Obsidian Editor - a Hot Mess?

Before I discovered Obsidian, I was using iA Writer to manage my markdown notes. I became an expert in the keyboard shortcuts. I use Cmd-1 through 6 to create headings in my markdown files all day long. iA Writer has keyboard shortcuts for every possible markdown item you want to add (list, ordered list, code, etc). As far as I can tell Obsidian only has a handful of keyboard shortcuts, bold, italic, link, but nothing for headings, lists, etc. If you forget a keyboard shortcut, you can look in the menu (on a Mac) to find it or hold the Cmd key down on the iPad. Obsidian does not support either of these methods. In fact the menu has next to nothing in it.

Even worse than this lack of keyboard support, I find the editor is bad at handling a well structured Markdown file. It will get confused at the different heading levels and a Heading 1 will be smaller than a Heading 3 in the same file.

Although I love the way you can link and manage files in Obsidian, I find the bare-bones, barely usable Markdown editor and viewer as baffling in an app whose primary purpose is to manage your Markdown files. Am I the only one that feels this way?


I’m not so much concerned about the shortcuts – this short of thing is always about personalization. Obsidian provides a lot options to set hotkeys / shortcuts – too many options perhaps. And one can always use 3rd party apps (TextExpander, Typinator, etc.) to fill in the gaps

For me, the “hot mess” is in the handling of appearance. There are too many ways to manage appearance: Appearance Options, Themes, Snippets, and plugins like Style Settings, just to mention a few. In the right hands, this is all wonderful – but I suspect there are only 5 or 6 users in the world who have the right hands. I use the Minimal theme, and adjusted the colors, heading sizes, and fonts using my own Snippet. The other day I made the mistake of activating the Minimal Theme Settings plugin, which, without making any changes to the settings, trashed my appearance settings. I cannot find any way to get back to what I wanted. Even uninstalling Obsidian and re-creating all the plugin and theme settings does not overcome whatever hidden style settings that plugin installed somewhere.

Yes, this is all entirely self-inflicted and unimportant in the scheme of things. I’m not suggesting that Obsidian needs to save us from ourselves (though that would be nice sometimes), but the whole platform for appearance management needs to revised to be more straightforward and obvious.

Nevertheless, I agree with @jcarucci that despite it all, it’s a good platform in general and worth the time. Plus by now, I have a deep investment in the structures and data I’ve created and have no better place to migrate to.

(I would never post this complaint on the Obsidian Discourse forum – I’ve learned from experience that the mods there will either say “not a problem” or delete the post. It’s a bit of a hostile forum, these days. It’s not really possible to address the devs anymore except exchanging techie tidbits in the Discord forum. Probably because there are two of them and thousands of customers, they’ve understandably put a mod-wall around themselves. Unfortunately, hot success can kill an app.)


Having tried Obsidian off and on for months through its iterations (and donating), I came to the conclusion it’s more trouble than it’s worth and I’m better off using a small collection of dedicated apps to manage my research and writing. I came unstuck when one plug-in interfered with another - a problem to be expected when much of the functionality is coming from non-commercial third parties; a number of plugins are already abandoned.

It is a truly amazing tool for some people, but I suspect that number is not as large as I first thought. Many of those in the Discord group seem to be working on it nearly full time. I decided in the end I was spending more time setting it up than actually working with it!


The Shortcuts extender plugin can help with that:


I actually think the Obsidian editor is quite good at handling Markdown. Heading levels work correctly with the theme I’m using. I can see how the keyboard shortcuts could be an issue but the main thing I use in my markdown files is bulleted lists and bold, so hitting the # key 1-3 times for headings isn’t too big of an issue. I would hardly call the editor “barely usable” (not saying your opinion is wrong, just sharing my experiences with it).

Also, you can still use the functionality of Obsidian without the editor, since all the markdown files are saved to disk. So theoretically you could edit notes with iA and manage them in Obsidian. I do this sometimes with vim.

Looking through the settings, I think you’re probably right, but I’ve been lucky enough to have a set-it-and-forget-it experience with my theme (Red Graphite).

I don’t use any community plugins with Obsidian. Maybe this is why my experience has been so smooth. Personally, I haven’t found a community plugin that felt necessary or even interesting enough for me to try out. I don’t interact with any Obsidian communities, which I think is for the better, as I’m not influenced by the people out there whose Obsidian setups do a million and one things and require constant maintenance. The result is my Obsidian setup is simple, required almost no configuration, requires almost no maintenance, and is still pretty good at what I need it to do.


This is key. I don’t use obsidian for most of my notes. But it’s great for some things.

I use community plugins but I avoid ones that go too far beyond displaying markdown differently. So the Kanban plug-in is great for my purposes — it provides a great drag-and-drop Trello-like interface that you can also use for keeping track of projects, but each Kanban still runs off a single standard markdown note.

Data view, however tempting for the cool things it can do, is not — those cool things are essentially not portable, and using them would probably make notes unusable in other apps.


This is often what I do. I mostly use iA Writer to edit the notes and use Obsidian to link and organize and find connections. But since iA Writer doesn’t support linking, there are times I want to add a link and will have to switch over to Obsidian to add it. Not a big deal, but not ideal either.

I’ve been using Obsidian for a while and donated and subscribed, but it’s losing momentum in my workflow. It irks me that all new files are always in the root; there’s ways round it but that requires more set up. It also irks me on ios that the explorer easily drifts left and right. I also don’t like the lack of native integration and keyboard shortcuts out of the box.

At the start of this year I dusted off my Emacs installation and upgraded to Doom. As much as markdown is ubiquitous it’s never worked for me in a work environment because of poor exporting. Business reports that need headers footers and logos are a disaster. Even in marked2 the pagination has issues. Orgmode in Emacs does all this. Admittedly a high learning curve but robust.

