My Current Markdown Writing "Process"

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RonJeffries
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Fri Sep 23, 2016 1:32 am Post

I freely grant that I don't understand Scrivener's relationship with Markdown, especially on iOS. On iOS the generate markdown capability breaks what seems to me to be a necessary aspect of Markdown, given that Scrivener doesn't have styles and therefore can't actually insert things like * and > to make bullets, block quotes, and the like. So, that's OK, it has been made clear that Markdown isn't a priority for Scrivener, even though some of us wish it were. So here's what I've figured out that I'll do.

My purposes are two: First, writing articles for my web site, which is generated to HTML from Markdown, using Jekyll. Historically I've done that using Sublime Text, but I'm thinking Scrivener could let me have a bunch of articles in process and see them all together in a useful way.

Second, I am doing a series of articles that I think want to become a book. This is a moderately sweeping set of ideas that fit together -- about Agile Software Development, of course. Since my prior book, The Nature of Software Development, was in Markdown, and this one will likely go to the same publisher or maybe Leanpub, plus at least some chapters will go to my site, Markdown again seems like a good idea. So here's where I am now:

I have decided just to bite the bullet and hit return-return between paragraphs. This is very 20th century, but Scrivener doesn't really want to help with it unless I want to give up * and > prefixes, without which there is no way I have found to get lists and block quotes. So I have set up a style on the Mac, that's just some sans serif font, Arial if I recall, and a tiny indent on all the lines of the paragraph except the first. A tiny hanging indent, just a few points.

The reason for this is that if I forget and just hit one return between paragraphs, you get a little visual blip. An indented first line would do the same job, of course but since I'm basically writing in Markdown, I'd rather keep it looking like plain text.

Now I just go ahead and use * for lists, > for block quote, and the various []() Markdown things for links. I might use notes and the like but since Scrivener (iOS at least) can't seem to convert its links to anything useful, I'll just do without.

(Possibly the Mac compile is smarter about those things. In the fullness of time, I'll experiment with that but I plan to do most of the writing on iOS.)

So what's left in Scrivener that makes it worth while? A fair amount. In particular the binder organization, and the index cards (even the weak ones in iOS) will give me a decent ability to organize things, and set up quick documents as placeholders. I'm not very good at using those to organize and improve my writing process but I am already feeling the benefit over a loose collection of files, especially on iOS where you have no decent folders to speak of.

What do I need? Well, styles and the ability to compile to markdown would let me use more of Scrivener's links and such. Probably most important would be

  • Ability to move documents and folders between projects ala Mac.
  • Stronger cork board and index cards.
  • Scrivenings mode.

Doubtless more will come to mind, but now that I've given up on actually compiling to markdown, I think I've found a good place to live.

Questions welcome. Ideas even more welcome! :)

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markfasano
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Fri Sep 23, 2016 4:12 am Post

RonJeffries wrote:I freely grant that I don't understand Scrivener's relationship with Markdown, especially on iOS. On iOS the generate markdown capability breaks what seems to me to be a necessary aspect of Markdown, given that Scrivener doesn't have styles and therefore can't actually insert things like * and > to make bullets, block quotes, and the like. So, that's OK, it has been made clear that Markdown isn't a priority for Scrivener, even though some of us wish it were. So here's what I've figured out that I'll do.

My purposes are two: First, writing articles for my web site, which is generated to HTML from Markdown, using Jekyll. Historically I've done that using Sublime Text, but I'm thinking Scrivener could let me have a bunch of articles in process and see them all together in a useful way.

Second, I am doing a series of articles that I think want to become a book. This is a moderately sweeping set of ideas that fit together -- about Agile Software Development, of course. Since my prior book, The Nature of Software Development, was in Markdown, and this one will likely go to the same publisher or maybe Leanpub, plus at least some chapters will go to my site, Markdown again seems like a good idea. So here's where I am now:

I have decided just to bite the bullet and hit return-return between paragraphs. This is very 20th century, but Scrivener doesn't really want to help with it unless I want to give up * and > prefixes, without which there is no way I have found to get lists and block quotes. So I have set up a style on the Mac, that's just some sans serif font, Arial if I recall, and a tiny indent on all the lines of the paragraph except the first. A tiny hanging indent, just a few points.

