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Writing using Markdown

by Kerry Dawson


I’ve written extensively in the past about writing using Markdown but I really haven’t written specifically about Markdown writing and how to do it. Part of that had to do with the vast quantity of material available to learn Markdown.

However, I thought what I’d do is discuss Markdown writing more at it’s root level as I often reference markdown product and I write in Markdown myself.

Another reason I thought I’d do this now is Markdown is becoming more prominent. There’s a variety of products that work with Markdown and it would appear that this might be evolving into a defacto standard for writing especially writing that requires you to get information onto the web.

Immediately Apparent Benefits

The best place to start is with why is Markdown so important. Markdown was designed by John Gruber as a simple way to format plain text for the web. Rather than writing in complex HTML you write in Markdown to make your content or article available as a web document.

There are two very important roles of Markdown then that strike you at first glance. Markdown is:

  • designed to format standard text making your document 100% portable and standard.
  • an easy technique to write a document in plain text with simple formatting code which is relatively distraction free to get your article/content on the web

So Markdown lets you write using ordinary text which will work on any system and using simple formatting codes consistent with text you can bold or italicize etc the document you are writing. This is a huge benefit in that your document cannot get stuck in some formatting protocol should a company go out of business.

Writing in Markdown

The above is just a cursory view of the value of Markdown yet it is one that is very important. So the above is what Markdown writing does for you. However, what it brings you is this great defacto standards environment for the writing. And the writing is wonderful.

Markdown writing is often what is referred to as distraction free writing. You use fairly simple formatting codes as you write so the writing flows much easier. As an example, by using a star to mark the text within this is italics. By using two stars together to mark the text within then you have bold.

So this *followed* by more text is just italics in the sentence. And on it goes.

Rather than teach you how to write in Markdown, it’s better if I use this space to outline the benefits of Markdown writing and refer you to tools I think benefit the learning process better.

Learning Markdown

There are ton of tools for learning Markdown. One of the best is the web. However, I believe this approach to learning Markdown could have you very overwhelmed in no time. For example, if I had stars surrounding the above text that I showed you would be italics why wouldn’t it be Italics. That’s because I escaped the characters so that they would display. You can see however, if you are exposed to this from the get go this would be very confusing. Rather, it’s just important that you learn how to write the Italics and enjoy the writing. These other things will eventually come.

However, I think there’s a good approach to learning how to write in Markdown. I have no vested interest in this either. I would get David Sparks book Markdown. He provides you with a very cool guide for learning Markdown which employs the written word and multimedia. He also keeps the whole thing very approachable so Markdown writing makes sense by the time you’ve gotten through this book. It is an ebook and the link I provided was to the iTunes store but it can be had in PDF. The iTunes version though provides the best formatting.

For a Video Tutorial

I would definitely use the above book even if you’re the type who likes video tutorials. If you do like video tutorials then probably the best for those are Don McAllister’s at ScreenCastsOnline. Though not free, in his database of Video tutorials you’ll find a vast array of Mac and IOS tutorials.

Don McAllister is known for having the best video tutorials available. He has done a lot on Markdown so his site would also be a logical place to get a start on Markdown.

Markdown: Distraction free Writing

One of the major benefits you as a Markdown writer will immediately achieve is that of just a wonderful environment to write in. Described as a distraction free writing experience, there is little about Markdown and their editors to encumber you. Rather than thinking about how do you do this or that with your writing editor (once you know Markdown this is readily apparent) you just write. It’s amazing how much easier it is to get words to flow if you’re not distracted.

With the right editor you can ensure this to be even more so the case. Some people will swear by this editor or that and there could be legitimate reasons to use one tool vs another.

The Tools

At this point I’ll quickly turn to a couple of the tools that one might use. For the sake of this discussion I’ll assume you’re knew to Markdown. As someone new I feel it’s probably good to use an excellent editor.

There are three editors that I’m going to recommend that are considered best of breed and they’re used for different purposes.

The first editor for everyone to get is Byword. This is a 100% distraction free tool with full support for Markdown. Byword uses iCloud and runs on both the Mac and IOS so whatever you write on you can continue writing elsewhere. From my personal experience this is simply the best of what are referred to as the distraction free editors. It is mainly intended for an article writer or say blogger who wants to get content up to the Internet in the easiest way possible.

Next along the gamut is a more feature laden program designed for intuitive support of Markdown. This editor is called Ulysses III and it is superb but very different from Byword. I would not recommend Ulysses III for someone who does not know Markdown as you won’t learn it properly on Ulysses III. Ulysses III takes a database approach to the storage of documents. For someone who writes a lot this can be extremely useful. It does work with iCloud but not as cleanly as Byword. Finally, Ulysses III unusual treatment of Markdown is fine for experienced Markdown writers but if you’re knew to Markdown this will only confuse you. Migrate to Ulysses III if you have outgrown Byword however, few people outgrow Byword.

Finally, there’s Scrivener and this we cannot call a Markdown editor but a tool. It supports Markdown but it is intended for a person who wants to write a novel. Should you fall into this class, Scrivener is the tool to get.

Markdown’s Charm

Markdown is clearly a charming writing environment and it jumps back to the beginning of this article. As an environment that provides you with a distraction free setting it enables you to write but at a flow that works with you rather than the tool you’re fumbling with. Secondly, since you output Markdown in plain text with simple, easy to read formatting rules, your text is never at the mercy of an editor that might go under. If it does, just write with your text in another Markdown editor. You loose nothing. Distraction free writing that is 100% portable. Now how could someone not find this to be a charming environment.

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