Is Markdown in your future?

Something seems to be happening in the use of tools for writers. If you write long documents, or collaborate with other writers, Markdown may become useful to you.

Over the years I’ve learned how to use several word processors, starting with MacWrite and Wordstar. As they evolve, they all become more and more complicated. Currently, as a Macintosh user, I’m conversant with MS Word and Apple Pages. In the shadow of these giants from Microsoft and Apple are a host of writer’s tools with special features: Mariner Write, Scrivener, Mellel, Nisus, etc. For script writers there is Celtx, Final Draft, Storymill, etc. All of these programs have a considerable learning curve.

Some people feel that all the bells and whistles get in the way of the business of writing: extracting the ideas from the writer’s head, composing some words, and typing them into the computer. Now, some of these programs have a way of making everything on the computer, including the application’s interface, vanish, so that all that is visible on the computer screen is the blank page and the author’s words. In Pages, it is the ‘fullscreen’ button on the menubar.

I’m suggesting something else.

I just wrote a book. You can see what it looks like online, here:

The publisher, Leanpub, has staked its future on authors never using any of the above word processors. In the FAQ, “Leanpub has bet the company on Markdown.” (Details Here.) If you look at the book, you will see lots of word processing, e.g. a hierarchical system of headings, bullets, asides, images, etc. In fact, I wrote the whole book as a series of text files. I indicated the formatting by typing a small number of special characters that instructed what I wanted. I did not use a word processor; only a simple text editor (It could have been anything, but I used the free program, TextWrangler). The files are kept in Dropbox where both my co-author, Sherry S Jennings, and I, can edit them; and where Leanpub accesses them to make up the book for the clients.

The special characters are defined by a plain text formatting syntax called Markdown. It is not a word processor, but a system of rules. It is easy and fast to learn.

Just today, I stumbled across Fountain — “Fountain allows you to write screenplays in any text editor on any device. Because it’s just text, it’s portable and future-proof.” This is another use of Markdown. As you probably know, the formatting of screenplays is strictly conventional and there are expensive word processors to facilitate achieving the perfect format. Here, again, with Fountain, there are a few rules to learn, and then the writer can just focus on writing.

Free, fast, easy to learn — and when used with Google Drive or Dropbox, these protocols can facilitate collaborative projects.

At this point, I don’t have a conclusion… except to say that people are using these tools, and you might find that Markdown will have a place in your future.

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