Tools for Writing this Blog
In this blog I’m going to do something a little different. I’m going to talk about how I write my blog and the software tools I utilize to do that. It is the end result of my workflow process that allows me to write the blog. That is, before I write a blog, there are things I have to do to accomplish the writing of a blog be it research or just simply capturing an idea and then going through a number of steps to ready that idea.
I decided to write about writing this blog just to demonstrate the power and flexibility of the Mac as a tool to get things done in, what is for me, a fun way. There are many ways to write a blog and many tools that you can utilize to write it from just sitting down and writing it based on an idea through to that of going through a more extensive preparation. Some like writing their blog using the blog site’s own tools whilst others, like myself prefer to use offline tools and once done publish the article/post to the your blog.
Just to let you know in advance my approach might seem a little excessive but I’ll also outline an offline approach that is very straightforward and can be done with one tool. For me, I’m not sure this would be as fun. I tend to sometimes like to make things more complex than they need be but really its not that complex compared to what some do.
Outcome First as opposed to Workflow
So I thought I’d just get to the meat of the matter which is what you read rather than the model I use to Get Things Done which leads to the outcome. I might do that later. So in this article I’ll actually be discussing the tools I use to structure what I’m going to write and then write it. Just to clarify, this article is about outcome first as opposed to a lot of great Mac tools that are part of the workflow that leads to the outcome.
Writing the Blog and what it Entails
As I mentioned, writing the blog itself can be done in many ways and the posting of the blog can also be done in more than one way. I use two techniques and I’ll describe the tools in these two techniques but I should note right up front that I blog offline and then once done post the blog to the site whereas some people like to blog with the tools they get from their blogging company of choice.
The first technique that I use is just writing text, formatted as appropriate. However, this article is all written in just simple and highly portable text. I will be adding some images to this blog entry so I’ll be utilizing what I’ll call my technique number two. I still use the first method up to the point I’m ready to add the pictures and then I bring in another tool (of note is that if you want this additional tool that I’ll be using for the final creation of this blog it alone could be used to accomplish the whole article).
If I was just writing a blog based on text solely, as I did with my first three posts, I would just use technique number one. Again, the difference is simply this blog includes images and so it requires a tool that can deal with that and post both text (really HTML) and graphics/images to my blogging service WordPress. As I also mentioned, you can approach this in a number of ways but that goes way beyond the scope of this article so I’m just going to be discussing the technique and tools I use.
I’ll be discussing four tools that I specifically use in the development of any article and they are:
- Drafts a very popular capture/writing tool that integrates with a variety of other products
- Notebook an excellent tool for more than what I use it for as I primarily use it for outlining. It also is the container or at least one of the containers of my research that goes into the creation of a blog
- Byword an absolutely excellent writing tool
- MacJournal which is much more than its name would imply
IN THE BEGINNING
My article or for that matter any article starts with an idea, something which you feel is worth writing about. You quickly though want to capture this idea either on pen and paper or on your Mac to develop it. This is where Drafts comes in but for those of you, like I mentioned, who might just want one environment to do all that I’m now going to discuss, you might just pull out MacJournal and away you go. I’ll get more to that near the end.
Drafts is actually a very simple application but it has become a very popular application in the IOS environment (it is very unfortunate its not available for OSX) as it is designed specifically to do what really other applications haven’t been designed for. Its a capture utility. Its designed to capture your ideas, thoughts and whatever else in free form text. It too supports Markdown and I’ll get to more on that when I discuss Byword but for now let it suffice it to say it supports Markdown.
I immediately turn to Drafts to capture my idea for an article. Its an excellent tool for this very specific application. I take that idea and I begin fleshing it out. This is the beginnings of a structure for that which I’m going to write about.
However, Drafts does something else that is very unique. It supports sending information that you capture in Drafts directly to a variety of supported applications using say the Send to Byword or DEVONthink etc. command or via the:
- Open in Command
- many IOS applications are supporting this command structure which allows you to put your information directly as is in the receiving application
- or just the regular clipboard
The beauty of this is you can turn to Drafts and do an awful lot and from there send your output to another application for further processing. As a simple example, its such an excellent writing environment you can easily write all your emails in Drafts and then send that output to your email editor, address the email and provide it with a subject and off it goes.
