The Archive, iA Writer and Zettelkasten 🇩🇪

The final link in my note-taking chain

In a recent article I compared iA Writer (iA) with Ulysses. It was a fair comparison, given that plain text is at the heart of both apps. I came out in strongly favour of Ulysses, but since then I’ve found a use for iA that’s perfect for me.

I recently started building a Zettelkasten. There are almost as many apps for Zettelkasten as there are misconceptions about what one is, how to create one, or, indeed, “note-taking”. A lot of people use Obsidian for their Zettelkasten, but I didn’t get along with this app: it just seemed too complicated, with lots of bells and whistles for something that’s actually very simple: gathering knowledge and making connections. Instead, I opted for The Archive.

The Archive, based on nvAlt, is a much more simple concept than Obsidian. It’s important to keep things simple. Complexity can be confusing and cost time. Looking for new ways of doing things, often more complex ways, can be as costly as not doing the work at all. We often look for something new and shiny when what we already have is all we need. With The Archive, there are no folders or fancy clouds linking ideas. It’s just you and your plain text notes.

I love The Archive’s purity. Its simplicity enables the user to see more clearly and make connections more easily. As well as making connection and linking notes, two other important aspects of building a Zettelkasten are rewriting any notes you make in your own words, and regularly reviewing and building upon those notes. This is where iA comes in.

Unlike Obsidian, The Archive has no iOS companion app. This is understandable, as I suspect The Archive is a passion project for the developers rather than a day job. I recognised that it would be useful to be able to access and review my notes when not at my desk. As I looked for a way to do this, I remembered that iA Writer offers the ability to add external folders to its library – perfect for accessing Zettelkasten notes in plain text.

As a result, I added The Archive’s Notes folder in iCloud to my iA Writer library. I can now sit on the sofa in the evening and review and rewrite my Zettelkasten notes at leisure. There are other apps out there that would allow me to access my plain text files in this way, but I’m pleased to have found a use for iA Writer, because I do have a soft spot for this app.

The point of this post is to highlight that a well designed app can usually find a place in your workflow. It just might not be quite where you expect it.

You can read my Ulysses vs iA Writer article here.


I’m a novelist and scriptwriter, Royal Literary Fund Writing Fellow and Advisory Fellow, workshop lead and creative coach. Click here to get the lowdown on updates, insight into projects, and a look behind the scenes on creative stuff. You can also follow TFW on Twitter, or like the Facebook page.

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