Procrastinating, or How I Almost Paid for What Was Already in Front of Me

Shock and surprise, the novel isn’t moving along as smoothly as I’d hoped. Writing a long piece of fiction, at least for me, requires a certain level of investment. When I have that investment, it isn’t a chore, it isn’t a task. It’s a way to let go and release myself.

Unfortunately, the last two weeks at the office have been a little unrelenting.

I won’t dwell on details, but there has been a distinct lack of both free time and sleep in my life lately. That makes for a brain not interested in working on a longer piece of prose, not when it can barely retain one thought to the next. So of course, I did the only natural thing – I started looking at other writing software packages.

In particular, I took a look at Ulysses, an application that has popped up again in my feeds recently. Ulysses’ claim to fame is that it is supposed to be on the simple end of the spectrum. Get rid of the toolbox of random, largely unused tools packaged in other products, and just focus on getting words down. What takes it one step above just being a text pad is that it supports Markdown (and it’s own variation of Markdown) so that you can take plain text and apply formatting to it.

So, never afraid of a challenge, I downloaded a demo, transferred some short stories and the novel in progress to it, and began to play around. Like many products adapting the simple is better philosophy, everything looked very pretty. But as I used Ulysses more and more, I began to realize that it was little more than a well skinned MarkDown editor with a few bells and whistles (chiefly, iCloud and goal tracking). Sure, it has an iPad version, making it a somewhat portable solution, but was that enough?

That’s when I realized that A) I liked using MarkDown for writing a lot, and that B) I didn’t need to pay $45 + $20 for the iPad version to get that experience. Some time ago, and I don’t even remember the specifics of why, but I paid $5 for a MultiMarkDown editor (which supports regular MarkDown too) called MultiMarkdown Composer. On my iPad I already had a free MarkDown editor, and on my Android phone there was already a plethora of free MarkDown editors. In fact, since Markdown files are really just text files (the formatting happens while reading the files, translating *’s, #’s, and other symbols during “compile”), basically what I was looking at was an already existing infrastructure for writing on the go, at my desk, everywhere, with anything, and it was already available to me.


So what about word count tracking and other metrics? Sure, I’d have to roll my own to some extent. But after all of the scripting I’ve done to manipulate and mangle word counts out of programs like Scrivener and Storyist in the past, dealing with plain text files is child’s play.

Maybe this won’t last. I’m notorious, at least in my own mind, for changing out writing software and workflow’s almost as often as I am for switching out what my primary web browser is. But given the flexibility of this approach, I might have finally found something that meets all of my portability needs. And it’s even platform agnostic.

Finally getting into markdown

So, markdown and multimarkdown aren’t exactly new. They’ve been on my radar for a few years, mostly as something I acknowledge as I pass them by and move on. In a nutshell, they’re a way of writing rich text without actually writing rich text.

Make sense?

OK, let me try that again. There are a lot of programs (and plugins) that let you bring text in in markdown or multimarkdown (multimarkdown is just an extension of markdown, adding some additional features). Whether that’s Scrivener, which lets you import markdown, or wordpress, where there are plugins for writing posts in markdown (I’m playing with one of them right now – wp-markdown; meh, it does what it says, but I’m not sure it’s the right one for me, though apparently jetpack has a plugin too), or you just want to work in a “native” markdown application (like MMDC), there are a lot of options out there.

So why do it? Because ultimately these are all just interpreting a plain text file. And that means you can write anywhere. On your phone without a rich text editor? Done. Tablet? Done. It’s only in the final publication or import step that it matters whether the target supports markdown. And what’s the result?

HTML. Formatted, but just HTML, without knowing all of the tags ahead of time. My technical friends will scoff – there isn’t much to the tagging for basic formatting, right? Except in the heat of writing, which is easier to type – an asterisk, or a set of opening and closing tags? Remember, keystrokes count in this writing game.

Ultimately, for me at least, markdown formatting is about being able to include formatting options where you want using any text editor you have handy. It’s nice if the editor supports preview of the markdown – that warm fuzzy of seeing the finished product – but  in the end, the option to edit anywhere is wonderful.

It will be interesting to see how long my infatuation with this continues 🙂