I’ve been writing a lot about WordPress lately and I think it’s time that I change things up a bit. Otherwise you’re going to think this site is only about WordPress. I wanted to describe my writing workflow since having a well thought out workflow can help increase productivity.
I, like most people, don’t start my posts in WordPress. They simply end up there when I’m finished and it’s time to publish them.
A long time ago I wrote about how I take notes but my writing workflow has changed a lot since then. I’ve discovered some better tools and I’ve also changed the way I work. Therefore, I thought it was about time I revisit the topic.
My workflow came about because of a few of my own personal (and somewhat nerdy) requirements.
- Portable – I don’t want to be tied to my desk or my computer.
- Syncs – I don’t want to have to worry about where the latest version is.
- Non-Proprietary – I don’t want to have to worry about being locked into a specific app.
- Light Weight – I don’t like bloated software that takes a long time to load. (e.g Microsoft Word)
(Image Credit: MipsyRetro)
If there is one thing that works on all devices (phones, laptops, desktops, etc) across all platforms (iOS, Android, Mac, Windows, Linux), it’s plain old text files. I have a few hundred of them. They would all fit on a floppy disk (if you remember what those were). This is why I have made text files a key element of my writing workflow.
These text files contain half finished ideas for blog posts, to-do lists, grocery lists, books I want to read and many other types of notes. I keep all of these notes in a folder that lives in my Dropbox account.
Given the fact that they are in Dropbox, I know that they will be backed up and accessible from anything with an internet connection. Seeing that there are very few places that I find myself in these days that don’t have an internet connection, this works for me.
Since text files are ubiquitous, it’s mostly up to you to decide which tools you want to use to edit them. On the Mac there is a built-in text editor aptly called TextEdit and on Windows there is Notepad. Both of these are free and come preinstalled. Meaning that you can literally turn on nearly any modern computer in the world and edit a text file.
Both of those work but are rudimentary at best and I want something a little better for my writing workflow. On my Mac I prefer to use a great little app called NValt. NValt is collaborative project based on Notational Velocity. Both of these apps are great but NValt has a few extra features like I like.
NValt is where I do most of my writing or note taking. All of the notes are stored as individual text files and all of those files are kept within my Dropbox folder. NValt is clean and simple. It has a search box, a list of all text files and a place to write notes. There isn’t much else you can do with it except write or keep notes.
It’s all fine and dandy to be able to work on a computer at home but this is just part of an effective writing workflow. The real benefits come from being able to go mobile. I use an app called PlainText that works on both the iPad and the iPhone. There are similar apps out there for Android and other mobile devices.
The key here is to make sure that whatever you are using will allow you to store notes as text files on Dropbox. I have also used Simplenote in the past but my preference is for PlainText.
PlainText and NValt both save their files in a Dropbox folder so I can work from the same plain text files. This gives me the ability to write or make notes with whatever is at the end of my arm ““ be it iPad, iPhone or Mac. With my writing workflow I can start writing in one place, make changes to it in another place and again from a third. All synced and all up-to-date.
Formating Text Files
The most common problem that a lot of people have with text files is that you can’t add any kind of formatting. This is where something called Markdown has changed my life and my writing workflow. Markdown is what is called a markup language but when compared to HTML, it is a lot easier to write, a lot easier to learn and a lot easier to read.
Note: Below is a quick introduction to Markdown. If this is a little to technical than you’d like, feel free to click here to skip it or scroll down to Pros and Cons.
You can create headers in your files by using the # symbol. For example, 1 x # is the same as a an <h1> tag, 2 x # is the same as an <h2> tag. You can make text italic by wrapping it in a single * and bold with double *. For example, *italic* gives you italic and **bold** gives you bold.
To create links you just wrap the anchor text in [ ] then give it an id also wrapped in [ ] which you can define later. For example, to produce this:
A sentence with a link in it.
In HTML you need to write:
A sentence with a <a title="A Link" href="http://www.MatthewHooper.com">link</a> in it.
In Markdown I only write:
A sentence with a [link] in it.
Then at the end of my document I can define all of my links like this:
: http://www.MatthewHooper.com "A Link"
To create an unordered list, add an * and a space before each item and for numbered lists you just add 1. numbers followed by a period.
It isn’t hard to learn the syntax for Markdown and when you do, it is much easier to include formatting in a text document.
After you have finished writing, you can use the preview in NValt to show you what your finished piece of writing will look like. Instead of copying all the text from the preview, you can click the “view source” button at the bottom of NValt’s preview pane which will give you all the HTML code. From there you simply cut and paste it into the HTML tab of your WordPress editor.
I’ve become so accustomed to writing in Markdown that I do it a lot in other notes that I write. Especially for headers and lists.
Pros and Cons of My Writing Workflow
My writing workflow isn’t without it’s faults. Since Markdown is designed to be a quick way to write while including some basic HTML in your writing, it has a few limitations. I like to have links open in a new tab when I link to an external site. There isn’t a way to define that in Markdown so I have to make this change after I paste into the WordPress editor. There are ways to include images in Markdown but I prefer to add images after I have moved into WordPress. Basically, Markdown will get you to about 90% but you’ll still have to clean it up a bit for WordPress.
The best thing about this system is that regardless of whether or not I am using NValt on my Mac or PlainText on my iPhone or iPad, I can create or add future posts or even notes from anywhere. I also have access to these notes from anywhere.
So there we have it, a writing workflow that is portable, syncs, non-proprietary and light weight. Best of all, a basic Dropbox account is free, NValt is free and PlainText is free ($1.99 to remove ads).
Do you have anything to add? What is your writing workflow like?