Brian Bailey Preface to the Revised Edition

A Weekend in Fargo

There are a plethora of writing tools. Smart, creative people regularly introduce a fresh approach to the craft of composing sentences. Editorially, iA Writer, Medium, Svbtle, and Draft each innovate on what has come before. As someone who spends a great deal of time stringing words together, I’m enormously appreciative of (and curious about) these efforts.

There isn’t as much focus on the idea stage of writing. How do you keep track of the topics you want to write about? Where do you play with six different titles for your essay? How do you collect sources and quotes? Most of my writing is more straightforward, but a recent project forced me to expand my toolkit and rediscover the power of the outline.

I love working in outliners like OmniOutliner, Tinderbox, and WorkFlowly, but mostly for organizing lists and tasks, planning features and writing product specs. Dave Winer, who has spent most of his professional life working with or on outliners, recently started a new company that is building them for the browser, first Little Outliner and now, the more powerful Fargo.

I have become quite enamored with Fargo over the past few weeks. Working with software that has decades of experience and knowledge behind it is a pleasure. It’s a joy to use and rapidly evolving. In the past week, Fargo has gained support for Markdown and posting to WordPress. What’s particularly powerful is that as new capabilities are added to the software, the community is able to influence the form and direction they take. The potential of most apps and services these days is scale, what might happen with thousands and millions of users. Fargo’s potential lies largely in the creativity of its users.

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For my lastest writing project, I decided to use Fargo as the foundation (the above is a screenshot of a hypothetical article-in-progress). Using an outliner at the formative stages provides the greatest benefit. I can quickly add ideas and notes and reorganize them hours later, as patterns begin to form.

When I find relevant content online, I add the title and then the link, reflected by the bookmark icon. I paste quotes under that heading.

Where outliners shine is the ability to expand and collapse sections at will. I can collect lengthy quotes from a piece and then collapse that section to focus on other parts of the project. I find it very easy to get lost in a long document or collection of ideas; with an outliner, I work on one idea at a time.

Outliners have served me well in many areas and are now an essential part of my writing flow. It’s much easier to think flexibly when the tool is so flexible. If you haven’t tried one, Fargo makes it easy; it’s free, runs in your browser, and uses Dropbox for storage.