Thu 14 August 2014

Filed under meta

Oh, look, another blog I probably won't update! I tell myself the purpose of this is that it will help me ease back into writing, while at the same time give me a place ot organize my thoughts about the tools I write with.

That's not...totally untrue. But it's also true that I'm probably using it as a kind of meta-procrastination. Plus, a big factor was surprise that the domain wasn't taken. (In retrospect, it maybe shouldn't have been a surprise, but I do like the domain a lot.)

Plaintext markup for writing

If they think you're crude, go technical.

-- William Gibson, "Johnny Mnemonic"

I'm not a technical user. I don't program or design things. I'm interested in plaintext markup mainly as a tool for writing.

Writing this way has many advantages over writing with rich text tools like MS Word or even something like Scrivener:

  • Unlike rich text, plain text formatting markers stay where you put them
  • You can separate the process of composing your content from the processes of styling and distributing it
  • Your content is more portable and more future-proof
  • You can use tools to automate parts of your workflow more consistently, with less supervision
  • It's easier to manipulate your content and formatting -- even if you're limited to basic search and replace. (Obviously the sky's the limit if you can do regular expression, scripting, etc.)

Since the early days of Wikipedia, which was my introduction to the idea of styling plain text in a way was still readable as such, I've been looking for ways to escape having to rely on rich text to compose, output, store, and print documents.

This has gotten a lot easier in recent years. For a fair while, my workflow for producing printed documents at work was to write everything in a Textpattern installation, then print using a carefully print-optimized stylesheet using Opera, because at the time only Opera supported enough of the relevant CSS properties.

Browser support for CSS print styling is still lousy, but no we have a lot more tools for composing plain text (mostly Markdown) and outputting to HTML, PDF, and (for those who need to distribute rich text) RTF and even .docx.

That being said -- there's a lot of potential for confusion, a lack of standardization, and some weird gotchas about these tools. And the most powerful ones are designed by and for users who tend strongly to the technical end of the spectrum.

To-post list

So, some of the things that I have in mind to post about:

  • Markdown variants and processing tools (esp. Pandoc and MultiMarkdown)
  • Tools for editing and viewing Markdown on OSX, Windows, iOS, Android
  • Plain-text workflow, organization, etc.

BTW, I know Markdown in its many flavors is not the only plaintext markup game in town; I got started on this journey with old-school Wiki syntax and reStructuredText, and for years I insisted on using Textile instead of Markdown, b/c Textile is lovely and much better than vanilla Markdown.

But, ultimately, Markdown has been adopted at a much higher rate in many more places and ways than other plaintext markups, so there are more (and more polished) tools for it.


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