MultiMarkdown and Me

MultiMarkdown: All I Never Knew I Wanted:

When I write, I want to write text files that are ready to be published either as word processing files or to the Web, with full formatting, while still already human-readable simply as text. And I didn’t even know how badly I wanted that until I discovered that it’s possible with Markdown. This is probably easier to show first, then tell.

As you can see, the *.txt file is human-readable, and I get the same formatting results whether I publish to *.rtf (for word processing) or to HTML (for web publishing as you’re reading it now). This is the point.

Results Explained:

These examples illustrate the gist of it. As a writer, this is what I gain from MultiMarkdown:

I get to create a human-readable document that can nonetheless be exported to the Web as HTML. Have you ever seen a page of text that is marked up for HTML, that is for web viewing? It’s a blizzard of tags that make the actual content unreadable. (You can see an example if you select, in your browser, View: Source or Page Source.) But with MultiMarkdown (or just Markdown: see below), I have a document that is prepared for the web, but which is also totally readable in plain text.

I get to create a human-readable document that can nonetheless be exported to a word processor as *.rtf (RTF). Have you ever seen a page of text that is marked up as *.rtf, for opening in Word or another word processor? It’s even worse than with HTML. (You can see an example if you take the RTF file linked above, change the suffix from *.rtf to *.txt, and open it in Apple’s TextEdit or in Microsoft Notepad.) But again, with MultiMarkdown, I have a document that is prepared for export as *.rtf to almost any word processor, but again which is also totally readable in plain text.

I get to write this file just once, and archive it as a single file, no matter whether I used it for word processing or web publishing. The same file, written in MultiMarkdown, can be exported as an *.rtf document, easily read in almost any word processor, or as HTML, easily read by any browser or pasted into a blog post or web site.

I get to compose this file in plain text, in any application that suits my stage in the writing process (collecting ideas, outlining, drafting, editing, publishing). It doesn’t feel like I am writing “markup,” it feels as much as possible like I am simply writing. The beauty of Markup is that most of it derives from email conventions: a line of white space between paragraphs, or asterisks surrounding a word or phrase to mark emphasis, or two asterisks for strong text. There are multiple ways (see below on Gruber’s Markdown) to write Web links that are wonderfully readable, completely unlike HTML web link markup.

I get to be sure that it will be readable in twenty years, without a word processor or web browser to render the formatting. Do you have any old files that you cannot read anymore because they only exist in an obsolete format like “AppleWorks”? The stuff I wrote during my Masters work can only be opened as plain text, and the text is entirely buried in obsolete markup and code. But the stuff I write today in Markdown is already human-readable in plain text, and will remain human-readable for as long as we have plain text.

This is the beauty of MultiMarkdown: plain text files, easily readable to the human eye, but already marked up for headers, sub-headers, ordered or unordered lists, emphasis, and footnotes…both for word processing via *.rtf or for web publishing via HTML. Yeah, it’s the writer’s holy grail.

What is MultiMarkdown?

John Gruber developed Markdown with the web-publishing end in view. Markdown allows almost any formatting one will need for most purposes: emphasis (usually italics), strong text (usually bold), paragraphing, lists, block quotes, hyperlinks to the web, and more. However, Gruber’s Markdown exporter only exports as HTML, because web-publishing is what Gruber has in mind.

Fletcher Penney developed MultiMarkdown as a supplement to, or extension of, Gruber’s Markdown. It accomplishes two things:

  • It exports Markdown as *.rtf rather than only as HTML. (It also exports to OPML, LaTex, and other formats that you may or may not know about or be interested in.)
  • It adds syntax for things like bibliography, footnotes, tables, and more.

So, MultiMarkdown incorporates all the features of Gruber’s Markdown, and extends the idea beyond web publishing to word processing. Note that you do have to install Fletcher’s MultiMarkdown script and support package in order to export MultiMarkdown plain text files as HTML, *.rtf, or other file formats.

My Workflow

I like this because I often don’t know where doodling, note-taking, and outlining might leave off and “writing” begin. I am learning to write in MultiMarkdown all the time, in every stage, because any of that stuff may, at some point, become part of the written piece. Composed in Markdown, anything I write is legible while I play around with it, and it won’t require additional formatting for word processors or for the Web once that writing sits in the final, published piece.

