Artwork for podcast Writing Pursuits
28: Use Plain Text to Future-Proof Your Writing
Episode 2813th April 2022 • Writing Pursuits • Kathrese McKee
00:00:00 00:14:37

Share Episode

Shownotes

You need to consider plain text as a means to future-proof your written work. Why plain text? How hard is it to do? What are the advantages and disadvantages? My suggestions? Let's find out.

The question of the week is: What steps have you taken to archive your manuscripts or other important work? Alternate question: What is your favorite text editor or notetaking app?

Links:

WritingPursuits.com

Instagram: @WritingPursuitsPodcast

Three Story Method Certified Editor

KathreseMcKee.com

Mailerlite (affiliate link)

YourFirstChapter.com

Mentioned in this episode:

Get Your First Chapter Rubric at FirstChapterRubric.com

Is your first chapter ready? Be confident! What if you had a resource to help you figure out the strengths and weaknesses of your first chapter? An objective, informative rubric to go by? If your first chapter doesn’t work, then you have probably lost a customer for life. Or a chance to sign an agent or get a publishing contract. Don't leave things to chance. This rubric will help you identify the problem areas in your first chapter and figure out how to fix them. Be ready for queries. Be ready for readers. Get the results you dream about. Go to FirstChapterRubric.com.

Transcripts

Kathrese:

You need to consider plain text as a means to future

Kathrese:

proof your writing work. Why plain text? How hard is it to

Kathrese:

do? And what are the advantages and disadvantages? Let's find

Kathrese:

out. Welcome to the writing pursuits podcast where authors

Kathrese:

like you discuss writing craft, author, life and book marketing

Kathrese:

strategies. I'm your host Kathrese. McKee. I own writing

Kathrese:

pursuits and write and produce the weekly newsletter writing

Kathrese:

pursuits tips for authors. In addition, I am a speculative

Kathrese:

fiction author. Writing pursuits is for authors who drink too

Kathrese:

much coffee, endure judgemental looks from their furry writing,

Kathrese:

convenience and struggle for words. If you are a writer

Kathrese:

seeking encouragement, information and inspiration This

Kathrese:

podcast is free. Hey, writing presents authors. Welcome back

Kathrese:

to the podcast. For those of you who are new, I want to extend a

Kathrese:

special welcome. My name is Kathrese McKee, and I'm glad

Kathrese:

you're here. Please leave a comment a star rating and follow

Kathrese:

the show to help others find writing pursuits. Why? Why would

Kathrese:

you bother to work with plain text files? Why would you

Kathrese:

convert to plain text? Before we dive in, let me preface this by

Kathrese:

saying I use a lot of tools. So you know I don't use vellum

Kathrese:

because I don't own a Mac. But I use Scrivener during manuscript

Kathrese:

drafting. And I use Microsoft Word for revisions. I also use

Kathrese:

Microsoft Word extensively because Track Changes comes in

Kathrese:

handy as a freelance editor. If there's a tool like Scrivener to

Kathrese:

make rearranging scenes and chapters incredibly easy and

Kathrese:

track your stats, and you can't imagine writing without it,

Kathrese:

well, then by all means, use the tool I'm not proposing, we bring

Kathrese:

back clay tablets, I have nothing against word processing

Kathrese:

and writing programs. However, most of these proprietary

Kathrese:

applications produce proprietary file formats. And there's the

Kathrese:

rub for longevity, nothing beats plain text. Now, with that out

Kathrese:

of the way, I'm going back to my programming roots once upon a

Kathrese:

time, I was an Advanced Systems Engineer at electronic data

Kathrese:

systems, also known as EDS, eds, also known as EDS. Yes, for many

Kathrese:

long years, I worked in the coal or coal, I almost said coal

Kathrese:

mines, the code mines, but then I escaped and ran far far away.