The reason for this is that if I forget and just hit one return between paragraphs, you get a little visual blip. An indented first line would do the same job, of course but since I'm basically writing in Markdown, I'd rather keep it looking like plain text.

Now I just go ahead and use * for lists, > for block quote, and the various []() Markdown things for links. I might use notes and the like but since Scrivener (iOS at least) can't seem to convert its links to anything useful, I'll just do without.

(Possibly the Mac compile is smarter about those things. In the fullness of time, I'll experiment with that but I plan to do most of the writing on iOS.)

So what's left in Scrivener that makes it worth while? A fair amount. In particular the binder organization, and the index cards (even the weak ones in iOS) will give me a decent ability to organize things, and set up quick documents as placeholders. I'm not very good at using those to organize and improve my writing process but I am already feeling the benefit over a loose collection of files, especially on iOS where you have no decent folders to speak of.

What do I need? Well, styles and the ability to compile to markdown would let me use more of Scrivener's links and such. Probably most important would be

  • Ability to move documents and folders between projects ala Mac.
  • Stronger cork board and index cards.
  • Scrivenings mode.

Doubtless more will come to mind, but now that I've given up on actually compiling to markdown, I think I've found a good place to live.

Questions welcome. Ideas even more welcome! :)


Reading your post I was wondering why you aren't working with Ulysses, given your platform and stated preferences. Is the cork board that important to you?

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RonJeffries
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Fri Sep 23, 2016 9:37 am Post

Well, first reason is that I don't know what Ulysses is, so I'll look and see. More important (to me) is that I've had Scrivener for years and feel that it's a great product and I should give it a real workout.

Thanks,

R

Br
Briar Kit
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Fri Sep 23, 2016 10:06 am Post

RonJeffries wrote:I have decided just to bite the bullet and hit return-return between paragraphs.


Isn't that standard Markdown convention rather than a Scrivener bullet? Paragraphs are defined in Markdown by one or more blank lines, hence the need for a double return. Or have I misunderstood?

PARAGRAPHS AND LINE BREAKS

A paragraph is simply one or more consecutive lines of text, separated by one or more blank lines. (A blank line is any line that looks like a blank line — a line containing nothing but spaces or tabs is considered blank.) Normal paragraphs should not be indented with spaces or tabs.

The implication of the “one or more consecutive lines of text” rule is that Markdown supports “hard-wrapped” text paragraphs. This differs significantly from most other text-to-HTML formatters (including Movable Type’s “Convert Line Breaks” option) which translate every line break character in a paragraph into a <br /> tag.

When you do want to insert a <br /> break tag using Markdown, you end a line with two or more spaces, then type return.

Yes, this takes a tad more effort to create a <br />, but a simplistic “every line break is a <br />” rule wouldn’t work for Markdown. Markdown’s email-style blockquoting and multi-paragraph list items work best — and look better — when you format them with hard breaks.


http://daringfireball.net/projects/markdown/syntax#p

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RonJeffries
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Fri Sep 23, 2016 10:24 am Post

Briar, (! Corrected :)

In systems like, oh, even Word, one can set paragraph spacing to double space after paragraphs, and that's what comes out. In Markdown, one needs an explicit double space between paragraphs. In Scrivener for iOS, you can set its almost-styles to show a double space, but exporting doesn't include the double space, unless you click the export to markdown switch. BUT ... if you do that, Scrivener converts the asterisks and greater-than signs that Markdown needs for lists and block quotes to \* and \>, which, in Markdown, makes them not work as lists and block quotes. However, because Scrivener doesn't have real styles, it does not convert its own lists and block quotes to have the necessary *s and >s.

