Writing in markdown is an efficient way to write blog posts. In fact, it will forever change the way you blog.
So, what is markdown? It's a coding language like HTML, only much, much simpler, and you don't have to be tech savvy to learn it. It takes about 10 minutes to learn, if that.
Why I Use Markdown
Here's why I use markdown:
Markdown is easy to learn.
I don't have to fuss with the formatting features of a word processor when I write, which means I won't introduce wonky formatting into my writing when it comes time to publish a post.
I can copy and paste my writing to and from Word, Google Docs, Scrivener, a text editor, Blogger, WordPress, etc. and the formatting codes will travel with it.
Markdown can convert to HTML, so if you've never been able to figure out how to write in HTML, you may not need to (see below).
It makes my blog writing and publishing process more efficient.
What does it look like?
Here's what markdown looks like in action:
The text in the left pane is written in markdown. It kind of looks like plain text, right? That's because it is. It's pretty much what your writing would like if you only used your keyboard and didn't click on any of the fancy formatting buttons in your word processor.
The text on the the right is what the published product will look like. Pretty, right? This particular markdown editor took the codes from the text on the left and converted it to formatted text. Do you see the codes? No? Read on...
Commonly Used Markdown Codes
Here are the markdown codes I use the most in my writing (I've left this list in plain text so that you can copy and paste it into Scrivener. if you like):
[Tech Tools for Writers](hyperlink) - no space between square brackets and parentheses
![alt text: description of image for people with visual impairments](image link)
Block quote/pull quote
>first line of paragraph
1. first list item
2. second list item
3. thirdlist item
- list item
- list item
- list item
Can also use * instead of -
Soft break (poetry)
Line is followed by two spaces
First line [space, space]
Second line [space, space]
em dash: Alt+ 0151
en dash: Alt + 0150
Go back to the image above. Do you see the markdown codes now? Allow me to highlight some of them for you:
If you don't find what you're looking for on my markdown list, check out this markdown cheat sheet. Print it and stick it next to your computer.
Or, if you write your blog posts in Scrivener like I do, you can copy and paste my list of markdown codes into the Project Notes menu in Scrivener's Inspector, where it'll always be available when you need it.
If you'd like to learn markdown, but you're not convinced that it's easy, try this guided, step-by-step interactive tutorial. I dare you to say it's hard after trying this tutorial.
If you'd like to see markdown transform to polished text right before your eyes, try John Combe's* free markdown editor. Use my markdown "cheat sheet" above and write something in the left pane. Watch your markdown text turn to beautifully formatted text.
In my next post, I'll explain how I use markdown for blogging on WordPress, and I'll share my writing and publishing process with you.
*I learned about the John Combe markdown editor from Joseph Michael in his Learn Scrivener Fast course.
Are you unhappy that Microsoft Word 2013 is available only through subscription? Consider this alternative: WPS Writer* (formerly Kingsoft Office).
A New Tool for Editing?
Until now, Microsoft Word has been the best tool for editing, but I'd like to suggest that WPS Writer is a close contender. The lite version is free and loaded with features, and it's part of an office suite that includes a word processor, spreadsheet program, and presentation software (also free). The Office Suite Pro version is reasonably priced at $69.95 USD, and it has some additional features—including the ability to run macros—that you'll want for your self-editing toolkit.
If you're happy to forego using macros in your writing process, the lite version will provide you with most of the writing and self-editing features you'll need. Don't hold out on macros for too long, though. Macros can help you to pinpoint difficulties in your writing, so you can fix them.
WPS Writer is also available for iOS and Android tablets (free)—for authors who like to edit on-the-go. If you use Dropbox to store your files, moving back and forth between the desktop app and the tablet app is relatively seamless.
WPS Writer and Word: A Comparison
Below is a table that compares Word 2010—the last non-subscription version of Word—with WPS Writer. I've listed all of the features typically used by authors and editors. If I've missed a feature, be sure to let me know in the comments below.
Note: The table was created in WPS Writer using Table tools.
WPS Writer also comes with a comprehensive user manual. Pretty impressive, huh? So if you haven't been one of the lucky editor-sorts to scoop up one of the remaining copies of Word 2010, WPS Writer may well be worth a look.
A special thank you to Adam Santo for inspiring me to look into this software further.
*For those who are curious: WPS stands for Writer, Presentation, and Spreadsheets—the three components of WPS Office.
Scrivener is a wonderful tool for writing and producing book-length works. It allows you to
move chunks of text around with ease
organize research notes, references, and even notes to yourself—in the same project file
convert your book to ebook, web, and print formats
Help for Beginners
When you first open the program, though, it can seem a little confusing. This downloadable cheat sheet will help you to begin using Scrivener right now. Print it and stick it on the wall next to your computer.
You'll notice that I've listed the commands associated with the more common "writing moves" and grouped items by stages of the writing process.
Did I miss a Scrivener move in my cheat sheet? Feel free to leave a comment below.
A version of this post was originally posted at the Beyond Paper blog.