Kathrese:

But recently, Jay Thorne brought an article to my attention, it

Kathrese:

was written by Derek Sivers. And the title was write plain text

Kathrese:

files. And I've included that link in the show notes. When I

Kathrese:

read that post several things crystallized in my mind. First,

Kathrese:

my words are my legacy. When I'm dead and gone, I want to make

Kathrese:

sure my 20 true fans can find my work on a thumb drive, possibly

Kathrese:

in a vault somewhere. So plain text files are the most durable,

Kathrese:

flexible, resilient way to store digital information. On my third

Kathrese:

point is I don't want to make

Kathrese:

one of the things one of my chief concerns is that a

Kathrese:

software change in an application will make my my

Kathrese:

files hard to convert, hard to access, hard to read, hard to

Kathrese:

use. And that means I need to use a non proprietary file

Kathrese:

format to store my files long term. That's the only point I'm

Kathrese:

trying to make here. And that brings me to plain text files

Kathrese:

because plain text files are useful and easy to manipulate,

Kathrese:

manage and store. And finally, you can in case or wrap your

Kathrese:

text in more text to display your words online by using a

Kathrese:

markup language, so you haven't given up a whole lot. The result

Kathrese:

of my aha moment was a true desire to kind of get away from

Kathrese:

word processing and concentrate on writing and note taking

Kathrese:

instead. And oh yeah, I made the decision to convert and save my

Kathrese:

manuscripts to plain text files for posterity. Okay, so the

Kathrese:

strings of plain text are that anyone with a computer can open

Kathrese:

plain text files. plain text format is non proprietary, but

Kathrese:

proprietary applications can open text files. Text files are

Kathrese:

smaller to store and load faster, then bloated rich text

Kathrese:

files. You can copy text into any program and if you want work

Kathrese:

in a text editor without all the menus, and the gizmos work gets

Kathrese:

done, and you still have a spell checker. Textiles always look

Kathrese:

the same. No weird stuff gets displayed. Weaknesses of plain

Kathrese:

text though plain text is not as pretty s formatted text to look

Kathrese:

at. There are no tables or input images, page numbers or other

Kathrese:

layout features in plain text. It's just text. However, there

Kathrese:

are ways to overcome this more in a minute. The absence of

Kathrese:

different heading styles in text files removes one of the aides

Kathrese:

to understanding written material at a glance, the

Kathrese:

structure is not immediately obvious. So formatting

Kathrese:

information gets stripped from a Word files or Google Docs, files

Kathrese:

or anything else. When you download them as text files, you

Kathrese:

can't reverse engineer the formatting that is lost. So

Kathrese:

those are some of the disadvantages of plain text. But

Kathrese:

let's put those weaknesses aside for a moment. The first thing

Kathrese:

you need to do is to future proof your written work with

Kathrese:

plain texts. So make text backups of your finished work.

Kathrese:

This should have been a step in my episode. Shields up, take the

Kathrese:

five day security challenge, I should have had this in there.

Kathrese:

If you haven't watched that video, I have put the link in

Kathrese:

the show notes. This is how to save a text file from Word or

Kathrese:

Google Docs. Microsoft Word, you can simply save your file as a

Kathrese:

text file. Now remember, the formatting is gonna go away. But

Kathrese:

that's okay. The main thing is to save the text, right? The

Kathrese:

words are what matters, make sure you choose the Unicode

Kathrese:

option. Easier. Still select all copy and paste your document to

Kathrese:

a text editor like notepad or some other note, Text Editor

Kathrese:

program and save your new file, put it in a safe place. Google

Kathrese:

Docs just go to File, download plain text and put your new file

Kathrese:

somewhere safe. Actually, you might want to consider working

Kathrese:

in a simple text editor during manuscript development. It's

Kathrese:

worth the time to experiment a lot of people like doing that.

Kathrese:

Who knows you might discover that it's your new favorite way

Kathrese:

of working more about text editors in a moment.

Kathrese:

I had to inject the dog he was snoring so loudly all I could

Kathrese:

think about was how loud he was. So how can you make plain text

Kathrese:

look better without using proprietary software? Well, the

Kathrese:

simple answer is markup languages you can easily make

Kathrese:

text information look more presentable by including syntax

Kathrese:

that is actually also plain text, such as hypertext markup

Kathrese:

language, which is HTML, extensible markup language,

Kathrese:

which is XML, and also markdown, which I'll talk about in a

Kathrese:

minute. markup languages make it possible to include tables and

Kathrese:

links if you don't want to learn HTML or XML markup languages. So

Kathrese:

check out my favorite way to format text, which is known as

Kathrese:

markdown. Markdown is in fact, a lightweight markup language that

Kathrese:

has been around since 2004. And it's only gaining ground. I love

Kathrese:

markdown language. With apologies to HTML, I don't type

Kathrese:

well enough to enjoy using HTML plus HTML slash XML they're both

Kathrese:

visually confusing to look at. You can look right past markdown

Kathrese:

most of the time. One huge advantage of Markdown is how

Kathrese:

easy it is to learn. I mean 10 minutes gets you most of what

Kathrese:

