hands typing

As you can imagine, I do a lot of writing. That means I have to write fast. Write fast a whole lot! Writing is one of those things that grabs your brain and sucks it down for hours. Kind of like an overeager zombie. In my tenure as Get-It-Done Guy, I’ve learned a lot about how to make the writing process work, and work well.

Write Fast by Choosing a Focus Editor

In order to write fast, you need to rev up your brain and keep it there. We’re talking seventh gear! (Eat your heart out, NASCAR). When you’re writing at a computer, you can get your brain revved by using an editor that takes up the whole screen. All of it. You want this puppy to take over everything. Goodbye, task bar. Goodbye, dock. Goodbye, menu bar. Your brain is a turbo-charged writing bunny on acid, ready to rock, and using full-screen mode will keep you on track, at the head of the pack.

Microsoft Word has “full screen mode.” Sadly, by “full screen,” they mean “full screen except for the cluttered toolbar at the top of the screen that is screaming out to distract you.” Mac Pages has a true “full screen mode.” But my turbo-charged bunny brain scoffs at these big, clunky word processors. Instead, I turn to basic text editors, so my mind is completely with my text.

I have two favorite full screen editors. One is OmmWriter, which runs on both Windows and Mac. It has optional new age music, and not only provides an uncluttered screen, but also disables notifications and other interruptions.

Most of my writing is done in iA Writer for Mac—its full screen mode also has “focus mode.” Focus mode is a brilliant invention that fades your document into the background except the sentence you’re typing. Very much like what happens when you’re watching your favorite TV show, only instead of turning your brain to grape jelly, this focus mode helps you do works of great genius.

Don’t Mix Formatting and Writing

Your bunny brain can’t turbo-charge and write fast if you don’t type fast. One of the biggest slowdowns in writing is making corrections and edits as you write. iA Writer’s focus mode helps with that by keeping you concentrating on the current sentence. But it’s not enough. Since I’m writing in stylized text for the web, I want to be able to use bold and italics and occasionally insert hyperlinks.

Traditional word processors, by which I mean all of them, force you to take your hands off the keyboard, use the mouse, select stuff, click buttons, and basically disrupt your mental workflow to add styled text. You just can’t type fast and type pretty at the same time. But there’s another way. It’s called MultiMarkdown. iA Writer supports a limited version of MultiMarkdown, which is how I learned about it. Since then, I’ve become a total convert. Formatting just becomes part of the writing process.

Use MultiMarkdown

Multimarkdown, and its predecessor, Markdown, is a very simple way to format text. It’s made so you can type fast and still format your text. If you want to type something in italics, you just surround it with asterisks.

Asterisk-Squiggly-Asterisk means the name Squiggly should appear in italics. Surrounding something with two asterisks (asterisk-asterisk-Squiggly) makes Squiggly bold. You can find a full description of Markdown syntax by visiting the Daring Fireball.net website or just Googling “Markdown Cheat Sheet.” You can also Google “MultiMarkdown Reference” to find out how MultiMarkdown works.

The neat thing about Markdown is that once you learn it, it’s very natural to format a piece of writing. Then once you’re done, you can preview or export it to HTML for a blog, PDF to distribute directly, or RTF to edit in Pages or Word or other rich text processor.

Use “Marked” on the Mac

There are many Markdown editors for many different applications. On the Mac, there’s a great application that turns almost any text editor into a Markdown editor. It’s called Marked. When you’re editing a Markdown file in whatever editor you use, you also open it in Marked and every time you make a change, Marked will show you what the Markdown-formatted version will look like. Then you can create the PDF, HTML, or rich text from Marked, even if your main text editor doesn’t support Markdown.

If you have a WordPress blog, you can get a Markdown plugin to write your posts in Markdown. That’s what I do on my personal blog posts. I use the Markdown Quicktags plug-in. I write a post in Markdown, click “Render,” and it turns the Markdown into HTML, ready to view on my blog. When I want to edit it, I click “Markdown-ify” and it turns the post back into Markdown.

Use Mou for HTML Composing

If you’re a web developer specifically, check out the Markdown editor Mou. It lets you compose in Markdown, and view the resulting formatted web page side-by-side. If you’re a Windows user, MarkdownPad does the same thing.

MultiMarkdown has changed my life. Now I can write fast and type fast, formatting my brilliant, glorious prose as it sparkles forth from my fingertips. Formatting is no longer an interruption; it’s become part of the writing process. Add a full-screen editor that eliminates distractions, and you have a toolkit for writing with focus and flow.

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This article was originally published on Quick and Dirty Tips. It has been republished here with permission.