. Fortunately, I’m writing down three pages every day about my frustrations, hypotheses, and solutions, so I was able to track down a time when I had a good balance between journaling and production writing, sometime in May, 2021. Those notes were in the “Journal” section of November 13th, so I was able to follow the breadcrumbs all the way back to where I was doing it well from where I got off track.

2,676 Pages and Counting

As of this writing, I’ve been writing three pages every morning for eight hundred ninety-two days, and my Daily Notes pages average about 1,000–2,000 words per day I’ve transcribed. With all of the cross-references, I’m able to engage with my journaling in a way that’s simply impossible with a paper journal or any of the other journaling apps I’ve tried, because Obsidian facilitates serendipitous encounters between adjacent thoughts.

Next week, I’ll have a shorter entry in this series about how I use Obsidian for managing my story ideas and principal drafting in Obsidian with the use of the Spaced Repetition and Longform plugins.

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