Organising ideas and writing with MindNode and Ulysses

Professional and amateur writers have several tools and methods when working, and the idea that the content is more important than the tool is always valid. It is up to everyone finding the best workflow, and working on short texts such as blogs, minor essays, I’ve found that having a structure ahead of the content can help when developing.

Mind mapping

One of the many tools used for connecting ideas, developing project requirements and GTD (getting things done) list is mind mapping. They are similar to paper and white boarding and post-it likes but with the advantage of being able to quickly move ideas around, erase, insert, annotate, export and share.

I am describing a flow using MindNode for macOS and iOS because files can be stored in iCloud and I can switch from my desktop to iPad and iPhone and draw everywhere (and it is beautiful), however there are numerous tools around similar, for Windows and online for use directly within web browsers. The topic is extensive, mind mapping can do a lot and I recommend checking out tools and ideas. And again, the best tool fits your workflow and blends in!

Using MindNode you can describe ideas in topics, sub-topics to several levels, design lists and annotate general idea of the text you are going to write.

I made a very simple example with an introduction node, few topics and sub-topics. The annotation to the right helps remembering ideas you want to develop later.

Once you are done at least with main structure of the text topics, you can export it using the markdown format. On macOS, save it to a file first that you can open or drag into Ulysses later. When using iOS, use the share sheet to select export to markdown format followed by the send to app and copy to Ulysses.

Writing into Ulysses

Ulysses is another writing tool that helps in organising writing in sheets that can be moved around, grouped together, and exported to several formats such as PDF, HTML, ePub and Word. Just like MindNode, it is very versatile, works with iCloud and both macOS and iOS, so you can seamlessly write in all those platforms. Ulysses uses Markup-based editor, which means, it gets out of the way when writing so you don’t waste time and be distracted by fonts, colours, rules and tons of features. It is still very powerful but because you don’t see and need to use all features right away. Just check it out some demo videos on their web site.

Back to simple writing, once you have Ulysses opened into a group you want to use, just drag the .md file from MindNode into it and you should get something similar to this.

Once you are editing the sheet, you can see main idea name from MindNode is added as header level 1 with a ‘#’ followed by the topics as second level ones and “##”. Any annotation on a node will appear as simple text below the topic where you can develop the ideas.

The last node level is added in Ulysses as an unordered list because that’s how MindNode exports to Markdown, so subtopic 3.1 and 3.2 are lists. However, you can fix this manually or make a hierarchical list in MindNode to all levels needed to overcome this before exporting. Simply, just add a 3.1.0 sub-topic and both 3.1 and 3.2 should be as third level headers added as “###” in Ulysses.

Now with main ideas ready you can start developing them within Ulysses, move between platforms at any time and iCloud synch should take of it most of the time. Ulysses has some statistics over the written material and an idea of time needed to read it. So those are useful for the ones with goals set.

You can add few elements such as pictures, annotations, footnotes and get it more complex depending on the type of document.

Exporting your work

Once it is completed there are several ways to follow, having a Word document produced, maybe for layout changes, pictures and others. You can use text export as simple text, markup, PDF and HTML and ePub.

You can publish online to regular WordPress web site, selecting one of your accounts, into a custom WordPress site if you host one and into Medium platform if you integrated Ulysses with it.

This text was written in Ulysses and published both into Medium and WordPress as an example. Hope it helps with writing ideas and mostly with the content instead with the tool set behind!

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