Write, a cross-platform Markdown writing app

I’ve been trying to write for my blog more often. (I have an item in Balanced to help.) Part of this is making the actual writing process a pleasurable one. I write all my posts in Markdown before copying them over to Squarespace. I’ve tried Byword, iA, MultiMarkdown Editor and other writing apps. I’ve also tried keeping blog post drafts in nvAlt. For the longest time, nothing really clicked for me. Lately, though, I’ve been using Write and enjoying it quite a bit.

Overview

At its most basic, Write is a cross-platform Markdown-speaking text editor. Whether on the Mac, iPad, or iPhone, editing text is a consistent, straightforward experience. Each platform offers the same options for dark or light mode and writing in “rich Markdown”, hybrid mode, or plain text. Plain text is what it sounds like. There’s no formatting or styling of the text whatsoever.

The rich Markdown mode works much like any other word processor where the text displays just as it would print. Under the covers, the content is still Markdown, but it displays in rich text (headers, bold, italic, etc.) and responds to the usual rich text shortcuts like ⌘I for italics and ⌘B for bold on both Mac and iPad. (The iPhone app does not currently support keyboard shortcuts and is generally a bit buggy with a Bluetooth keyboard. The developer says he plans to address this in future development.)

The hybrid mode is what users of other apps like Byword will be most familiar with. It’s a formatted Markdown. The text displays with its formatting, but the formatting characters themselves are dimmed out. So, for bold text, **some text** displays “some text” in bold and the bolding asterisks in a subdued gray. On any platform, Write easily toggles between Markdown preview and editing with a tap or click.

Where most apps limit you to syncing to a single Dropbox or iCloud location, Write can sync multiple folders of documents and allows easy file navigation. Some users seem content to have all their files in one folder and then search for the relevant one, but for me, being able to keep my business text files in a separate Dropbox folder from my personal text files for ease of sharing and collaboration and general anal retentive organizational purposes. Write also supports iCloud syncing.

Another place that Write excels is in sharing and publishing capabilities. Write supports Tumblr, WordPress and FTP upload publishing. On iOS, Write also supports sharing to third-party apps and services like Facebook, CloudApp, Evernote, and Google Drive. If that’s not enough, it’s also possible to create your own sharing actions. The syntax for this is similar to creating custom actions in Drafts. If you’re familiar with Drafts, you’ll feel right at home here.

The last thing that all the Write apps support is tags. On iPad, iPhone, and Mac, Write can read and write tags that can be used in the other Write apps but also make their round trip to OS X’s native tags so that Spotlight search for regular OS X tags will also find your Write documents. If you’re a tagger, this is giant.

Write for iOS

Write icon

On iOS, the editing mode includes a helpful accessory view as well. In addition to formatting functions like bold, italic, underline, headings, lists, links, etc. there is a button for toggling Markdown preview, and utility buttons for undo/redo. The accessory button that I find most useful is the cursor positioning button. Tap on this button and keep your finger pressed to the screen and you can drag the cursor around the text view. The drag does not need to remain within the bounds of the button, and once you lift your finger from the screen, the cursor position is finalized. After just a few times using this feature, I found myself missing it in other iOS writing apps including Mail and Messages. My first laptop had a mouse pointer button in the middle of the home row rather than a trackpad, and this works similarly but at the same time much more responsively.

On the iPad, there is a familiar master-detail UI with a master view that collapses out of the way after selecting a file to view or edit. On the iPhone, the list of files is tucked away in a basement menu view that’s available with a tap. The key to Write’s iOS experience is that when you’re actually ready to write, the UI has already made itself scarce.

Write for Mac

Write for Mac is customizable to create any stylesheet you want beyond the included light and dark themes. Personally, I prefer my writing environment to be consistent on every screen, so I haven’t embraced any custom theming.

Write is similar to other Markdown apps. In my usage, it compares closest to Byword. Whereas Byword dims the text color of anything that is not your words, Write uses color for things like links in the body. These links are actually clickable, though, so it’s reasonable that they’re not dimmed.

Write for Mac uses the iPad version’s master-detail layout but makes good use of the extra space available on the Mac. The Mac version also allows for opening a document in a separate window, full screen mode, and other distraction-free writing hallmarks.

Conclusion

Write is a useful, consistent suite of apps that allows me to write any time the words decide to start flowing. With its plethora of output channels, including publishing to WordPress and Tumblr, Write can power any writing need.

Write is available for iPhone, iPad, and Mac.

Getting More Balanced

It’s easy for me to cut myself too much slack. “You worked hard at work today. It’s totally fine to just zone out on the couch and watch Ancient Aliens for a few hours.” Some days, I don’t really feel like doing the things that are ostensibly important to me. It’s also very easy for me to let an activity I’m highly engaged in take up an outsized portion of my available time. This can be a healthy ebb and flow as long as I remember to give those other things attention before they’re starved and sometimes let those things take more than their fair share for a while.