you need to know. Markdown is easily converted to HTML. So for

Kathrese:

the average human being Markdown is the way to go. So you start

Kathrese:

with Markdown and you can convert it to HTML and you

Kathrese:

haven't had to code a line of HTML but you can include HTML

Kathrese:

within a markdown document. Markdown documents have a file

Kathrese:

extension of dot M D. However, you can also say that with a t x

Kathrese:

t extension, using markdown can significantly speed up your

Kathrese:

writing, because you keep your fingers on the keyboard and type

Kathrese:

without resorting to the mouse. So use easy Markdown syntax to

Kathrese:

indicate the basic formatting you need like heading levels,

Kathrese:

italics, bold, font, strikethrough, etc. When I say

Kathrese:

that Markdown is gaining ground, very recently in March 2022,

Kathrese:

Google added light markdown support to Docs, Sheets and

Kathrese:

Slides. So that just means that it's becoming even more

Kathrese:

mainstream. Two things to know you must turn the option on In

Kathrese:

Google Docs, so start a new Google Doc, go to Tools

Kathrese:

preferences, and turn on automatically detect markdown.

Kathrese:

Also, take advantage of Google add ons go to add ons in the

Kathrese:

menu of Google Docs and search for markdown. Add Doc's to

Kathrese:

Markdown and give it a try. So how can you work in plain text

Kathrese:

to draft your books? Well, first, you need the necessary

Kathrese:

hardware and software for the hardware. You can use any old

Kathrese:

machine and I'm not even kidding, go get your trs 80 out

Kathrese:

of the garage. If you can still find eight inch floppy disks

Kathrese:

defeat it. Barring that, they'll be proud use your college

Kathrese:

daughter's reject laptop from 2015. If you write in plain

Kathrese:

text, you don't need the latest software, especially if you're

Kathrese:

going to work offline and what can be more focused on that. In

Kathrese:

this way, you're free from the vicious computer upgrade cycle.

Kathrese:

There's something to be said for keeping it simple. The other

Kathrese:

thing you need is a text editor program. They're dime a dozen.

Kathrese:

There's so many some are for purchase and some are free

Kathrese:

markdown editing for editing markdown, I can recommend

Kathrese:

notepad plus plus, which is free. You can also use Microsoft

Kathrese:

Word and Google Docs to create markdown files. Just save your

Kathrese:

work as text files. Why not? They're on your computer

Kathrese:

already. Mac owners can use brackets them Text Wrangler just

Kathrese:

to name a few. I own I own a program called type ora, T yp o

Kathrese:

Ra. It's 1499 US dollars before tax, one time purchase, and I

Kathrese:

like it. There are so many other options. So look around for an

Kathrese:

editor that appeals to you. Finally, why not leverage your

Kathrese:

research with a notetaking application built on Mark

Kathrese:

markdown? This is my new latest thing.

Kathrese:

I will return to this topic at a later time because notetaking is

Kathrese:

a powerful tool for authors. And I really don't think we're doing

Kathrese:

it right. You've probably heard of notion and Rome. But I'm

Kathrese:

using obsidian now because it is based entirely on and you

Kathrese:

guessed it, markdown files. So it is not open source but it is

Kathrese:

free to use. And that's that's a topic for another day, I will

Kathrese:

come back to it because I'm very enthusiastic conclusion.

Kathrese:

Returning to my program of roots made me appreciate the enduring

Kathrese:

nature of plain text files. I started using computers in the

Kathrese:

early 1980s. Back when nerds built personal computers in

Kathrese:

their basements or garages, that means I'm getting old. But it

Kathrese:

also means that for the foreseeable future, using plain

Kathrese:

text is a great way to future proof your written work and

Kathrese:

notes. The question of the week is what steps have you taken to

Kathrese:

archive your manuscripts or other important work? Or an

Kathrese:

alternative question? What is your favorite text editor or

Kathrese:

note taking app. That's all I have for today. Until next time,

Kathrese:

keep writing my friends. Keep writing. Thank you for joining

Kathrese:

us today. If you enjoyed this episode, please leave a comment

Kathrese:

and follow the podcast. If you're new around here. I hope

Kathrese:

you will sign up for the weekly newsletter writing pursuits tips

Kathrese:

for authors that link and all the links mentioned in today's

Kathrese:

episode or in the show notes at writing pursuits.com. Please

Kathrese:

join us on Wednesdays for new episodes and keep writing my

Links