Before I get into this I have to note that for most writing I try to keep things as simple as possible: I compose (using Vim, mostly) almost everything in plain text (using MultiMarkdown (see an example of Markdown and its output), converting to another format using Marked, or Scrivener, or something even more geeky like Pandoc.
But my Holy Grail of Writing Workflow is to, as seamlessly as possible, move through all four of the funamendal writing stages:
- Outlining and/or Mind Mapping
- Composing with Scrivener and Multimarkdown (which I am falling in love with)
- Publishing, as needed, to various formats:
- MS Office or RTF
I’m a big fan of brainstorming (despite the critics…which are mostly criticisms based on downsides of group brainstorming), and there are many ways to brainstorm using minimal technology. I’ve long done this using a simple text document (or a shared Google Doc, etc). But I’ve taken to using a mind mapping tool for brainstorming; it’s just as quick as using simple text but with the added benefit that the results can be easily manipulated in various ways—reordering, rearranging and grouping, nesting, etc.
So, for these purposes I am using, depending on my mood, either ConceptDraw MindMap, which has a simple brainstorming function that can then be manipulated like a map, or Novamind, in which I simply use the mapping function directly.
Obviously, if I am using a mind mapping tool for the brainstorming phase, I simply continue to use that tool to build the actual map. Visually organizing helps me figure out a macro view of of the relationship of ideas, concepts, and provides a foundation for the initial organization.
So far, I’m pretty happy with the way things are working. But this is the step—or more accurately, the point of transition—that I’m not really satisfied with: the transition from the mind map to Scrivener. Scrivener has become my go-to tool for composition because it supports the way I work.
Some screenshots of Scrivener at work using this document as an example: Basic Composition Mode, The Corkboard, Outline Mode.
provides a great framework for not just composition, but for rearranging the structure, keeping notes and research materials, and producing the result to various useful format,
can work from a folder of synchronized text files, which I keep on Dropbox so I can access the project from multiple computers as well as my iPad…or any other editor I might want to use, like the aforementioned Vim,
integrates with bibliography tools such as Zotero, Mendeley, and BibDesk,
and has numerous features for both focusing in on specific parts of a composition as well as at a macro level.
Scrivener can import OPML files (as can another editor I use quite often, MultiMarkDown Composter), but both of them only import the basic outline structure, doing nothing with the text notes, links, or anything else attached to an mind map node. I even wholesale geek on the OPML outlines, trying to use XSLT to transform the OPML to Markdown, but this removes linebreaks from the text leaving a mess of text that is of little use to me.
I “publish” my writing in various forms demanding different formats: the dreaded Microsoft Word or the not-so-bad but not-so-administrator-friendly Google Docs, PDF for other kinds of exchange, HTML for blog posts and web writing, or to long Markdown documents for further munging and crunching or text exchange. Scrivener’s publishing process “compiles” all of the—or selected—pieces of a project into a complete document using any of the formats I need and even apply a variety of different manuscript and bibliographic styles. Scrivener can even produce ebooks in both .epub (a common format that can be used on many devices) and .mobi (less commonly used by a primary format for Kindle, though I’ve only played with that feature. For now.
Markdown and Text Markup