Returning to Drafts you can take that same text though, possibly for reference or however you want to use it and send the information to another application say your database or a task manager to follow up on the email.
FLESHING OUT THE IDEA IN DRAFTS
Drafts, due its very free form nature, is once again an excellent environment just to flesh out your idea about what you want to write. I use it to almost brainstorm the idea and go to my reference material to support what I’m brainstorming. Using Drafts I end up with what also might be considered an outline and I suppose you could use it for that but I don’t. Once this part is done, its time to move on to the next part and the next tool that does outlining extremely well and that’s Notebook.
Notebook is my Outliner of Choice
Notebook by Circus Ponies is an excellent tool to structure the framework of your article. I like the loosely captured and developed ideas that I develop in Drafts now structured into a proper outline. I’m not strict in my adherence to the outline but it certainly is an excellent guiding post to write a complete and well rounded document.
Notebook is an outlining tool (actually, it is much more than just an outlining tool but for the purposes of my composing an article it is one of the best outlining tools on the market). It provides you with a traditional hierarchal structure for outlining that includes parent child relationships that can be easily manipulated and moved around till your outline makes perfect sense. The end result of the outline provides the groundwork for a logical flow of your article.
NOTEBOOK STORES BASICALLY EVERYTHING
As I mentioned, Notebook is a wonderful application and it really is much more than just an exceptional outliner. It can and is:
- designed in Notebook style with Divider pages and Tabs
- be your reference library
- clip to function allowing you to clip web pages directly to Notebook using Services in OSX
- a page or section could store your Drafts documentation
- the next page could be your outline
- store the flow of anything including your blog posts
- sections for building the flow of anything from a simple set of tasks through to a blog and even the development of a book
- be used as a Knowledge Management system or in conjunction with a true Knowledge Management system like DEVONthink
- synergy of tools allows for many things
– Getting Things Done (GTD) model by David Allen
- highly adaptable
Now that you’ve captured your thoughts and fleshed them out, created an Outline for your written blog or what have you its now time to write. Again, there are of course numerous tools to write and the most famous of which is Microsoft Word. However, the big problem that I have with Word is it provides 90% of what I don’t need. It also provides a highly distractible environment with its Ribbons and options and do-dads. This is not a great writing environment at least for what I’m doing.
Rather, I decided I just wanted to use a current technique which is plain text wherein the formatting is provided by Markdown. This was created by John Gruber with substantial contributions from Aaron Swartz. Initially, it was intended to provide an easy environment to produce Markup code for web sites (HTML). Its really moved beyond that and is gaining momentum for other purposes which are just writing in general without the intent of producing HTML but rather converting your Markdown written document to an RTF (think TextEdit, Microsoft Word, Apple Pages etc) or a PDF file as an example.
MY EDITOR OF CHOICE
There are lots of Markdown editors to choose from but the one I chose which is excellent is Byword. It provides you with a truly distraction free writing environment. I can’t tell you enough how much I love this tool. It makes the writing process absolutely enjoyable. Its fast, efficient and well fun!
So just to recap, in Byword you’re writing in just plain text which is portable or as portable as it gets. That is, you can take a Byword written document and import into anything.
You write on just a plain off white sheet of paper (screen) with no do-dads to distract you. As such, you are able to concentrate on your writing and what you want to say and get on paper. You can even go into full screen mode where you see nothing more than your Byword document and your writing. Nice!
Byword has another function which is called focused writing. In Byword you can enable either paragraph focus or line focus. It simply means that if you put your cursor over a paragraph or a line everything else is dimmed out except the paragraph or line which allows you to really focus in on what you’re exactly writing now. I tend not to use this though but some love it and find it extremely beneficial.
In my case, I have an iMac with a 27” screen and what I like is to have my Byword document front and centre in the middle of the screen with my Notebook outline just sitting to the left. As I write, I am totally focused writing however, I occasionally glance at my outline for reference. It helps me keep my structure and the words flowing.
