Over the past few months, I’ve made the switch to writing just about everything in Markdown. It’s a bit like writing in HTML — but much easier! I’ve reached a point that it would be hard for anyone to convince me to go back to my previous approach. I’m becoming a bit of an evangelist to convince other writers to start using Markdown, along with a few associated tools, to make workflow management much easier.
My Previous Approach
Prior to switching to Markdown, I wrote out blog posts (along with most other text) in a bastardized version of HTML. The goal was to be able to copy and paste what I wrote as plain text, without having to go through and change styling on specific words after I loaded a post into WordPress, or wherever else it was going.
You’ve probably seen horribly wrong results from cutting and pasting styled text from something like Microsoft Word into WordPress — if you haven’t, I strongly suggest against relying on this approach if you routinely write for the web. But, at the same time, writing in a text field on a browser just seems like begging to lose hours worth of work. Many sites now have some level of auto-saving built in, but it’s not something you can count on.
All of this added up to my adding in certain HTML tags directly as I wrote. But doing that can be a little distracting. Trying to figure out what a headline should say, as well as remembering which tag will result in the style you want can be a hassle.
Markdown to the Rescue
HTML is what’s known as a ‘markup’ language. So is Markdown, albeit greatly simplified. It’s easy to remember — asterisks do a lot of heavy lifting, as do octothorpes (also known as pound signs). It’s almost like adding a few little symbols to remind yourself to go back and add formatting latter. Luckily, though, with the right tools, the formatting winds up adding itself.
For me, those tools include the following:
- Marked: This little app makes everything else possible. I write in Markdown in a variety of different programs, but I always have Marked running. It lets me generate live previews of what my text actually looks like from different types of files, as well as copying my work as HTML, so that I can drop it into a blog editor — or exporting the file as HTML, RTF or PDF.
- Sublime Text: If you’re writing in Markdown, you’re going to want to write in some sort of text editor. I’ve been learning to code, so I just use the same text editor for everything. As an added bonus, there are some plugins for Sublime Text that make it into a great word processor. However, I only use Sublime Text for shorter peices of work — for longer pieces, it can get unwieldy.
- Scrivener: For longer projects, I’ve started using Scrivener — not only is it Markdown friendly, but it has a ton of features for making big writing projects very easy to deal with.
That’s about $120 worth of software that makes my writing life much easier than it has been in the past. But you don’t need any of it to get started. You can rely on just about any text editor you may already have and try out some free tools for whatever platforms you’re working on; many content management systems have plugins that let them handle Markdown natively. Give it a whirl. I promise, you’ll be surprised.