Effie is a unique writing tool that combines a minimalist text-based interface that’s suitable for everything from jotting down an idea to writing a book with a mind mapping tool that enables you to view your thoughts and ideas in a different context.
I recently had the opportunity to interview Nate Lee, the product manager and CEO of Effie, to learn more about the thinking behind it, how it streamlines idea capture, nurturing and writing and what makes it truly unique.
What inspired you to create Effie?
As a content creator and a writer myself, I write a lot. So I know what writers might or might not need while writing.
I’ve been using many writing software in the past, but none of them works in a way that best fits my need as a writer, either because:
- They are not as distraction-free as they say – too many icons, colors and features onscreen
- So many things to learn before writing – time consuming
- They don’t support mind map – frequent switch between a writing software and a mind mapping software can be really frustrating
- Many require to start headings first – why not ideas first, heading later
- They don’t work on all devices and platforms
- They’re web-based tools – what if I have no access to network or
- There are limits on exporting files – too risky if a company stops providing service one day
And that’s why Effie was born. It not only solves all the above-mentioned problems, it also works better in many other ways.
What problems does Effie solve for writers that previous mind mapping or writing tools didn’t?
It helps you stay focused: We’re doing everything we can to minimize distractions within the software. Effie is as clean as a piece of white paper. In fact, Effie might be the only writing software so far that has no extra button in the editor. It’s as easy to use as a memo except Effie is more powerful. So if you can use memo, you can definitely use Effie. No learning curve whatsoever.
It keeps your inspiration: Friction kills ideas. So what Effie does is to reduce any possible friction to keep you in the writing zone. In Effie, you don’t need to start headings or create folders before writing because you don’t need these to define what you’ll write. All you need to do is to jot down your ideas when they occur and see if you can build something out of it. You can insert lists and mind maps at different stages of writing as you like, whenever you run out of ideas, hit writing blocks, clear up your thoughts, etc.
It offers flexible exporting: We understand that many people probably keep their works in multiple apps, so an easy way to import and export files can be a big time saver. In Effie, you can export your sheets into a host of standard formats: JPEG, PDF, DOCX, Markdown, and EffieSheet, so you can backup your important files or switch to another provider anytime.
Who is your ideal user for Effie? What types of people can benefit the most from it?
Effie is designed mainly for three types of writers:
Those who value thoughts: They won’t stop at gathering and organizing information, building a knowledge base, creating tags and all. Instead, they think and write. They care about their thoughts over anything else, and they prefer to turn their ideas into words in the most plain and effective way.
Those who have specific requirements for their writing environment: Effie is designed with aesthetics in mind because we believe a great writing environment can largely improve one’s writing in so many ways. You get to enjoy writing more. You can write more productively. And you’ll come up with new ideas.
Those who write with logic: Effie offers lists and mind maps to help them think in a more logical and organized way, to make sure they stick to their central topics, and eventually to write with logic.
What are the unique needs of today’s digital content creators that Effie is designed to address?
In today’s information age, we never lack a way to get information. Most information can be easily accessed. What we lack is a way to identify what truly matters.
Our brain has a built-in limit on the things we can focus at a time. And that’s why multi-tasking doesn’t work. When we constantly switch from one thing to another, we’re more likely to make mistakes and therefore, a decrease in efficiency.
So we think it’s quite important to create such an environment where everyone can focus on one thing at a time, in this case, they can think and write without distraction. For example, once they open Effie, they can start jotting down their thoughts. There’s no unnecessary button in the editor, they can stay 100% focused on writing. The left sidebar fades out as they write. Again to reduce distractions and help them get more things done.
What is unique about Effie compared to other mind mapping tools?
Compared to other mind mapping tools, creating mind maps is not our main focus, but rather an effective method we can offer to writers. That said, Effie is not a mind mapping tool, but a writing tool.
The reason we think it’s great to build in the mind map feature is that we do think mind map is quite powerful in helping writers think and write better.
With mind maps, writers can organize their thoughts, discern more possibilities and see both the forest and the trees.
How does it help to streamline the writing process?
Jot down your ideas: Say you have an idea, and you can keep it down in Effie without starting a heading. I like to have all my random ideas kept in a folder called “Random Thoughts”. I wouldn’t care much about the grammatical or spelling mistakes. I’ll just keep them as original as possible.
Grow your ideas: As you keep adding more, an important step is to look back on what’s been written from time to time. Here’s what’s more you can do, you can build something new on it.
Don’t know what to build? Try making a list or a mind map. Soon enough, your ideas would grow from 0 to 10 and even more.
Share your ideas: Again, don’t stop there either. It’s always nice to have a second opinion. So don’t be shy to share your works with others. In Effie, you can easily export your work to many standard formats. You can also publish your work to Mindhub or WordPress from within the software with just a few clicks.
