An Interview With Writer Halsted M. Bernard on Her Work, Using WorkFlowy for Fiction and Writing a Novel in a Month

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In today’s interview I pick the brains of one of my favorite bloggers, Halsted M. Bernard. You can find and follow her blog at cygnoir.net. Originally from Northwestern Pennsylvania and currently living in Edinburgh, Scotland, Halsted is heading back stateside in January – where she’ll be getting her bearings in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her fiction publications are listed here.

FRANK: Here’s your twitter bio:

What would it take on WorkFlowy’s part for you to ditch your nicest of pens? Or is that a habit that’s here to stay?

HALSTED: Great question! Recently I have wrestled with this very issue, because I used Workflowy as a daily planner for a while. A couple of months ago I made the switch back to a paper-and-pen system because I missed using my nice pens. The tactile experience of ticking items off a to-do list is simply too compelling for me. However, I use Workflowy for plenty of other important things!

FRANK: This tweet of yours caught my eye:

Do you have any skeletons in your WorkFlowy closet? I mean, do any of your private thoughts make it in? Also, I’m curious as to where your wormhole would take you.

HALSTED: Workflowy is a creative space for me, but only for fiction. I don’t use it as a journal because I am too in love with fountain pens and creamy paper to give those up. However, I think Workflowy could serve very well as a journal, especially for those of us who make lists of events or feelings we want to remember. And my wormhole would take me to New York City in 1776. (I’m reading Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton right now.)

FRANK: Here’s how you describe your early writing days: “When I was four years old, I wrote a story about a giant rabbit with no eyes or mouth that haunted my dreams. The rabbit went away, but I kept writing.” Could you tell us about any piece of your work out there in the wild, and how you’d characterize your writing style?

HALSTED: As a writer at the beginning of my career, I’m not sure I can characterise my writing style; I’m still figuring it out. Most of what I write is slipstream fiction, sliding between fantasy and science fiction, and I’m starting to write some interactive fiction as well. Here’s a post about an interactive fiction piece I wrote. I write stories that make me uncomfortable in some way, that prod and pry at the edges of understanding. Memory and forgetfulness play a large part in my writing because I’m so fascinated by what we remember and why we forget. Here is an (audio) excerpt of a story I wrote called “Leftovers” about a chef who can flavour her dishes with her own memories.

FRANK: At this time of year there are a lot of writing apps that join in the NaNoWriMo buzz on social media. I’ve also seen you getting hyped about it. What, basically, is NaNoWriMo… and are you considering using WorkFlowy to get the job done?

HALSTED: NaNoWriMo is this bizarre, wonderful, horrible, inspiring, demoralising, joyous challenge to write a 50,000-word novel in the month of November. I found out about it over a decade ago and tried it. I failed spectacularly, only managing 1,329 words. I’ve tried it several times now but have never made it past 10,000 words. This year, though, I have a secret weapon: Workflowy. I admit to skipping ahead to the book-writing chapter in “Do Way, Way More in Workflowy” for exactly this reason. Recently I devised a Workflowy template to help me sort through some structural problems I am having with one of my stories. I’d like to share it with your readers in case anyone else finds it useful. Here’s the template – in a shared WorkFlowy list.

[Here’s a screenshot of just the collapsed (sibling) lists which Halsted has shared with us. It is an incredible resource (with additional references) that you absolutely have to take a look at. Go ahead and embed the list into your WorkFlowy document!]:

FRANK: Do you have any personal writing tips for those who are thinking about taking the plunge this year? Is it even possible to write 50,000 words in a month?

HALSTED: It is absolutely possible to write 50,000 words in a month. Someone I know wrote 50,000 words in a third of that time, although she does not recommend it and won’t be repeating that performance. The key to NaNoWriMo is quantity, not quality. I’m hoping that the breakneck pace will help to shut my inner editor up, as there is simply no time to worry about writing well. My only tip for NaNoWriMo is to write. Don’t listen to the voice in your head that says it is preposterous to attempt such a feat. It is preposterous, which is exactly why we should try. Writing should not be a safe enterprise.


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List Title Tags to Better Navigate WorkFlowy

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In a couple of days I’ll post the first of a series of interviews about WorkFlowy. I’ll be chatting to some notable WorkFlowy users who’ll be sharing how they squeeze what out of WorkFlowy. There are some interesting folk lined up – but at the end of the day, they’re just like you and I. We’re all about WorkFlowy.

Over the next weeks and months I’ll be rubbing shoulders with many more of you WorkFlowy fans. If you think you’ve got a unique WorkFlowy perspective or a story to tell, please drop me a line at frankman777@gmail.com

So as not to leave you empty-handed today, and since I’m the one writing this post, I guess I’ll have to go ahead and interview myself then:

FRANK 1: Hi Frank 2, thanks for allowing me to interview you.

FRANK 2: The pleasure is all mine. Hey… why do you get to be Frank 1?

FRANK 1: Moving on… I wanted to ask you – If there was any one dynamic that you could pull directly out of your book and shamelessly promote to all of us, what would it be? Would you mind if I shared it on the WorkFlowy blog?