So I've just given up on getting export help from Scrivener (even though I might possibly have been able to figure something out in the Mac version). Apparently Markdown ran over Scrivener's dog and they just don't get along. That's OK, every product owner has to set priorities for what they will and won't support.
Last edited by RonJeffries on Sat Sep 24, 2016 3:34 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Br
Briar Kit
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Fri Sep 23, 2016 4:34 pm Post

RonJeffries wrote:Brian,

In systems like, oh, even Word, one can set paragraph spacing to double space after paragraphs, and that's what comes out. In Markdown, one needs an explicit double space between paragraphs. In Scrivener for iOS, you can set its almost-styles to show a double space, but exporting doesn't include the double space, unless you click the export to markdown switch. BUT ... if you do that, Scrivener converts the asterisks and greater-than signs that Markdown needs for lists and block quotes to \* and \>, which, in Markdown, makes them not work as lists and block quotes. However, because Scrivener doesn't have real styles, it does not convert its own lists and block quotes to have the necessary *s and >s.

So I've just given up on getting export help from Scrivener (even though I might possibly have been able to figure something out in the Mac version). Apparently Markdown ran over Scrivener's dog and they just don't get along. That's OK, every product owner has to set priorities for what they will and won't support.


Hi Ron

I usually get called Briar, Briar Kit, Kit, or Rosie. Not so taken with Brian. :shock:

Yes, Scrivener (for Mac, at least), Word, Pages, etc can add paragraph spacing before or after a paragraph.

Are you saying Word can take paragraph spacing and export / convert it to the one or more blank lines that Markdown demands? Or when converting to Markdown, Word replaces single paragraph returns with doubles?

You could do the same in Scrivener (for Mac—don't know about iOS): use single paragraph returns with the spacing you want when writing, but then search and replace single paragraph returns with double returns before outputting to Markdown.

Or have I misunderstood?

Best

Rosie
Account closed January 2017

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RonJeffries
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Fri Sep 23, 2016 6:34 pm Post

Beg pardon, Briar, eyes not to good early in the morning. I'm sorry.

No, not saying Word can do bupkis, was treating it as an example: modern editors can do the space after, even not so modern as Word. Scrivener can display it but (iOS) Scrivener won't insert the needed double return.

Yes, I could do the S/R but it adds a step. Since I'm used to non-modern editors, I just set the format to make it clear when I've missed the double return, and will pretend Scrivener isn't as smart as it is.

However, when time permits, I'll dig into Mac's export and see if I can find a more markdownish export scheme. Right now I like being able to export from iOS because i might be able to figure out how to publish to my web site from the iPad. Anyway once one gets set and rolling, it's all good. Since there is occasional interest in one's process and occasional interest in Markdown, I thought I'd report what I'm doing.

Again, my sincere and humble apologies for misreading your pseudonym. <knuckles forehead>

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Sat Sep 24, 2016 2:27 am Post

markfasano wrote:Reading your post I was wondering why you aren't working with Ulysses, given your platform and stated preferences. Is the cork board that important to you?


That's exactly what I was going to suggest. Ulysses would be perfect for the OP's need. He would, however, sacrifice Scrivener's platform agnosticism - if that is important to him - as Ulysses is not available for Windows.

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RonJeffries
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Sat Sep 24, 2016 2:56 am Post

Platform's not important. Scrivener seems more "rich" than Ulysses. That's a mixed blessing: it looks to me as if one can learn Ulysses in a fraction of the time one can really learn Scrivener. And there are things I like, like the cards. I might like the research stuff but it seems one could get close in Ulysses.

I rather want to use Scrivener, because I've had it a while and it seems powerful and that it might be worth really getting into it.

I could be wrong about that ...

Br
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Sat Sep 24, 2016 6:15 am Post

RonJeffries wrote:Beg pardon, Briar, eyes not to good early in the morning. I'm sorry.

No, not saying Word can do bupkis, was treating it as an example: modern editors can do the space after, even not so modern as Word. Scrivener can display it but (iOS) Scrivener won't insert the needed double return.

Yes, I could do the S/R but it adds a step. Since I'm used to non-modern editors, I just set the format to make it clear when I've missed the double return, and will pretend Scrivener isn't as smart as it is.

