When you do a lot of writing aimed at publishing online, you know that sooner or later, something is going to spit out your writing in HTML format. HTML formatted text sits somewhere just above ASCII text in a hierarchical system that exists mostly in my mind. Basically the layers run from handwriting in a notebook up to publication in a physical book. Not all of that is clear, but I see ASCII text in an editor as the baseline of digital writing. It’s unformatted but digitally portable and easily transferred between devices and networks. HTML is too, but has the advantage of being formatted for easy, and more useful reading.
The thing is, HTML is messy. With the angle braces and the opening tags and the closing tags and inline CSS and all of that… it makes the text itself hard to read unless you render it using a web browser. In other words, you need an extra tool to make HTML truly useful.
In between ASCII and HTML there’s a happy medium, and it’s called Markdown. Developed by John Gruber at Daring Fireball, Markdown is a way to provide formatting and readability for your writing in a plain text editor while leaving your text portable and convertible into other formats, like HTML. Using simple tags you can make words bold or italicized, you can add different levels of headers, you can create links, include images, and more. It’s easy to learn and even easier to use.
And I use it all the time. I’m literally writing this post in Markdown right now. But it’s what I’m writing in that I’d like to share with you, because I discovered a fantastic, cross-platform software called Typora that is easily the best Markdown editor I’ve ever used. It’s certainly one of the most beautiful.
See, you can write Markdown in any text editor, but there are editors out there specifically geared to Markdown. That way you can see your tags in action as you write. Your bolded words will be bold and your links will be clickable. They’re fine, but they all seem to suffer from one annoyance, or at least it’s annoying to me — you can see all your tags.
There’s nothing wrong with that, and for some people, seeing their tags is a feature. For me, it’s irritating because I put my double * on each side of the word I wanted in boldface, after that, I just want to see the boldface word. Typora gets this. As you type, and markup your text, Typora formats it as you’ve desired, but then hides the Markdown tags, leaving just your formatted text for you to see. It’s a clean experience and I love the look of it.
Don’t worry though, with a mouse click or a shortcut key, you enter Source Code Mode and see all of your tags, your markup, and make adjustments if you want to.
Typora has several themes for various needs. Since Markdown is used a lot on Github, it’s got a built in theme to display your Markdown as it’d appear on Github. Other themes give you different experiences, but for my optical nerves, the Night theme is where it’s at. It’s almost an homage to Daring Fireball itself as it’s a light text on a grey background. For me, that’s extremely easy on my eyes, which is kind of important when you’re writing for long stretches of time.
Even beyond writing, Typora makes for the perfect editor for lists. At work, I keep a running log of what I’ve done, what I’ve worked on, and so on. That log isn’t anything more than a date in bold text and a bullet list underneath it. When the day is over, I check that into a Git repository and go home. The next day I just start with a new bold date and a new list. Once I started using Typora for that, I started using it for everything else.
If you’re a writer, or a developer, or you need to use Markdown for any reason, give Typora a shot. It’s available on macOS, Windows, and Linux, and the experience is great on each OS. When it comes to Markdown, I honestly don’t know how anything could be better.