One way to deal with this would be to plop tasks into OmniFocus and set defer and/or due dates, but that has two problems for me. The first is that some of these important things I do are not regular. I don’t need to go for a walk exactly every three days. And in fact, this wouldn’t even work because the days I can go for a walk are not regularly spaced. And I don’t want a defer date to bring up something I can’t actually do. I also don’t need a task like “Work on indie app” in my OmniFocus because it’s not a useful action.

More importantly, though, I don’t need these things in OmniFocus because that’s not the kind of stuff this is. OmniFocus is where I put the stuff that I have to do in order to keep the wheels from coming off. These important things aren’t tasks. They’re more like values. Call them priorities if you want. This is the important stuff that is often drowned out by the urgent. What I need is a gentle nudge to apply my time and attention in a way that will move me toward the life I want one step at a time.

Balanced icon

Recently, I discovered an app called Balanced. On the surface, it’s a fairly simple app. I have a list of stuff. Each item in the list has settings for how often I intend to do it. Then, Balanced handles the messy business of bubbling up the thing I should be doing right now to the top of the list. It does a great job of giving me just the right amount of prompting to keep me on the right track with the things that are important.

To create a new item in Balanced, just swipe down, similar to the pull-to-refresh mechanism in many apps. When creating a new item, there are just a few options First, there are the title and then the frequency settings. Then, you can select an icon to show next to it. Just a few taps and Balanced starts helping you give this new item the attention it deserves.

Configuring a habit in balanced

During this setup is when I do the thinking about how much of my life I intend to devote to this thing and how I want to balance it with the other items in the list. Taking health and fitness as one example, I have three items in my list: “Play ultimate”, “Go for a bike ride”, and “Go for a walk”. These have different frequencies. “Play ultimate” and “Go for a walk” are set to twice a week each. I don’t ride my bike as often as I play ultimate or go for a walk, so it is set to three times per month. This is a good balance for me among the things that I like to do with my health and fitness free time.

In the list of items, the thing Balanced thinks you should be doing next is always at the top. Right now, Balanced is reminding me to take the dog for her walk to the mailbox to check the mail, practice my tuba, and go for a bicycle ride. These three things are all doable today! Taking the dog to the mailbox is pretty simple. I have a bike ride scheduled with some friends this afternoon. I just need to go sit in my office for an hour with my tuba and work on some of the tricky passages in the music we’re playing for this first concert of the season and then I’ll have a pretty accomplished day! As I complete things, I swipe left-to-right to check them off. They fall to the bottom of the list waiting to bubble up again.

If, for some reason, I’m not going to do something that’s at the top of the list, I can swipe from right to left to skip it. This way, I don’t end up with a bunch of things that are “Past Due” staring me in the face and making me feel bad about my life. So, if “Go for a bike ride” says “Do now” but I’m still recuperating from a rough game of ultimate, I can skip it. If I’m super busy with work stuff and can’t go for a walk, I can skip it.

Balanced habit history

When I want to check in on a particular item, I just tap it in the list. Balanced shows me my success on the item and how it relates to my success on the other items in my list. It shows the title of the item, a balance score based on the number of times it has been completed on time, completed late, or skipped, and a timeline that shows a series of colored dots—green for done on time, red for late, and blue for skipped.

In the upgraded version ($2.99 in-app purchase), Balanced’s Life Pulse feature gives me a sense of how I’m doing with all the things I’ve put in. It will list the things to focus on more and also where I’m doing well. The Life Pulse graph provides a “balance line” indicating a 75% done on time rate. Life Pulse alone is worth the upgrade price. The other bits are nice (I like the disco mode theme and I have a passcode set.) but Life Pulse is the real value of the upgrade. Having a high level sense of how well I’m valuing things in my life is very helpful.

So, what kinds of things are in Balanced for me? Playing ultimate, playing music (tuba, guitar), practicing magic, going for a walk, and calling loved ones that it’s easy for me to go too long without talking to. I also have an entry to write on this blog and also to eat somewhere new. (I’m a creature of habit and it’s easy for me to get stuck in a rut.) I also have current side projects listed as well. It’s easy to let those slide for longer than I really want them to as busy days blur together into busy weeks.

I’m circumspect about adding too many things to Balanced for worry of either becoming overwhelmed or adding phony-baloney things that shouldn’t really be in here. Maybe I’ll relax this in the future, but for now, things that go into Balanced are precious to me and significantly contribute to the person I want to be. The important thing, though, is that Balanced can support anything you want to put into it. Want to drink enough water throughout the day? Balanced can help. Want to cultivate a perspective of thankfulness or empathy? Balanced can help with that too. Anything you want to have a little bit of help giving the attention you deem it deserves, Balanced can help.

Overall, I’m finding Balanced is just the right mix of reminders and information. I feel great about checking things off the list, and after a few weeks of using it, I feel great about the cocktail of important things it’s helped me create. If in the future I find I’m skipping things or I start to get overwhelmed, it’s simple to review the list and make adjustments to either the content or the ratios frequencies to keep myself living the life I want to live.