I’m not writing it down to remember it later, I’m writing it down to remember it now
Field Notes

I’ve tried many, many note-taking apps over the past decade1, but I keep coming back to basic text files. I've yet to find a note-taking app that does these things as exceptionally well as text files:

  1. Speed: Notes open instantly. Text editing itself is instant and predictable.
  2. Focus: There is only text. No distraction by images, embeds, backlinks, sidebars, organization, collaborators, etc. I just have to write.
  3. Reliability: The native filesystem just works. Offline support just works. Basic text editing, copy/paste, etc. just work.2 iCloud and Dropbox have gotten very good and (for the most part) sync across devices just works.
  4. Scripting: Automating things is easy and doesn’t require a web API, a server, or Zapier. I just write to a text file on my machine. Apple Shortcuts makes this even more trivial.

My text editing app of choice is iA Writer. The typography is gorgeous and the UI just gets out of the way. I love Focus Mode; it keeps the current sentence or paragraph vertically centered (like a typewriter) and dims the other text in the document. I store everything in iCloud, making it easy to work across desktop and mobile.

A screenshot of the iA Writer app on Mac.

I have a few tricks that make taking notes with iA Writer even faster:

  1. I create a new note for each day, saved at /Log/YYYY/MM/DD. I have a Shortcut (“Create”) scheduled to run every morning that does this automatically.
    Download the Create Shortcut
  2. I have a second Shortcut (“Open”) for opening that specific daily note. This is easy to do because the /Log/YYYY/MM/DD path is consistent every day.
    Download the Open Shortcut
  3. On desktop, I have the Open Shortcut favorited in Raycast. Getting to today’s note from anywhere is as fast as CMD + Space → Enter. (You can also add a hotkey to make it even quicker.)
  4. On mobile, I have the Open Shortcut saved to the homescreen, in my dock. Getting to today’s note is as fast as unlocking my phone and tapping the icon. (As a bonus, I used the iA Writer icon for the shortcut, so it looks just like the native app).

Sun, Nov 06, 2022 Update

The usability and functional changes in iA Writer 6 have been a perfect match for how I think and take notes. I don't use a daily note anymore, just heavily tag and wikilink in the top level iA Writer iCloud folder. However, I know this post has been useful to some, so I'll keep it up!

Thu, May 5, 2022

  1. Evernote, Google Docs, Quip, Apple Notes,  Paper (FiftyThree), Paper (Dropbox), Apple Notes, Bear, Notion, Reflect, Obsidian. There are likely more I’m forgetting.
  2. Writing in web-based mobile apps is still awful. Otherwise design-centric apps like Notion are rife with papercuts because of this; simple actions like highlighting text can feel like games of chance. The industry is collectively lazy about this and unwilling to make the investment in better mobile experiences, which is a shame.