Mark up, Markdown

I write a lot. That means I produce a lot of text that has to be processed and converted into other forms. Which, historically, has been a pain in my ass.

Writers obsess over formats and formatting. It makes a difference to us if a word is _italicized_ or not. If a document uses straight quotes or typographic curly quotes. And don’t get me started on hyphens and em dashes.

Then there’s the format the document itself is in. More technically, the encoding that stores the text, structure and formatting of a document. For instance, even though I never use the format myself, my critique group prefers submissions in RTF format, which seems to be the lowest common denominator for opening and reading. So no matter what format I write in, I have to convert it to RTF somewhere along the way. And that’s not even looking at the unholy mess that you get when you try to post something from Word directly to, say, a blog.

And some of the best tools for immersive writing — NaNoWriMo is coming up, after all — don’t understand rich text formatting at all. On the PC, I’m a big fan of [WriteMonkey]( for writing full out, without distractions. There are similar apps for my iPhone. And they all expect plain text.

So for years, I’ve been looking for a good way to have it all. Use the same tools for blogging and noveling, insert rich text formatting where I need it in a human-readable — there goes HTML — format and still have the files openable in just about any editor. Given that those requirements seem self-contradictory, I expected to remain frustrated.

Then I learned about Markdown.

John Gruber, blogger and baseball fan from [Daring Fireball]( has invented the specifications and syntax for a text-based markup language that is:

* human readable
* plain text
* algorithmically convertible into just about any other format

Meaning that I can use Markdown to write in plain text in any editor from Notepad to WriteMonkey to vi, and easily run a batch file to convert my files into whatever output format (HTML, RTF, even EPUB) that I need. One format to rule them all. For drafting, editing, revision and publication.

Rather than rehash everything here, I direct you to John’s [excellent overview of Markdown]( at his site. If formatting drives you crazy, you owe it to yourself to check it out.

(btw, this entire post, with formatting, bulleted list and hyperlinks, was written in Markdown in various iOS text editors)