In the end I’m realising I want obsidian to do what emacs orgmode does and it’s nowhere near. The only thing obsidian has going for it for me is its ios app, but Beorg on ios has come a long way and is quite useable.

Even with the linking, apart from the fact that orgmode does this easily, the search showing every line in every doc with your search criteria almost makes it obsolescent.

It’s all making me wonder if obsidian will be in my workflow at the start of 2023.


It seems all editors are striving to achieve what Emacs and org-mode have been doing since 2003. Albeit with a less-steep learning curve.


Vim supremacy :rofl:

(20 chars)


There are lots of things you can crete shortcust for in Obsidian. What they did notdo is deficne a standard set and force it on the users. Instead you do have to into settings and set them up but that is I think a realistic tradeoff given the Electon nature of the app and need to remain system agnostic.

Well I certainly don’t find it that much of a problem. I’m just barely functional in Markdown anyway so I am blissfully unaware of Obsidian’s limitiations since I’ve never used anything else for Markdown since I’ve never had to use Markdown before.

I would agree that getting a theme that works is a trial. I was fortunate to be really close with a standard theme and got help to make the changes I needed.

It’s one preference in the setting and then all new files go wherever you set that to. Or at least that’s how I remember setting it up. I haven’t had a file end up in the root unless I put it there.


Yes you are correct, thank you! However you cannot select a folder and create a new file in that folder. You have to select a file in that folder. There is no way to add a file to an empty folder except by creating it elsewhere and moving it.

You can right-click on the folder and choose to create a note. Then, the note is created in that folder.

Note in folder


Confirming @Rob_Polding’s report – just right click a folder and add a file to it. Something not even possible in Finder without installing third-party software.


I think Obsidian promotes a different way of thinking about notes and creating notes. It’s modus operandi is to first get out of your way. For example, lets say I’m studying architecture:

Richard Rogers was known for his “inside out” buildings which were both [[modernist]] and [[functionalist]] in design.

In the moment of typing that note, I realized that modernist and functionalist were topics that I would want to expand on further, so surrounded them in [[]]. I decide to research modernist For a while, so shift+command-click it to open a new note and go about doing my research. Maybe now I want to do the same for functionalist. In the process, I go back and add some content to the Richard Rogers note, then create a brutalist note and relate it to the notes I’ve just created.

In this scenario, the only friction that Obsidian has imposed is typing [[]] around some words, and using shift+command-click. There is minimal disruption to our flow of thoughts. That’s what Obsidian and its ilk do well.

Compare this to a folder-centric notes apps, where one would have to create an Architecture folder, then in the process of writing the R.R. note, stop and decide whether modernist should be a note, or a folder. If a folder, what should the first note be called? Link whatever you just made back to the RR note, then do that same for functionalist - note or folder? Folder with a first note? Link it back to RR. Now you’re totally in the “computer management” mindset, and perhaps won’t even think about the relationship to brutalist architecture because at this point you just want a snack and a nap.

Perhaps later when you’re in a “computer management” mode of thinking, you decide to put some notes into folders, so you create an Architecture folder and move these related notes there. You know you don’t have to worry about breaking links because Obsidian isn’t impeded by folders, and doesn’t rely on file structure to find notes. In your next note-taking session (back in the root) you create a Musée d’Orsay note, mentioning that it is in [[Paris]] and see that RR built buildings in Paris. Maybe a vacation to Paris is in order, or research on the influence of Parisian culture on architecture.

That’s how I see Obsidian.


That’s a good way to think of it. Focus on the content and not the organization. I myself go back and forth on how much to use folders.

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Vim?! When I’m in the terminal, I just use vi. Saves me a letter every time…


33% more efficient!


As @Rob_Polding says, right click on the folder name and create the file there.

But your comment suggests to me that you are trying to shoehorn Obsidian into a finde/folder centric system. I too am very folder focused,I rarely if ever use search to find anything because I know where it goes. I’va got folders in Obsidian but not that many. I am creating virtual folders by creating notes that are links to files that I would normally have put together in a folder. Best thing is I can then crosslink in ofhter “folders” aka MOC notes so no matter how I look for things I can find them. As I use my Obsidian system if I look for something and can’t find it the first place I look I make sure to put a link to that note there when I do locate the file and get its name.

As I’m doing my DT extraction process I’m finding a fair number of duplicates in DT and lots more in Finder that I can eliminate byt crosslinking the references via Obsidian notes.

@JohnAtl workflow described above is typical of how I am workign with my notes.

So far the only glitch I am having is of my own making. Because my husband runs on Linux machines and because he may have a need toget access to my Obsidian vault on his machine he has requested that as I reorganize my machine and the files in them that all filenames have no spaces and comply with Unix naming conventions. I was already moving that way so that’s not a big hardship. It does make it harder for Obsidian to locate potentially related links. I am starting to use the alias function to hande that so I can have my long no filespaces name for the note and then a shorter alias that is mre readily linked into the body of notes.

I am also really looking forward to the potential for shared vaults that has been alluded to as an expansion for Obsidian coming, hopefully, sometime this year. I might even get him to test out Obsidian for his own notes and stuff.

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I’ll add a couple of tweaks to this.

If someone wants to put the file in a specific folder, then use


If there is a folder (at the root) named Movements then a note named modernist will be added there when you ⇧⌘-click that the bracketed string. If there is no folder named Movements then it will be created and the note modernist added to that new folder as a child.

If you do not like the way this looks in your document then type


with the pipe (vertical bar) symbol before the string (the second 'modernist`) that you want to appear in the document.

Another example


Will create the modernist note in the Movements folder, and the text link will look like neo-modernist

All this without interrupting your flow of thought while working on the note with the focus.