Writing Formats

I am a plain-text maniac—I try to keep as much of my life in plain text 1 as possible. I write everything posted on this site in Markdown syntax, and manually export it to HTML before posting. I keep records of my reading/etc in org-mode.

I abhor MS Word files, and if I have to use a spreadsheet, I’ll use Open Office Calc. Most of the time I make do with Emacs though. Plain text just rocks.

So, even when I’m writing big documents (anything that goes over 5-10 pages long when printed is long), or when I’m writing ‘official’ stuff like design documents, I don’t use word processors. So far, I haven’t really perfected a system for writing such documents, but I’m getting there.

My first thoughts were to just use org, which I did for the first few long documents I wrote. It’s surprisingly easy to write in, but I don’t like the export formats. And not everything fits-in properly to a hierarchical outline.

So I went back to Markdown, with my trusty old posts.el. I have churned out a lot of stuff in this format, so much that I don’t even have to think about anything other than what I’m going to write next.

I went around and created a default stylesheet to use for my ‘official’ HTML files. I’ve stolen most of it from meiert.com’s print styles, and customized it a bit. I just change the fonts depending on what format the document is supposed to be read in—Helvetica/Bitstream Vera Sans Serif if it’s on screen, Platino/Bitstream Vera Serif if it’s print. My documents look decent enough, and all without my worrying about the formatting every few minutes.

But I want more… Markdown rocks, but I can’t do everything I want with it. Org at least provides me with a table of contents on export—with plain vanilla Markdown, I have to write one myself. I don’t have a lot of fine-grained control, for times when I want it.

That brings me to the alternatives I’m looking at: LaTeX, Emacs Muse, and MultiMarkdown. I am really tempted to start learning LaTeX, but I fear it’ll take years to be good at it, and I don’t want too many distractions while writing. I don’t want to fiddle with my text, I just want to write it.

That leaves Muse and MultiMarkdown. I’m inclined to go with MultiMarkdown, as I already have written tons in Markdown. It seems to provide super-set of the original Markdown syntax, with added benefits like metadata, PDF output, LaTeX export and much more.

Muse seems to be very good as well, but I’ll stick with what I know for now. If MultiMarkdown turns out to be inadequate for my needs, then I can always stitch to Muse.

1. Unicode really, encoded as UTF-8

I don’t like people who don’t pay attention to how their writing looks. It’s frustrating to read something badly formatted—if I have to read anything longish that doesn’t look good, I fix it first. I’m just wired that way.

I’ve had the dubious pleasure of looking over a lot of resumés lately, and I can tell you, every one of them looked terrible. Making good first impressions is important. How a person’s resumé looks is not a fair measure of their skills, but then almost nothing in life is.

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