My requirements are fairly modest - the documents I need to write for my consulting work are usually proposals and reports. They might include a Table of Contents, a simple table or two, perhaps a graph, some images and a few citations.
Above all, my work does need to look professional.
I am not authoring a book or technical manual nor am I writing up a PhD thesis. I don't need to include many complex tables and figures or a detailed bibliography.
I am trying to build a workflow that is intuitive to me, that allows me to focus on content, and one where I do not have to worry about files getting lost or corrupted.
I start off by writing all notes (and eventually full reports) in a fast 'database' application for the Mac - nvALT. As well as being a text editor, it stores them, and allows lightening fast searches. It is also very 'keyboard friendly' meaning I don't have to move my hands away from the keyboard to use the mouse a lot - my typing is slow enough as it is!
I save the files as plain text, a truly portable file format that is cross platform and more likely to be future proof than a Word
The text I write is styled using Markdown, an easy to use set of conventions for marking up text that allows the creation of rich content. This article and the entire blog and Web site is written in Markdown. To see the source, take a look at the
For my more complex documents I use a superset of Markdown known as MultiMarkdown which adds:
tables, footnotes, and citations, to name a few
-- Fletcher Penney
As well as being a database and a plain text editor that is good for writing Markdown, nvALT supports external editors such as Byword and iA Writer. This means I can seamlessly switch between my chosen editor and nvALT.
I tend to use Byword for bashing out the words because it presents a simple user interface that minimises distractions and then save it back to nvALT which is the 'bucket' or home of most of my content. Increasingly now, I also save a copy of the final plain text file in the project folder with a
.md file extension. There is a risk here that the text in my nvALT database will diverge from the Markdown file I have saved in the project folder if I am not careful. My assumption is that the version that I put in the project folder is the one that was used to create the
nvALT is free.
I have configured nvALT to save the plain text files to Dropbox. It stores all my work files and syncs them across all my computing devices.
Dropbox provides up to 2GB free.
Dropbox (well certainly the paid plan anyway) supports versioning - so if I needed to revert to an older version of my file, I can do that.
nvALT is also set to Sync with Simplenote in case I want to edit my notes on my iPad or (less likely) my iPhone. This is something that could be a lifesaver were my laptop to die and I have to fall back on my iPad as a contingency measure.
Simplenote is Free. Premium accounts are available.
Coincidentally, Simplenote also supports versioning, so together with Dropbox's versioning, I have a belt and braces solution to recovering earlier drafts of a piece of work.
I use Marked for formatting for print and all my output is converted to
Output can be styled using Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) - there are some templates out there, but I might need to take the plunge and get hands on with CSS in order to get the look and feel I want.
Marked costs $11.99.
TextExpander is optional software that can help automate your writing and improve productivity.
If you find yourself using a phrase or expression regularly, then consider making it into a 'snippet' that you trigger with a keyboard abbreviation.
For example, I use the abbreviation
.copy to fill the phrase
© Alwyn Consulting %Y into any document that I am writing in any application. TextExpander automatically substitutes the year for
%Y to produce "© Alwyn Consulting 2014".
TextExpander is capable of creating very complex snippets incorporating dates, times, calculated dates and single line, multi-line, pop-up and optional fill-ins.
Using Dropbox, you can sync your snippets across all your computers and your mobile devices too.
If you are looking for consistency and efficiency, it is something worth looking into.
TextExpander costs $34.95.
I have described 10 services, applications, conventions and languages that I may use just for writing.
Isn't that too many?
Couldn't I just use Word?
But I find it very annoying and it crashes repeatedly - and it's Word! I have used Apple's Pages in the past too - and that is not without it's issues.
I have a way to go with my writing workflow requirements but I think I can see light at the end of tunnel. I plan to build some templates that incorporate my 'house style' and perhaps use TextExpander to deploy them.
The question is, can I manage do it all using just MultiMarkdown and CSS or will I have to go down the route of incorporating the LaTeX typesetting system into my workflow?