FRANK 2: Sure. It’s definitely got to be what I call, “List Title Tags“. Although it’s not exactly a WorkFlowy breakthrough, without it, navigating my WorkFlowy document would be way slower:

List Title Tags – from A to B that much faster

At the time of writing I’ve been watching Star Trek: DS9. The space station, Deep Space Nine, is located near the mouth of a recently discovered Bajoran wormhole, which allows access to the distant Gamma Quadrant. This wormhole makes passage from the Alpha Quadrant to the Gamma Quadrant – a distance of 70,000 light years – almost instantaneous (whereas it would ordinarily take a Federation starship 67 years to go the distance). The Bajoran wormhole is the only known stable wormhole in the Milky Way Galaxy with a terminus (mouth) located in both quadrants.

This is a picture of what I call “List Title Tags”. I usually put a tag in a parent list “terminus” and another in a child list “terminus” buried a number of lists deep. This tag might either substitute the title of a list or add an “@” to a keyword in the list title to modify it. When one engages (clicks on) a tag in a parent list, it will connect you to a tag in a child list, no matter how deep in the hierarchy. Then one simply clicks on the bullet of the child list to zoom in. Just like the Bajoran wormhole, these tags are “stable” in the sense that I keep them as permanent “terminuses”.

Below you will see a portion of my task list for @TODAY, ordered by priority. By looking at the breadcrumb navigation bar at the top of the image, you’ll notice that it would have taken 4 clicks to get here by clicking on one list at a time starting from the home page:

Another instance of this tag is found on the home page – which actually substitutes the list title of my list where all my actionable items are tucked away. It represents one of the most frequently visited children lists therein:

When I click on the @TODAY tag (not the bullet point) on my home page, I get the following filtered search results:

You’ll see 3 @TODAY  List Title Tags which are 3 of the contexts/ lists I visit daily within this parent list:

  • My Kanban Calendar (for general task management)
  • My journal for “thinking about thinking”
  • A health log, containing a record of exercise routine, etc.

So it’s one click on my home page to get to the above search result… and from there, not only will it take just a second click to get to to my task list for today… but also I have a tailor-made menu to cherry-pick from.

I hope a light went on with this simplest of hacks. This focuses specifically on how tags help to navigate one’s established nested hierarchies of lists – the architecture you’ve set up for the broad categories: we know where our lists are, but we just want to get there effortlessly. These tags are permanent fixtures, until you decide to restructure things, that is.

FRANK 1: Ummm… OK. Thanks for that. I think that will be all for now.


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Frank And His WorkFlowy Book

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Frank, from productivitymashup.com, has written a 254 page book about WorkFlowy! How cool is that? The book, “Do Way, Way More in WorkFlowy“, is entertaining and crammed full of WorkFlowy tidbits. He describes using it with different productivity systems, extending it with external tools and a lot of stuff in between. As one of the creators of WorkFlowy, I found the book interesting, so you should be able to learn from it even if you’re an advanced user. Check it out.

After looking the book over I thought, “Wow, Frank is a prolific, entertaining writer and he seems to really enjoy WorkFlowy. Maybe I should see if he wants to write on the blog.” We talked, and lo and behold, Frank starts blogging in a few days. He’ll include some content from the book as well as original stuff. We shall see where it leads, hopefully up and to the right 🙂

Anyway, welcome Frank! Thanks for investing in WorkFlowy!

What We’re Work(Flowy)ing On

Hello WorkFlowians. This is your friend Jesse. We haven’t written anything on this blog in quiiite a while, so I’m gonna do that now. I’ll try to do it somewhat regularly, and perhaps share more of what we’re working on so you can see what is going on, know that there’s activity, give feedback along the way.

For starters, a short post about what I’m personally working on and our goals.

Today’s Immediate Goals

  1. I want to write a blog post, I feel I owe you all an update.
  2. I fixed an iOS9 bug yesterday and today I’m hoping to release that fix. In order to do so, I need to create a bunch of new launch images for the app because something got borked about those, and now the app won’t launch with the full height of the device.
  3. If I get that done (unlikely), I’m gonna move on to my current big picture project, which is improving our conversion rate from shared WorkFlowy documents, basically finishing up a first experiment on this stuff.

Short Term Goals

Our primary short term focus is increasing the effectiveness of our sharing flow. Sharing a WorkFlowy document constitutes the simplest way for people to spread the word about WorkFlowy, beyond saying “I love WorkFlowy” all the time to all their friends. (Which you should definitely, definitely do. We recommend screaming “I love WorkFlowy” at least three times a day. Especially if you work in an open office).

Regardless, we have never optimized this part of the product, which leaves a bunch of big opportunities.

We’re starting by focusing on the experience of someone new to WorkFlowy.  When Stewart, who has never seen WorkFlowy, receives a link from his co-worker Leshika, We want Stewart to feel welcomed, ushered in and taken care of. We want to show him around the place, make him feel at home. Hopefully Stewart loves the experience, sticks around and shares WorkFlowy with others.

Big Picture Goals

We want WorkFlowy to reach its potential. The product could be so much more amazing, and we just want it to get there. We’ve realized recently that our current trajectory won’t get us there, because development is just too slow and there’s too much to do. So we’ve been thinking hard, talking to people, and examining numbers to figure out a route forward. We’re close to the growth and revenue we’ll need to build a small but great team, and that’s what we’re plugging away on.

Okay, I’m gonna get to work now.