However, when time permits, I'll dig into Mac's export and see if I can find a more markdownish export scheme. Right now I like being able to export from iOS because i might be able to figure out how to publish to my web site from the iPad. Anyway once one gets set and rolling, it's all good. Since there is occasional interest in one's process and occasional interest in Markdown, I thought I'd report what I'm doing.

Again, my sincere and humble apologies for misreading your pseudonym. <knuckles forehead>


Thanks for the explanation, Ron. It is interesting to read about how others structure and approach their work. I've picked up a lot of ideas about using Scrivener and about the process and art of writing from others users on the forum.

No apology needed. Easily—and often—misread.

Happy writing

Briar
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nontroppo
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Sat Sep 24, 2016 3:29 pm Post

I can't speak to iOS as I can easily write there, but as someone who has long used MultiMarkdown and Scrivener, I'm not sure I understand your tensions. I used MMD formatting for everything, reserving Scrivener's formatting presets to make things look nice in Scrivener, but realising the only output formatting will come from MMD (in my case via Pandoc).

For me the critical thing is to show invisible characters, that makes paragraph breaks very clear visually. And I bind formatting presets for the main markdown blocks to key bindings so I can quickly change their visualisation (I'm only interested in HEADING, QUOTE, FIGURE LEGEND, CODE). They don't get compiled, but make Markdown text in Scrivener easier to visualise. This for me is very low cognitive load, I like writing Markdown explicitly and Scrivener doesn't impede that. Compile on the Mac is very flexible, and I suspect that overall the Markdown workflow is more effortless on macOS than iOS...

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RonJeffries
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Sat Sep 24, 2016 3:38 pm Post

Hi nontroppo,

Yes, I think I'm coming to much the same place as you. Since I'm used to writing MD, I'll just write it. I'm not sure yet whether using styles will add much -- because I'm used to writing in MD and not seeing styles. Byword, which I use a little bit, does a bit of style hinting in response to MD, and it looks like Ulysses does a lot more. Since I'd be looking at a bit of money and a bit of time to cut over to Ulysses, I'm not seeing it as worthwhile yet.

I may never use all of Scrivener's bits (does anyone?), but I've wanted to give it a real chance for a long time.

Thanks,

R

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nontroppo
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Sun Sep 25, 2016 3:46 am Post

RonJeffries wrote:Yes, I think I'm coming to much the same place as you. Since I'm used to writing MD, I'll just write it. I'm not sure yet whether using styles will add much -- because I'm used to writing in MD and not seeing styles. Byword, which I use a little bit, does a bit of style hinting in response to MD, and it looks like Ulysses does a lot more. Since I'd be looking at a bit of money and a bit of time to cut over to Ulysses, I'm not seeing it as worthwhile yet.


I think Ulysses is a beautiful streamlined application and Keith has made it clear he very much respects the developers. But Scrivener's greater depth and almost infinite flexibility really does make it a better organisational tool for me. The very minor convenience of auto-highlighting MD doesn't detract from using it.

I use formatting presets, but really if I have to say which are important, then only one that really matters is differentiating between text and block quotes. I like seeing quotations indented and italicised, it makes it easier to frame my response (when writing responses to reviewers mostly). But this call-response is quite a specific use case and Scrivener supports it well enough (⌘⌥F1 is Normal Paragraph, ⌘⌥F2 is quotation), for everything else raw MD works fine for me.

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RonJeffries
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Sun Sep 25, 2016 11:24 am Post

Yes, nontroppo,

It may come to be that as I learn some hot keys, I'll use them to give better hints about the shape of the article, as you do. And I'm pretty comfortable writing in a flat editor with MD, so I may stick with that. Thanks for the thoughts!

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RonJeffries
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Fri Sep 30, 2016 10:58 pm Post

As reported above, I just write in Markdown. I might start formatting a bit, as nontroppo does, but I've not even started that yet.

I've not found a quick way to view the formatted HTML output from my work, on ipad. copy-paste to byword seems as good as i've found.

Ideas welcome.