Markdown for General Writing

Author, David Hewson has written a post about using Markdownfor general writing.


The title of the post is “Markdown: For general writing I really don’t get it”. But, Hewson later qualifies this.

OK. Stop the shrieking. I’m not saying that Markdown is, unlike IA Writer Pro, rubbish. It’s actually a very capable invention. Just one that’s not made to be used for creative writing.

In spite of the inflammatory title and prose, I have to agree in part with this sentiment. Markdown might not have much benefit for the purely creative writer(Fountain is another story though). Writing in plain text will not make you more creative than writing in rich text.

But, to me general writing encompasses more than creative writing. When I write I want to be able to define headings, bullet points, lists and footnotes quickly.

Hewson misses the point by disparaging the time it takes to type markup for bold and italics…


Most Markdown editors do actually format text too. So you get the italic styling and the marks as well. Plus, if you type out the marks instead of using keyboard shortcuts, you do more work for some — four keystrokes for bold and six for bold italic, against two and four keyboard combinations. And if you’re using keyboard combinations… what’s the difference anyway? You might as well be in a real text editor such as Scrivener or Word.

Why is it better to write in Markdown than using the standard formatting shortcuts we’ve all learned over the years? No really… why?

If all I wanted to do was bold and italics , Markdown would be overkill. This is where a markup language outshines WYSIWYG. I can define these things much quicker with markup rather than a laborious trip to the menu bar to find some obscure item to accomplish the task.

I suppose I would eventually learn the keyboard shortcuts for that particular editor to learn footnotes etc… but with markdown, I can use my knowledge in any text editor without having to worry about program specific keyboard shortcuts. I can also write using my iPad without having to worry about syncing issues or being tied once again to one specific editor.

Cool factor

The trouble is fashion — and nothing else — has now dictated that it’s cool to use Markdown as a general word processor too. That stripping out conventional text formatting — the kind you see in uncool but universal apps such as Microsoft Word — somehow unlocks the creative process by removing the supposed distraction of WYSIWYG.

I do not use markdown because it it “cool”. I use it for it speed, consistency and ubiquity. For me this means the ability to use multiple editors for the same text. Markup is faster that a trip to the menu bar and if there is a problem with formatting, I can see where things have gone wrong and correct them as opposed to madly deleting unseen returns and hoping for the best.

Rich Text

Books are read in rich text — and for most of us that’s surely how they’re best written.
And when you come to deliver your manuscript to an agent or a publisher they will, I promise, shriek if you go all geek on them and say you’d like to deliver it in any other format than Word. So if you write in Markdown you have to export it to rich text anyway.

Sometimes, I like to write in one font and print in another. Some fonts just look better on the screen. Markdown makes the option available. To be fair so do good text editors like Scrivener.

I have never submitted anything to a publisher, but markdown to rich text conversion very easy, using any competent markdown editor. In addition you have the option of exporting to Latex, Word, ePub, Open Office etc…

Writing in plain text will not improve your creativity. But, I think that assuming

Markdown was never meant as a replacement for an industrial strength word processor. It’s a superb minimal markup language for people dealing in computer code or writing for the web

is too narrow a focus. Markdown has great application for general writing. I suspect that most people do not need the bloat (power?) of MS word for their day to day writing.

I suspect I am on the losing end of the argument because WYSIWYG makes things look like typing on paper. There is more of a learning curve initially with Markdown, but what you have to learn is some basic syntax. The biggest stumbling block is wrapping your head around markup as opposed to WYSIWYG.

I can write things faster in markdown than in a WYSIWYG editor because I do not have to rely on style to define headings, bullet points or footnotes. The words I type are potentially readable for generations because they are in plain text( I am not dependent on MS Word maintaining backward compatibility). If I write in markdown, I am not restricted to an editor, device or operating system and I do not have compatibility issues.

Markdown has application outside of writing for the web in spite of what Hewson contends. If you are interested some great applications that are useful are:


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