Card-Based Writing in Obsidian Using Kanban
Seems like it will work, although there are a few limitations, none showstoppers.
I read a few discussions on the possibility of card-based writing — like index cards on corkboards, or Scrivener — using the Kanban plugin on Obsidian. So I gave it a look. And I think it will work for people generally, so long as they already understand how the Kanban plugin works, and they want to try card-based writing.
Maybe I’m an edge case
In my most common use case, I am not always going to be typing new text into Kanban cards as a starting point of moving sections of an eventual article around. Most likely, I have already copied text from elsewhere, like from a piece in Harvard Business Review or someone’s blog, and what I want to do is to link to that existing text as the content of the card. But occasionally I might just enter text directly into a card.
The main reason to consider using the Kanban plugin is that the cards can be dragged and dropped to manually reorder them. So a writer can start with a collection of text fragments, and turn it into the great American blog post.
Keep the end in mind
Eventually, I want to have all the parts of the article in the order desired, which will be exported to an external print medium, such as Substack, or a Google Doc.
So, in one common use case, I might want to pull together the elements of a Work Futures newsletter issue. I generally follow a consistent format with a Quote of the Moment (although in this mockup I used the term 'quote of the day'), then three sections: '1', '2', '3'. Section '1' is a single lead story, '2' has two shorter snippets, '3' holds three very short bits.
This is how I would go about using Kanban cards as a workboard for this:
I create a folder for the writing project, named after the planned title of the post.
I create a kanban file in the folder, here called 'kanban'. In the future, I will call this 'kanban workboard'.
In general, the user would create Kanban lists and cards that line up with the sort of writing project involved. In this particular use case, I named the lists 'quote of the day', '1', '2', '3'.
In some cases, like the quote here, I might be copying the quote from outside Obsidian. My personal archive of quotes is on Tumblr. So I might pick one, and paste it directly into a card. (But since there may be a long-range benefit to having an Obsidian archive of quotes, I will create a local file 'quote' and then transclude (wikilinks) it into a card in the kanban board.)
The other elements of a Work Futures newsletter post are drawn from texts scattered across my Daily Notes. I search for Work Futures-related tasks that are candidates for adding to the newsletter.1
When I find something to add to the newsletter, I often want to add commentary, so I might export the original material to a new note, which a/ leaves behind a link from the daily note to the new text, and b/ then I make comments. Then I return to the kanban workboard, and transclude the new file into a kanban card. For long texts I would select the initial paragraph in a transclusion like
![[Sull and Sull - Great Resignation#^15f708]]].
I can use the drag and drop features of the Kanban plugin to reorder cards in a list or move from one list to another, for example.
A kanban workboard can be manipulated and viewed as either a kanban workboard or as a general markdown file, so I can also edit the markdown file:
I can always click through to the source texts if I need to correct an error or follow a link.
Ultimately, as I said, I publish my writing through other media. So, the last step is to view the kanban in markdown reading mode, and copy the full text. Note that all transclusions are fully pulled into the reading mode of the kanban. In the Work Futures case, I paste the text into Substack, remove Obsidian task markers, and fiddle around to make the editing work there, such as adding 'please subscribe' buttons.
Here are a few limitations I encountered:
Obsidian won't render a transclusion through a transclusion. So for example, if one of the three bits in the '3' file was a transclusion to a story in another file, like something in a Daily Note (say ![[2022-03-05#^21a01c]]) that would resolve in the '3' file, but not in the "kanban' file. It's limited to one level. But as a general rule, I would likely want to work at a single level, anyway, where every kanban card represents a single fragment. (If I needed more structure for a larger work, like a book, I would use folders to manage different groups of texts.)
Likewise, kanban boards don't nest in a useful way. Kanban seems unaware that a file transcluded into context is another Kanban, so you can't manage cards that way.
A note in passing: Writing a text like this post is not the sort of thing I would do via Kanban cards. It's more of an expanded outline, and native Obsidian is a better form factor for that.
My sense is, though, now that I have a workflow worked out, I will try this approach for building my newsletter issues and other long-form writing
Such a search relies on Taskidian attributes on tasks, with a search like this:
```line:("[ø:: " "øø work futures")```
I mentioned Taskidian in How I Use Daily Notes In Obsidian [Wonkish], and I plan a longer write-up soon [Update 2022-03-14: see Taskidian: A Task System and Project Management Approach for Obsidian].