As this post is published, I’ll be giving a talk on this very subject at WordCamp Las Vegas.
Composing blog posts directly into the blog’s editor or administrative interface works great when one is first starting out, but I found that my situation demanded something a bit more flexible. In particular, my blogging workflow addresses the challenges of:
- having several partially-written article drafts
- writing on a variety of devices including a desktop computer, laptop, iPad, or smartphone
- being able to write when not connected to the internet
My solution: prepare blog posts in a plain text format using Markdown.
Plain Text Rules
Plain text has the benefit of being editable anywhere – every computer system in existence has a way to edit plain text. I use Byword on my OS X machines and Elements on my iPhone and iPad. In a pinch, I can use a text editor on any machine I find. Plain text is easily searchable and eliminates any sort of file-format compatibility issues between systems.
Dropbox for Portability
I mentioned I write from a variety of devices. Like many writers, I’m often working on various articles that are in assorted states of completion. I keep a folder of the plain text in-progress articles synchronized between computers using Dropbox. Dropbox provides easy file synchronization between almost any device (Mac, Windows, iPhone, iPad, Android, etc) and you can get started with Dropbox for free. If you haven’t signed up, do so with my referral link right here and we’ll both get additional free space.
Markdown: Attractive and Functional
Markdown is a way to add text markup for the web while still retaining a format such that the text is readable by anyone. For example, a bulleted list is created by using an asterisk (*) at the beginning of a line. A level three header (the H3 tag in HTML) is indicated by prefixing a line with three pound symbols (###). A markdown document is easily read and shared without being rendered for the web, whereas HTML is kind of ugly when viewed as source.
To learn more about Markdown, read about it from its creator, John Gruber.
My Tools of Choice
I already mentioned Dropbox as my method for keeping files under control.
For writing, I use Byword on my OS X machines. Byword is a minimalist editor with great Markdown support, including the ability to easily add Markdown formatting to a document. It also provides some visual Markdown cues such as bolding the text onscreen when that text is surrounded by Markdown indicating that it should be bold.
A relatively new OS X application, Marked, works with any text editor to display a live preview of a Markdown document each time that document is saved, essentially adding Markdown support to editors which have one and enhancing the preview/display ability of those with some existing support.
When mobile, I use Elements for text editing on my iPad and iPhone. It features Dropbox integration so that it easily displays, edits, and saves files to a Dropbox folder. Elements also features native Markdown support, such that when working on a Markdown document, you’re one tap away from previewing that document as it will be rendered into HTML. Elements supports offline editing; you’re able to edit and save documents even when you might not have a data connection. Once you have connectivity, simply fire up Elements and it will push those changes up to Dropbox.
To the Blog!
After finishing an article in my text editor, I convert the Markdown to HTML (this can be done via any of the apps mentioned) and paste it into the WordPress post editor. I add categories, tags, images, and I’m set to go.
The combination of synchronized plain text files, composed using Markdown and edited with great writing tools provides a powerful workflow for my blogging life. Like all workflows, I’m always on the lookout for little tweaks; here’s what’s working for me right now.