Moving Back to Byword for Markdown Composition

When I initially purchased Byword for my phone, it was at a time when I had transitioned all of my note-taking from Evernote to plaintext / markdown1. I tried Write and iA Writer and others and settled on Byword for a while. But then my note-taking died down on the whole, and I found myself not needing an app like this. It eventually got uninstalled some day I needed more space for photos.2

Subsequently, a few things have changed:

  • I am now hosting my own static blog, via Octopress and markdown-based source files, hosted on heroku. So I'm writing more in a text editor for blogging than I ever was before.
  • I am regularly journaling in Day One.

My blog posts right now are edited in one text editor or another3, and that mostly works, but I long for richer syntax highlighting and/or syntax-aware styling. I find the workflow of using Marked to preview my files cumbersome since it either requires using an editor which does atomic saves, or constantly pressing CMD-S throughout my drafting. I would prefer some syntax styling -- Day One does a great job with that, but it's impractical to draft every blog post there, copy it out to a text file, etc., and I don't want my blog drafts cluttering up my personal journal.4

The built-in syntax highlighting of most text editors gets me most of the way, and I appreciate the efforts of the user and development communities for each of Atom and Sublime Text 3. For my workflow, though, I wanted something more exclusive to this process, and an application or workflow that I could use successfully on both my Mac and my ridiculously big iPhone.5

I've been enjoying Drafts on my phone for quickly capturing notes, tasks in a conversation, shopping lists, etc., but it's not a superb text editor or publishing client despite its extensions and other capabilities. It also has no concept of synchronization for its notes.6 I'd need to export manually from the phone each time I knew that I wanted to work on my laptop instead.

I considered going back to iA Writer or Write, and synchronizing through Dropbox. That would leave a gap on my laptop fillable by a few different applications: iA Writer has a desktop version as well7, Byword, Desk and Typed all look like decent options. I've previously used Mou and enjoyed it for a time, but it's a little klunky. I checked out The Sweet Setup, which doesn't always have opinions that I share, but is full of great detail. They recommend Byword, and though I hadn't yet enabled iCloud Drive on my devices, this seemed like a good reason.8 I wasn't convinced, though, that this was going to be worth the $12 purchase. It's pricey for a Mac app these days, and there is no way to trial purchase applications. The reviews, though, contained this one gem that sealed it for me:

So I am giving Byword another shot, on recommendation from The Sweet Setup and, oddly enough, Neal Stephenson9. Now my icon row on my phone looks like this:

That's Day One, Drafts and Byword -- all Markdown-based text editors -- right in a row. I use each one of them daily, and this workflow is pretty seamless, with one annoying nitpick: iCloud Drive just isn't great yet. When I initially started using this, I was able to pull all of my existing static notes via Finder into iCloud Drive and they uploaded within a minute or so. I could immediately edit them on my phone, which was great. The reverse, though was not so seamless. I started drafting this post on my phone a few nights ago, and found that by 12 hours later it still had not shown up in iCloud Drive on my laptop. I was about to jump ship. It magically appeared later that night, and I figured out why -- because I had changed another file in the same folder. This seems to trigger a re-sync of state prior to upload10, and so I have a workaround. It's not perfect, but I expect it will mature over time.

  1. I could write an entire series of posts about my internal drama regarding note taking, but who would read that drivel?

  2. I always buy the 16GB model. That’s definitely going to change next time around.

  3. And a second series on switching text editors every few months. Back on Sublime Text 3 again now.

  4. If Day One ever comes out with support for multiple journals I might reconsider all of this, and do all of my blogging there natively, and publish out to their hosted platform, but it’s not there, and that’s not now.

  5. I’ve been rocking the 6 Plus for a few months now. It’s massive, but now all other phones just feel too small. I suspect that was part of the idea.

  6. This is actually my only issue with Drafts. So many times I want to take something I quickly drafted and pull it up on my laptop and am frustrated that I have to email it to myself. What is this, 2012?

  7. I used iA’s writing apps for months a long while ago. They were good, but not superb. After following the author on Twitter for a while, I started to have a real problem with how he conducted himself. The applications weren’t compelling enough to keep using anyway, and I felt like anything I asked for functionality-wise would fall on deaf ears.

  8. I could use Dropbox for synchronization here as well, but I wanted to give iCloud Drive a shot. That was both a good and a bad idea, but my experience with moving to that for Day One was not very smooth. That’s worth a separate post.

  9. Neal happens to be one of my favorite authors. If this application is good enough for him to use to write novels, I think it can handle my blog posts.

  10. Always pull before you push…

Mar 10th, 2015