23 December 2018

Workflow

Friction elimination and organization in the writing process. Oh how I have worked so hard to find something that works. And from what I read on the interwebs, this seems to be a struggle for a lot of writers.

The solution below works for me… for the moment. It might not work in the future. The tools may change. My micro.blog sister, Joyce Garcia-Buxton, is happy with her status quo. And if you’re happy with your status quo, I’m happy for you.

I wasn’t happy. In fact, I was frustrated. I went in search of a different way with some specific goals.

The System Must Get Out Of The Way

My chief issue with Wordpress since the advent of Gutenberg was the introduction of unnecessary friction. Okay… my chief issue with Wordpress before the advent of Gutenberg was the introduction of unnecessary friction.

I kept saying… over and over… There’s got to be a better way to do this. I’m spending more time and energy tweaking and less time and effort writing. This is BS.”

Organization… Necessary And Vital

Posts, pages, quotes, images… and anything else I can imagine. I required organization of all of these types. I needed organization of the drafts and the final versions. And I needed to be able to quickly find the desired creation.

Separate Tools For Composing and Publishing

I had zero desire to go back to a system whereby I was editing native html files and uploading via FTP. I had zero desire to continue using a database-driven system like Wordpress or Joomla or something else.

I wanted a tool to compose and organize my writing and a separate tool for online publishing.

Cross-Platform Within My Chosen Ecosystem

For better or worse, Apple is my chosen ecosystem. At this point, I’m locked in and haven’t seen any real reason to migrate to something else. For all of its foibles and my quibbles with Apple, the ecosystem works for me.

Fast and accurate syncing was an absolute requirement since I often bang out a few words on my iPhone when I’m not in front of my laptop.

The Solution

I’ve been able to narrow this down to three tools:

  • Bear
  • Dropbox
  • Blot

Tools

Bear

All drafting is done in Bear, a notes app for MacOS and iOS with great syncing capability. Bear offers tagging with secondary levels which provides organizational capability. Most importantly, it exports to Markdown… which allows me to perform 99% of the necessary styling.

Dropbox

I already had a Dropbox Pro account. My day job is information intensive and having locally stored documentation was essential. Sometimes I need to pop open my MacBook Pro when in front of a client and refer to a document without being forced to go online.

What I didn’t know was that there existed a blogging platform which used Dropbox to serve files.

And this is where I was truly astonished.

Blot

Blot is a blogging platform with no interface. None. No logging into a web interface. No plugins to manage.

It creates a special folder inside of your Dropbox account and publishes the files you put inside of the folder. Text, Markdown, Word, Images, Bookmarks and HTML.

The Workflow

Compose in Bear

Bear notes can be opened in a separate window which provides a distraction-free writing experience. I’ve developed a series of templates in Bear which allows me to duplicate and then customize the note with Blot’s metadata. The metadata is straightforward and unobtrusive.

Keeping the drafts organized in Bear does require a bit of Markdown wrangling. In order to tag in Bear without the tags appearing in the rendered posts, I use the following syntax:

[//]: <> (#blot/INSERT TAG HERE)

This creates a comment which Bear interprets as a tag but Blot ignores in rendering. It looks strange but it works. To avoid remembering the above code, I created a snippet in aText… a $4.99 (as of this writing) MacOS app requiring no subscription. I chose this app once TextExpander changed its business model.

Styling is applied inside the draft as I write. Bear’s keyboard shortcuts make this painless.

Once finished…

Export to Markdown

Bear natively exports to Markdown in addition to other file format. When exporting, you’re prompted to save to a folder… which leads to…

Save to Dropbox

Saving the exported Markdown file to the appropriate Dropbox folder within the Blot main folder is the last step of the process. I have four folders within the Blot main directory:

  • Drafts
  • Posts
  • Pages
  • Templates

The first three are self-explanatory. You can preview your drafts by double-clicking on the automatically rendered HTML file in the Drafts folder. You can either make corrections and re-export or simply move the Markdown file to the Posts folder if no revisions are required.

Pages do not appear in the main Blot blog feed. I plan on developing a series of pages I’ll frequently update. Examples will be a list of books I’ve read in a particular year, books I’m currently reading and others.

Blot provides a set of templates that can be customized. I found the Default template just fine but cloned it to make minor alterations to both the CSS and the Entries template.

Results

It takes longer to explain the workflow than it actually takes for the workflow to work.

My writing for my Blot site now has a workflow that is relatively frictionless and organized. Granted, it took me a few days to tweak the Blot template, create the Bear templates and learn a little bit of Markdown. But that is a fast front-end loaded process compared to the hours spent futzing with Wordpress.

Discussion

I’ve had a few people reach out to me asking if this is a solution I would recommend. I can’t answer that question because so much of this is a matter of individual choice.

If Wordpress or some other CMS works for you, then embrace it. For my wife’s author website, Blot isn’t the answer. Her site needs to do more than mine.

For those who wish to compose and publish quickly with minimal (actually… zero) intrusion from an interface, this workflow could be an answer.

At $20 per year, Blot is a bargain. Even if you don’t decide to utilize Blot, buying an annual subscription is a great way to support David Merfield, this project… and the Indieweb at large.


writing workflow


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