This is the second article in my “How I Work” series. I previously wrote about how I read and consume textual information. Today I’m going to talk about how I write and produce text.
Most of my writing is for online purposes. I write articles for this site, the blog that goes along with my job as a professional photographer in Vancouver, Washington, a site about photography commentary, and a handful of other online publications. This doesn’t include the fact that I spend a lot of time with Twitter and Google+… I’ll cover those here as well.
Plain Text is Best
I’m a fan of writing in plain text. Plain text can be created and read on any device. Whether I’m on my laptop, my iPad, my iPhone, or someone else’s device, I can create plain text.
Store and Sync with Dropbox
I keep my in-progress (and archived) plain text writings stored as text files in a folder that’s synchronized up to Dropbox. If you’re not yet using Dropbox, it’s a great solution for someone like me who often needs to access or save files from various devices. Apple’s method of sync1 using iTunes and a physical cable is a joke; Dropbox provides easy wireless synchronization of files and settings between various devices. Sign up for Dropbox now with this link and we’ll both get additional free storage space.
Format with Markdown
I generally write things using Markdown, a text markup language designed to make readable markup that can easily be converted to HTML for use on the web. Whereas HTML requires lots of extra symbols and can sometimes be hard to read, Markdown is designed to be easily read as-is. Compare this unordered list in HTML:
<ul><li>This is item one</li>
<li>This is item two</li>
<li>This is item three</li></ul>
with the same list in Markdown:
* This is item one
* This is item two
* This is item three
Writing in Markdown makes it easy to read, easy to share, and easy to convert to HTML.
Editors of Choice
I’m not a text editor snob; I don’t care what you use. Here’s what’s working well for me:
On my Mac: TextMate
No, it hasn’t been updated in forever. But it still gets the job done. TextMate is my text editor of choice for writing articles, editing HTML, trying not to strangle CSS, or other plain text editing needs. There can be a steep learning curve in getting to know the various keyboard shortcuts but once you spend the time with it the long-term time savings are amazing. Here’s one simple example: Ctrl+Shift+L creates a link using the clipboard text as the URL. Copy a URL to the clipboard, select the text you want to become a link, hit the hotkey and bam, you’ve got a link. Oh, did I mention that it hits the website and pulls in the site’s title as the title attribute as well? Neat, huh? Oh, and one more thing: that key shortcut works in all of the languages that support links. HTML is the obvious one but it also works when editing a Markdown file.
In addition to slicing and dicing, TextMate also has a nice Markdown preview window.
On my iPad & iPhone: Elements
In the past year, quite a few great text editors have emerged for iOS devices. I’ve tried a few and settled on Elements by Second Gear Software. It has an uncluttered interface, syncs with Dropbox, supports TextExpander (more on that below), and has Markdown preview built-in. It just works.
Shortcuts Are Good: TextExpander
I’m slowly becoming a big user of TextExpander, a little software app that does what it says: it expands abbreviations or shortcuts into bigger blocks of text. Some of the uses can be obvious, such as an abbreviation ;addr which automatically expands to my full address or ;ph which expands to my phone number. I also use TextExpander for bigger things. For example, I have a template so that when I’m inspired to create a bit of App Haiku poetry, I can simply type .apphaiku and an entire blog post template expands with links already inserted and ready for my text. If you ever find yourself typing things more than a couple times, a TextExpander shortcut could help.
I mentioned above that I work with a variety of blogs, and my platform of choice is WordPress. That’s kind of an understatement; I’m not just a WordPress user but I also am active in the WordPress community including founding WordCamp Portland and speaking at several WordPress and related blogging conferences. I tend to write all of my blog posts in plain text and then copy/paste into the WordPress post editor screen to set them up for publishing.
Social Networking: All Manual, All the Time
My social network updates are manual. I don’t use any automation to push things to various places. I use TweetDeck as my Twitter client because I like being able to see five columns of information. On the go I use Twitterific on the iPad and Tweetbot on the iPhone.
I dislike Facebook but I interact with it solely through the website on a very limited basis. I’m becoming a big fan of Google+ and I look forward to an API that enables robust third-party experiences.
Up Next: Productivity Tools & Tips
The next in my series of “How I Work” articles will look at the tools and techniques I use for general productivity.
I’m aware that iOS 5 will bring iCloud will likely improve things. That said, I can guarantee that iCloud won’t work as smoothly cross-platform as Dropbox. ↩