Markdown has changed the way I type. I have been reading about Markdown for the past few years but never really got down to using it extensively. That changed this year when I decided to integrate Markdown into my workflow.
Hassle of formatting
I have never been a fan of WYSIWYG editors, as much as I’ve tried to work with them. When I type in rich text editors, I find myself distracted by the need to format text. That meant taking my hand off the keyboard to select the text and apply the style. I noticed that when my hands leave the keyboard, it breaks my chain of thoughts. When I rest my hand on the keyboard after formatting, I often find myself having to pause and recall where my thoughts left off.
I tried to avoid lifting my hands off the keyboard by using the arrow keys to select the text and apply styles using short keys. It worked for short snippets of texts but when I need to select larger chunks of text, I’m back to the same problem I faced before.
My first experience with pure plain text for the purpose of writing was when I created and edited content for wikis. Most wikis use a form of wiki text as the input syntax. Different wiki platforms usually have their own syntax but the general idea is the same. By writing in wiki text, your mind is freed from formatting and you can concentrate on the content.
When I finally tried out Markdown, I realised that it was very similar to wiki text. I immediately fell in love with writing in Markdown.
What is Markdown?
Markdown is a formatting syntax created by John Gruber with contributions from the late Aaron Swartz. It was created to make plain text easy to read. It can also be easily converted to HTML. Take a look at the Wikipedia entry to learn more about the history of Markdown.
Below are a few examples useful in a blog setting. Check out the documentation for all the available Markdown options.
I can make text **bold** or *italic*.
Output: I can make text bold or italic.
It is easy to [link to url](http://jenxi.com/) and [link to relative paths](/about/).
It is easy to add images to your text.
Markdown has gained increasing widespread use. The most notable recent adoptions include WordPress.com, self-hosted WordPress, Github, and Reddit.
However, Markdown is still not available on self-hosted WordPress. If you are self-hosting WordPress and want to use Markdown, I recommend using the Markdown on Save plugin. There are a few other plugins available but I believe this is the best option available right now. The downside is that you have to manually enable Markdown formatting per post, but this feature actually gives you flexibility and greater control over the entries that you want Markdown enabled. If you wish to skip having to manually toggle Markdown, you can use the Markdown on Save Improved plugin. This plugin does the same thing but assumes Markdown is to be enabled on all your entries. The only drawback in using these two plugins is that the Markdown-formatted text is stored separately so if you disable the plugin in the future you will only retain the converted HTML text.
I heard about Markdown for more than a year before I ended up giving it a go. When I did, I was kicking myself for not trying it earlier.
Test it out with the Markdown Dingus. It might revolutionise the way you write.