Cartoon Gravity 10 - What to do with ideas.

Walling, MyMind and Napkin.

Cartoon Gravity 10 - What to do with ideas.
Photo by Johannes Plenio / Unsplash

Today, we need to talk about ideas. Specifically, what to do with them when you have them.

Earlier in the week, I mentioned that I was getting back into Evernote. That was true for about a day. At that time, I was looking for an app that would take in everything from notes to link, images to documents. The idea was that I would be able to build a notebook for each project I'm working on and that these notebooks would sync seamlessly to whatever device I happened to have with me, so that wherever I was I would have access to all my notes, research and ideas. That doesn't seem like too much to ask, does it? You'd be surprised.

Evernote did seem like a good solution. And in many ways it is. I don't mind the interface, though I don't love it. The web clipper is good (so long as you set it up right) and the syncing works, although it can be painfully slow.

The problem I've always had historically with Evernote is that it uses a proprietary file format that locks you into the Evernote environment and makes moving your stuff anywhere else incredibly painful. I decided that was a price I was prepared to pay for access to my notes and research wherever I was.

What it turned out I was not willing to do was to go through the pain of actually inputting any data into Evernote. The web clipper is fine, and regular text notes are sort of OK, although Evernote insists on opening a new note into the body test, rather than the heading, so you have to work backwards. That's certainly a good idea sometimes, and I'm sure they thought about this choice, but it's not how I work and there doesn't seem to be any way to change it.

On a whim, I fired up an app that I had looked at a few weeks back but not done anything with. Walling is a much newer notes app that has delusions of being a project manager. I'd looked at it for the latter, and it isn't great, so I had shelved it. But actually, opening it again, it turns out to be an amazing notes app. The idea is that each project is a wall and each note is a brick. In practice, this means that you get a nice visual overview of all your information. There's a web clipper that isn't as well-stocked as Evernote's, but that doesn't matter because it does everything you're likely to want it to do. And anyway, you can copy a link and just paste it straight into Walling and it will create a brick for you. That simple copy/past solution seems to have evaded the Evernote people.

Walling comes with a feature called the Daily Desk, which is essentially an inbox which you can dump stuff into and sort through it later.

Links open in a browser on the desktop, not natively like Evernote, which means it doesn't work well offline. But the mobile apps are nice and slick.

The whole process of using Walling is relaxed, creative, rewarding and solid. I'm not going to bang on about it, but the demo here gives a good account of itself:

So that, for the moment, is project material taken care of. But what if you don't have a project? What if you've stumbled upon something online that you want to hang onto, or have had an idea that you don't know what to do with? Let me (re)introduce you to two apps that have changed my creative life over the past few months...

If I come across something online; a link, an image, a quote, whatever, that I think could be useful or interesting but I don't have a specific use for yet, I save it to MyMind. I've mentioned this app before, but it just goes from strength to strength, and I have found myself using it constantly. Everything that can be collected (including plain text notes and reminders etc) gets thrown into here. There's no hierarchy or folders or anything like that. You just drop stuff in and forget about it. MyMind doesn't forget it, however, the app looks at what you've given it and it tags it and figures out what it is. That includes, magically, recognising the content of images. So now, if I suddenly have the urge to look at paintings of chairs, I type "paintings" and "chairs" and (surprisingly) it turns out I do have some, and MyMind has found them. Instantly.

Likewise, if you click on one of the tags attached to a note in MyMind, it will show you a bunch of things with related tags, thus allowing a little serendipity into your life. Searching in MyMind is not just confined to types of things. You can ask it to show you what you save yesterday or last week and it does that ridiculously fast too.

The Clear My Mind function throws up ten random notes and asks you to either keep or delete them one by one. It's a great way to keep the place tidy and to be reminded of things you'd forgotten you'd saved.

MyMind has a desktop app that I use all day and an iPhone app that has become indispensable. I also love that MyMind is intensely private. It is possible (and easy) to get links and files out of there to share with people, but it's not how the app is set up; it is specifically anti-social - these are your ideas, the intention is that they stay private.

What I don't use MyMind for is original ideas. Because Napkin exists...

Napkin is ridiculous. It works best from within a Chromium browser (like Arc, which is AMAZING. RIP Safari), but I hope the team are working on functioning desktop and mobile apps a we speak (there is an input app for iPhone called Napkin Collect, which is a godsend).

Napkin seems like a cousin of MyMind, but for plain text notes. Here's how it works: you have an idea, you type it out and throw it into Napkin. Napkin examines it, tags it with keywords that it thinks are relevant and then stores it. You keep doing that until, miraculously, you click on one of those ideas and suddenly the screen floods with other ideas that you have put in that you didn't necessarily think were relevant but somehow are. This is the kind of stuff that stories are born from; the unconscious association of ideas.

When you're ready to do something with all these ideas, Napkin provides Stacks, which is a place to order all relevant notes for a specific project. You can annotate them, add to them, and write text in that inks the thoughts together. From there, you're one click away from outputting all the selected and ordered notes as a single text file.

I can't show you a screenshot of Napkin in action without giving away Lovecraft Investigations or Aldrich Kemp spoilers right now, but I strongly urge you to try it for yourself. The Napkin team have recently added a Readwise integration which I've been trying out and which adds a whole new dimension to the experience.

Having an idea is great, being able to store it and recall it, ideally with the element of serendipity, is even better. If there was any justice in this shitty world, Walling, MyMind and Napkin would each be bigger than Facebook.

Here endeth the lesson.