We believe everyone is a creative person by nature. Some fail to see themselves this way because they are too often restricted by rules when writing, such as: You need to have a title for your story. You need to create an outline before you write. You need to write from A to Z, and you need to …
On second thought, do you really need to? What Effie does instead is to remove all these rules, step aside and let you write in a way you like.
For example, if you need to use markdown to keep your fingers on the keyboard, and a mind map to help you generate more ideas, these features are already there for you. But we prefer not to tell you which feature to use, what step to take, how to write in the first place.
Instead, we encourage you to use your own creativity to explore and build something on a plain sheet. And that’s when you can truly think beyond boundaries.
How can Effie help writers with note-taking? Why use it instead of a dedicated note-taking tool like Evernote, Notion or Obsidian?
I’d say Effie helps writers to write well instead of just taking notes. All these three software you’ve mentioned have done a great job at helping users take better notes, but they don’t help much with the later writing process.
Evernote might be more oriented towards *collecting information*, and Notion and Obsidian both have *rather long learning curves*, especially for beginners.
Effie, however, focuses more on how to bring out the best writing experiences for writers – to write immersively and productively.
How can Effie be used to capture research for writing projects?
We wrote a blog about How to Write with Zettelkasten(https://www.effie.pro/blog/write-with-zettelkasten/). For long-form writing, such as project-writing, essay-writing, Zettelkasten can be a great method to help you begin with.
You can create folders and sheets with specific purposes. Say, you need a folder to store all the resources you collect. And within the folder, you can further classify them into different sub-folders.
When you work on a project, it’s quite normal to hit writing blocks. The best thing about Zettelkasten is that it largely reduces your emotional burden.
Don’t know what to write in this card? No problem. Work on another one instead where you have more things to share.
You can create as many cards (or sheets) as you like in Effie. To make it easier, you don’t need to start a heading first.
As you write more, the next step is to split and combine your cards. You can do so in a way that best showcases your ideas. After that, you’ll have a almost-done project. You can either keep perfecting it in Effie or share with others for further suggestion.
How is Effie different than WriteMapper, another tool that supports both mind mapping and writing?
When you use WriteMapper, it begins with a mind map. So your work is basically built on the mind map you create in the first place.
But when you open Effie, you’ll get a blank sheet where you can express yourself in any of four forms: Plain words, lists, mind maps or images. You can choose either way you like to build something out of nothing.
How does Effie help its users to maintain a steady flow of new ideas?
When you run out of ideas, the lists and mind maps can come quite handy. It’s easier to jot down keywords than start writing right away.
Also, when you mind map, you’re more likely to come up with more ideas naturally as both of your brains work together.
We set no limits on creating new sheets and folders, no limits on mind mapping, and no limits on sharing as we want to make sure there will always be enough room for new ideas.
So jot down keywords whenever they occur, you’ll start to see meaningful connections, and eventually a well-written work.
What would you say to writers who say, “I don’t need to mind map. I outline my writing projects and that’s good enough for me.” What are they missing out on?
It’s important to have logic in your writing. And mind mapping helps you stay close to your main points with structures.
But it’s quite normal that we all have different writing habits. Some prefer outlining, some prefer mind mapping. So Effie provides both because **we have no intention to break users original writing habits**.
But for those who are interested in mind mapping but haven’t tried it yet, I’ll recommend Tony Buzan’s videos (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nMZCghZ1hB4) on how mind mapping helps to maximize the power of your brain for starters, and they’ll be amazed by the power of mind mapping.
What do you hear from Effie users? What are the biggest benefits they’re getting from using it?
From all the reviews we’ve received so far, most of them like Effie because:
- It’s clean and elegant. They can really quickly get in their writing zone.
- It’s easy to use. Many actually prefer it this way rather than getting overwhelmed by too many features.
- It supports listing and mind mapping. They can start a list or mind map at the beginning, in the middle or at the end of their works. They also like to save their mind maps for easier review and improvements.
- It syncs across devices and platforms. They can access their work with any devices. So when they have an idea, say on a bus, they can jot it down with their phones, and later write more with their laptops.
Yes, we do plan to improve the mind map feature in many ways, to make it more flexible and powerful to use. We agree that we should make certain improvements on the details that you’ve mentioned.
But given that we’re a small team of ten, we also need to make choices over what to do next considering the workload. That said, enhancing the mind map feature may not be our current development focus, but we’ll certainly make possible changes in the future.
What’s next for Effie?
Here are several things we’re working on right now:
- We just released the Android version
- Adding more language versions (we just released the German and Indonesian versions)
- Offer more styles when exporting to an image and
- Use the Effie community on Discord to share the latest updates and more tips and tricks about Effie.