For content creators a challenge during that creation process is establishing an atmosphere for focused writing. It all starts with text, even for those who use interactive mediums such as audio, video and other imagery. The idea begins with notes, outlines and text.
For writing, most word processors are far from optimal. There are a multitude of distracting levels of tools that take our attention off of the act of writing and into formatting and editing tasks. Thus, while Microsoft Word is the ninja of word processors, its also not effective when you just want to write.
Generally speaking most writers want to have focus on writing without those lures of distraction. Recently Kirk McElhearn wrote about writing apps for Macworld magazine, and it finally chased me back to the world of Markdown.
While I have a technical bent, for some reason I’ve always been hesitant to take the time to explore markdown, concerned that it felt like I needed to also have a deeper knowledge of programming. Now that seems foolish after taking a second look. The upgrade in productivity while writing is substantial, and as Markdown evolved it also became Microsoft Word friendly. Let me explain.
Markdown uses simple formatting techniques available using the keyboard versus requiring a stopping point where you switch to the mouse to navigate menus and/or toolbars. More compelling is the simplicity with which it works.
Markdown takes the simple formatting marks, which we will explore momentarily, and either converts them into fully formatted Word documents or even straight to HTML for publication on a web site. Thus when working in a focused writing app you can export your work as Markdown with the result being Microsoft Word without the need for further prep. When your editor opens the document in Word, it will have properly formatted titles, headings, type formatting, bulleted lists and more.
This provides a very efficient process for getting written work to editors or published.
Let’s look at some basic Markdown formatting:
Title or H1 – use the #, for sub-title or H2 use ##. And it supports 6 levels in all for those hash marks (meaning ###, #### and so on).
For using emphasis, italics (use one asterisk at beginning and end of a word or phrase) are italic and bold (using two asterisks at the beginning and end of a word or phrase) is bold.
Lists are even easier, using either a dash (-), checkmark or asterisk (*):
- item one
- item two
- and so on, for bullets
- for numbered list one
- for two
- and so on
Adding hyperlinks are as simple as [Click to visit Google] (http://www.google.com) – which then looks like Click to visit Google. Here the brackets enclose the text that will be clickable, visiting the web address you type after it in parenthesis.
When writing content, these are not only the most common formatting techniques, but also now lightening fast when using Markdown.
Apps for markdown There are a number of solutions that use Markdown, however, I will note a few that would be useful for writers.
IAWriter sits at the top of that list as it is writer friendly without requiring a burden of advanced training for its use. It does require using a Mac and/or iOS device. It also can be installed on the iPad, iPhone and Mac, with syncing enabled through the use of Dropbox.
MarkdownPad is built specifically for Windows (currently supporting Windows 8.x).
Texts is a cross-platform Markdown editor supporting Mac and Windows.
Depending upon where you publish your work you can quickly get content into the right format. For example if you self publish on a blog, exporting your markdown to HTML is fast and easy to then paste into your content management editor for your site. Some platforms also support markdown making this step even faster.
Don’t neglect to ask the editors as to how they use and support Markdown (or in some cases, introduce them to this gem). The key to remember is you nor they need any technical intermediary. You can export your Markdown output to a Word file format and email straight away. The formatting will be present for your editor upon receipt.