How A Lazy Person Writes In Markdown

Note: You’re really going to want to know Markdown for this one (this will confuse and/or bore the crap out of you if you don’t). If you still need convincing, here are the reasons you should be using it to write for your blog and here’s a primer on how to get started with Markdown.

Unrelated side note: My post on being lazy proved to be one of my longer ones, so I recorded a podcast for you slackers. You should also feel free to be even lazier and download my Keyboard Maestro Macros and TextExpander Snippets.

There are parts of me that want to tell you how busy I am. To explain how my hectic schedule forces me to think long and hard about how I write. To share how this struggle set me on a path to figure out how to format my writing as quickly as possible for this site.

In truth, I’m lazy and that laziness has led me to figure out all of the shortcuts that let me to format my work for the web as quickly as humanly possible. Since I’m assuming that some among you are fairly lazy yourselves, it only seems fair that I spare you the work of figuring this out for yourself and share my tips and tricks.

Why Markdown?

Why would a lazy person write in Markdown? Easy! There is no faster way to format your text for the web. It’s easy to learn (you should be fluent in about an hour, even if you’ve never coded before1) and it’s fast to write in. It allows you to save all of your files in plain text, which is essentially the most universal format there is, and is easy for anyone who edits your work (and boy does my work need editing) to read (and correct).

Now in theory, once you’ve learned the basics, you’re good to go. The beauty of Markdown is that you don’t need aids to quickly format for the web. The thing is… we’re lazy and we want to do it faster and easier, so here’s how…

Making Markdown Even Faster

I currently use a mix of TextExpander (when formatting as I write) and Keyboard Maestro (when formatting something that’s already been written).

Wrapping Text

When creating links, bolding and italicizing text, you need to “wrap” your text. This means that your brackets, parentheses, asterisks and underscores need to appear before and after the word(s) you are formatting. There are several ways to speed this up, but in this case, the best option is actually the simplest: use an application that automatically does this for you. Both nvALT and Byword will automatically wrap brackets, parentheses and quotation marks (and I’m hoping that Scrivener adds this sometime soon) and Byword lets you use a keyboard shortcut for both bolding and italicizing text. I’ve also created TextExpander snippets for quickly writing bold and italic text and Keyboard Maestro macros when I need to format something that was already written that will work in any application2.

Links Four Ways

When writing in Markdown there are four primary ways I create links. Two use TextExpander and two harness Keyboard Maestro3.

  1. No Text, No Link – Let’s say you are writing and want to quickly link to a domain that you know off the top of your head. All you need to do is use a pre-formatted TextExpander snippet that provides two blank fields: one for the text you want to use and another for the URL. The cursor moves to the end of the line so you can just keep typing after you’ve made your link without losing a step.
  2. No Text, Link On The Clipboard – Now you’re writing and want to create a link for the URL on your clipboard. This time, you evoke another pre-formatted snippet, one that has a blank field for the text, but pastes the URL in its proper place. Once again, the cursor is placed at the end of the link and off you go.
  3. Text, Link On The Clipboard – This is the most common link in my repertoire. I tend to format after I write, so the goal is to quickly highlight some text and create a link using the latest URL on the clipboard. Keyboard Maestro makes this fast and easy. Geek Tip: If you’re a LaunchBar user, their clipboard history speeds things up dramatically when creating multiple links. Just copy all of your links onto the clipboard, switch back to your text file and use the history to quickly find the one you need.
  4. Text, No Link – Sometimes I forget to add a link or decide to add something after the fact. If I know the link off the top of my head, all I need to do is highlight the text, and use a Keyboard Maestro macro that asks me to enter the link.

All of these create what are known as inline links, so the Markdown savvy amongst you may be wondering about reference links. While I have a few snippets and macros for creating these, I honestly found it easier to create everything inline and use Brett Terpstra’s amazing service that converts all reference links into references. Why bother doing this? Simple, I have chimp grammar and my wife finds documents with reference links easier to edit.

Headers, Page Breaks, Block Quotes, Bullets And Numbered Lists

To be honest, there are probably some ways to speed these up, but like I said, I’m lazy. When creating links or bolding and italicizing text, I find macros and snippets to be extremely helpful. The same doesn’t really hold true when dealing with headers, page breaks, block quotes, bullet lists and numbered lists. With the exception of block quotes, typing them out the old fashioned way seems fastest to me. As far as block quotes are concerned, I’ve always found it easiest to highlight your text and use Byword’s Command-’ keyboard shortcut. In fact, Byword has a ton of great Markdown keyboard shortcuts for the lazy, including a few that speed up the creation of numbered and bullet lists.

Markdown On The Go

Once again, Brett Terpstra comes to the rescue with some fast and easy snippets that help you to format Markdown on your iPhone and iPad. You can subscribe to the URL and always have these at your fingertips, but I’ve found it faster to type on the phone and format on my Mac in Byword using all of the tricks above. I’ll occasionally create headers, lists and bold or italicize text, but I’ve found creating links to be a royal pain on iOS. While I’m yet to give it a go, fellow Markdown junky Mike Vardy swears by Writing Kit for creating Markdown on the iPad.

That Seems Like A Lot…

Now the truly lazy amongst you are probably groaning right about now that it sounds like a lot to setup and a lot to use. While the first part is very true, the second couldn’t be further from the truth. Once you commit a few keyboard shortcuts to muscle memory, you will be formatting your text faster than you ever could have imagined. As for the work, I’ve done it for you my lazy brethren. Here are my Keyboard Maestro Macros and TextExpander snippets for Markdown.

Everyone Has Their Own Way

Many Markdown lovers use and love Brett Terpstra’s Services, others love some of the powerful extensions that are available for TextMate and something tells me that Gabe from MacDrifter has some Keyboard Maestro magic up his sleeve. This is just the quickest way that I’ve found for formatting the words you see here for the web. But like I said, I’m lazy, so I’m betting there’s a better way. If you know one, share it below.

  1. Trust me, I don’t know a lick of code. []
  2. All of these could have been done in Keyboard Maestro, but I was already so deeply engrained in TextExpander by the time I got started with that app and didn’t see the need to change. []
  3. Again, this could all just as easily have been done entirely in Keyboard Maestro []
  • Yuvi

    You rock, Michael! Great post, great video. Also, you characterized the distinction between the strengths of Text Expander and that of Keyboard Maestro better than I’ve ever heard before… Nice!

    • http://michaelschechter.me MSchechter

      Thanks bud! The video was a bit of a last minute edition after realizing just how much writing it took to get the point across :)

      As for KM vs TE, I know that KM can essentially do it all, but TE is so optimized for type of text entry. I just can’t quit it. I think I’m up to 40+ hours worth of typing saved with that app.

  • mac20q

    I also use Keyboard Maestro and TextExpander along with Writeroom and Marked to get the words I have dictated into Dragon Dictate moved and published using MarsEdit. Seems a bit convoluted but it is a work flow that is pretty fast to work through. I made a YouTube vide which can be seen on the Wizardgold Channel. It is called Markdown in MarsEdit on a WordPress Blog 

    Thanks to a viewer  telling that it could be done to put Markdown into MarsEdit for publishing I found a way to do it and it works a treat.

    • http://michaelschechter.me MSchechter

      I won’t lie, I just cheat here and use the Markdown for WordPress and bbPress plugin. This way I can post directly in Markdown and make quick edits when needed.

      • http://alphaefficiency.com Bojan Djordjevic

        I am desperately looking for native Mac client with full markdown support. I prefer Byword as writing environment.