Byword is one of many Markdown editors but it is my editor of choice. I’ll discuss Markdown in a separate post more extensively but I thought it important just to discuss it in this framework as it is a critical component of why I use Byword to write.
First, just as an explanation of what Markdown is the following is an excerpt extracted from Wikipedia:
Markdown is a lightweight markup language, originally created by John Gruber with substantial contributions from Aaron Swartz, allowing people “to write using an easy-to-read, easy-to-write plain text format, then convert it to structurally valid XHTML (or HTML)”. The language takes many cues from existing conventions for marking up plain text in email. In other words, Markdown is a text-to-HTML conversion tool (for web writers).
In the context of the way I use it for my blog posts this is an accurate definition of Markdown. However, it is becoming more widely used for other purposes than just to provide a simple means of writing something to go on the web. It is starting to be used for writing in general and there’s good reasons for that.
David Sparks & Eddie Smith have just written a book entirely in Markdown to explain the ever increasing importance and use of the technique in their book “Markdown” available on the iTunes store as an epub document for iBooks on your iPad or you can choose to purchase it as a PDF but not on iTunes. If you’re interested in Markdown this is an excellent book to read which includes lots of video to help further elaborate. Otherwise, the web is an excellent source of information. Finally, Don McAllister at ScreenCastsOnline.com has done a specific one hour tutorial on the subject. Just a word of warning though that if you’re new to Markdown you might feel you’ve just entered the Twilight Zone when you watch this.
This is the last tool that I use to create my blog posting. However, if you want or for that matter even if I wanted to, it really is the only tool you need to write an offline blog. One person said that MacJournal should have been called something like “Personal Journal/Blogger”.
This is an absolutely excellent product for either just writing your personal/professional journal or Blog or for that matter any kind of writing. It’s not intended to replace a full function Word Processor but it comes pretty close. It supports all manner of exported files from just plain text through to PDF and on (see screen shot of all supported exports).
Using MacJournal you can create as many Journals and Blogs as you want all stored in a central database (no searching around for individual files). As a blogging tool, it actually supports a number of functions that Byword does. You can write in a distraction free mode or a full screen, focused editing mode that only presents you with your text.
It is not though a Markdown editor. What it does do that is exceptional is that it allows you to create an automatic link to your Blogging Service and your specific blog that you want to post to so that once you’re finished writing your post you can just automatically post your blog. There is no need to jump to your Blogging Service, login and manually post your blog. MacJournal takes care of all that.
WHEN I USE THIS TOOL
I use MacJournal when I’ve decided I want to include image/graphics in my post as I’ve done in this one. To do this, I paste in my fully formatted text to MacJournal. At this point I now go through my post and paste in the images I want to include.
Now the post is available at the The Daily Mac View (dailymacview.com) ready to be read.
Why not Just Use MacJournal
Some of you are probably wondering why I don’t just use MacJournal to do all of the above. Its one more of personal preference. How you decide to do your blog, if you should be so inclined, will also more than likely be one of personal preference. I however, would recommend that if you just want to cut to the chase and get your words up there easily just use MacJournal. It really is an excellent tool.
However, for me I absolutely love writing in Byword. Plus, all the other stuff I do I’d still do even if I just used MacJournal. That is, I’d still capture my ideas in Drafts, Outline them in Notebook and in this case write the post in MacJournal. I just prefer Byword for the writing and as long as there is no images to include there’s no reason for me to turn to MacJournal. Yet, its there if I need it.
Your Mac really is a power house of a tool to get things done. It allows us to do so much. This post was just an example of one of the things we can do with our Macs.
At the same time, I wanted to draw together the theme of why it is important to:
- Keep Up
- Stay Current
- Use “Methodology or Approaching things Methodically”
With this vast array of things we can accomplish on our Macs and all the tools at our disposal, its very important to have a framework in which you can make your choices. In some ways, it comes back to the very old school of just asking a someone you trust or you feel is in the know what’s what. This is what I’d like to do…..
I hope this post has been of value in at least using your Mac to write your own blog if you’d like to. They’re fun to write. As usual, I welcome any feedback or questions you might have.