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In my post about subscriptions, I mentioned Spaces, and realised I had not yet discussed why I had encountered it, same with Obsidian. In this post, I’ll go into my current thinking and exploration regarding long-form writing apps, elaborating on my current thinking (as my mind is changing every few hours at the point when it comes to thinking about this subject), with a post soon regarding ‘second brain’ systems and note-taking.
As mentioned in my post about how I study, I use Pages to write my documents and then edit in Word if I wish to send them to someone who uses Word. I was satisfied with this process, but found Pages too… ‘rich text-y’ when I started writing for this blog. Initially, I wrote the first two posts using the WordPress editor, but I didn’t like how I kept getting mini pop-ups whenever I clicked on a block, I couldn’t get spellcheck to turn on to pick up my typos, and of course I needed to be online to write, plus while drafts can be saved, I would have to manually copy-and-paste the text to back it up, which is also an issue as by default, only a block at a time can be highlighted to copy-and-paste, requiring me to go through another step to access the raw source plain text. It was a hassle, and I know I needed to find another piece of software for long-form writing, without any frills to get in the way.
This meant I could rule out popular applications such as Scrivener, as although highly rated, seemed way too extensive for what I was wanting to do. Maybe if I do write a novel one day it’ll be a good choice, but for writing, and just writing, I knew I needed to look elsewhere.
At first, I looked at how I could easily copy-and-paste my writings into WordPress without the issues of rich text getting in the way, and I quickly found out about Markdown. Turns out, I’ve been using Markdown for years as a Reddit user, a simple and light language for writing formatted text. Most importantly, I could write in markdown, including headers and images if I wanted, and then simply paste the whole thing into a new post inside WordPress, and it should all appear the same as I wrote it. Excitedly, I then began down a rabbit hole I’m still not quite out of.
I started with a highly recommended piece of software, iA Writer. It is generally regarded as expensive because a license is needed for each platform of macOS, Windows, iOS, and Android – each costing around $30, but is considered worth it, as well as being praised for its one-off payment compared to competitor Ulysses, which has a subscription model. I used a two week trial of iA Writer, and wrote a couple of posts for this website using it, finding the feature to send my written article to my WordPress site automatically as a draft very handy. I was impressed by it, finding the experience of simply writing without excessive formatting getting the way to be a relief, helping aid the process of putting ideas and words to ‘paper’ easy and enjoyable.
However, the price seemed high compared to some other applications on the market, some even free. So when my trial ended, I put it on the back burner, and went to see what else was out there.
I spoke highly of Spaces in my previous post about subscriptions, and it was because I very nearly chose it as my predominant long-form writing app as it seemed to have pretty much everything I wanted, and was very reasonable with its free tier. However, one vital issue prevents me from doing so, and that is the location of my files. I cannot find them in my filesystem, and thus cannot back them up on a regular basis using a program like ChronoSync. If this isn’t an issue for you though, I would highly recommend checking it out.
Another app which nearly took the main prize was MarkText, a free and simple cross-platform editor, but with one vital flaw I struggled to address. I loaded up the file containing the post about music organisation as a test to see what it looks like, and noticed long strings of seemingly random text bunched together spread throughout the post. I quickly loaded up the post on the website and went to a section where the text appeared to go crazy, and realised the $ sign was causing the problem. I thought I merely had a setting turned on for a special type of formatting (looks like something to do with inline maths), but I can’t find a way to turn it off.
While this issue didn’t happen every time there was a $ sign, I found it frustrating I couldn’t fix it, as it kept making that long string of text. Disappointed, as I had liked the program otherwise, I decided against it.
Looking at Reddit posts and comments of what users recommend, I came across two new names to try about: Byword and Typora. However, due to a lack of a free trial, I had to rule Byword out, and instead tried Typora, a $15 for three licences cross-platform editor, for two weeks. I was immediately impressed with its focus and typewriter modes, features shared with iA Writer, and the ability for vast customisation of themes as well as its simple management of files where it just displays whatever is in the folder you pointed it to look at.
In fact, it seemed to me, as someone who only had two weeks with iA Writer, as an application which does all I need it to do for a significantly less price. There was one exception I noticed, which was the ability to send drafts directly to WordPress, but again, I had intended to copy-and-paste these anyway, and the process works fine. In fact, I have written the posts about subscriptions and swapping between Mac and Windows in Typora, as well as writing this post up right now.
My mind was almost set, I had decided to go for Typora as it had the added benefits of Typora’s license covering three devices including Windows and Linux, whereas I’d need a new one for iA Writer to type on Windows, and I don’t believe it is supported on Linux. But I wanted to revisit MarkText one more time to see if I could fix the weird issues with using $ symbols, and while I cannot find a way to prevent Inline Math from being activated, I can at least turn it off by pressing on the text and then selecting Inline Math from the toolbar under Format.
However, I then came across another issue, struggling to find a way to quickly insert links. In iA Writer and Typora, I can press ⌘ + K over highlighted text, and it becomes a hyperlink to whatever was copied into my clipboard. MarkText, on the other hand, has a hotkey to create a hyperlink, but requires you to paste in the contents from the clipboard separately. Furthermore, after more testing, I significantly appreciated how Typora and iA Writer autocorrected my typing mistakes, whereas MarkText would just point them out, awaiting me to correct them, taking more time.
As such, I will be using Typora as my primary application for writing. iA Writer is an amazing application, but I struggle to justify the costs when the significantly cheaper Typora is suitable enough for me. Because of this, I suggest any one looking for a new writing application ought to try Typora, iA Writer and MarkText before making their decision.