For example, this blog post was

  • begun as a note in NotationalVelocity,
  • moved into OmniOutliner while I played with structure and began some drafting,
  • imported via OPML into Scrivener for continued drafting and editing. From Scrivener I can compile it as HTML (as for this post in WordPress), or as *.rtf for word processing. I save it in Scrivener, but also compiled as plain text ( *.txt) for archiving.

At any of these stages I can compose freely in MultiMarkdown, working in whatever tools suits my present location and purposes, knowing that the result will be a human-readable plain text file formatted for word processing or for the Web.

What do you think? It can sound complicated, and there is a bit of a front-end learning curve (not much, for anyone who already habitually writes in “email style” paragraphing), but once learned, it is all simplicity itself. Can MultiMarkdown do for you what it does for me?

[MultiMarkdown and Me was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2011/05/02. Except as noted, it is © 2011 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

The First Rule of Write Club is…

…you do not talk about Write Club. The second rule of Write Club is you DO NOT TALK about Write Club.

Okay, that isn’t how they’re numbered by Claire P. Curtis, and she doesn’t call it Write Club. But Writing Group has rules:

  1. [Y]ou must schedule a time every week
  2. There is no backing out.
  3. [All are] responsible for reading and commenting carefully.
  4. Three seems to be the  magic number

(School House Rock bonus link by Brooke).

    Do read the entire article: The rules are fleshed out with personal experience, and Curtis has excellent suggestions about choosing participants and making Writing Group work.

    I have occasionally discussed a Writing Group with colleagues, mostly back when we were in course work and already had plenty of external pressure to write. During the dissertation years…well, you’d have to be a sadist to bring up a Writing Group with an ABD (that’s “all but dissertation,” or “antisocial behavior disorders”). And anyway, putting three ABDs into a room for Writing Group would be like the legendary Roman death sentence for parricide.

    It is probably time for me to re-think Writing Group: my employment situation is settled for the next few years, and while my administration and teaching responsibilities are pretty consuming—especially for the next year—I should be able to carve out some manageable, defined space for research and writing. To offer an analogy: my wife, who handles the books in our household, has always been amazingly good at making sure we “pay ourselves first” even with our often-preposterously-modest incomes: something goes into savings before any bill payments go out. Writing, by analogy, is how an academic “pays herself first.”

    Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of Write Club?

    [The First Rule of Write Club is… was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2011/03/30. Except as noted, it is © 2011 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

    The Writing Process: An Interview with a Fourth Grader

    Writing is thinking.

    Writers know this by hard experience. Writing is not simply reporting on thinking that has already taken place: the thinking that goes on happens by writing, or it doesn’t happen at all. It is this knowledge that brings a writer, again and again, back to a writing process.

    In recent years, I have seen—anecdotally—a sharp decrease in understanding about a writing process. Otherwise excellent students can be heard to say, in the last week of the term (out loud, where people can hear), “Yes, I plan to write that 8000 words paper for Prof A  today, tomorrow, and the next day, and then I’ll write that 3000 words for Prof B in the two days after that.” It’s not laziness: you heard me say “otherwise excellent students.” It’s not simply a function of being overwhelmed: compared to earlier years, the students are not taking heavier loads or working longer hours. Rather, my sense is that, on average, fewer students have received, in their secondary and undergraduate education, a grounding in a writing process.

    My current syllabus attempts to force a writing process on the students by requiring stages toward a final thesis paper, with students reviewing one another’s work at each stage:

    1. Research report, written to rubrics and submitted for review to three peers;
    2. Thesis statement with plan for defense, written to rubrics and submitted for peer review;
    3. Complete draft, written to rubrics and submitted for peer review;
    4. Final draft.

    Early results have been underwhelming, with a sizable percentage of students simply failing to accomplish the research report. Again, this suggests a lack of familiarity with the benefits of a writing process: anyone who has benefitted from a writing process in the past will be eager to embrace it later when given the opportunity. At the same time, students who accomplished the research report have been eager to get to the peer review.

    So now you understand why it is that, when my fourth grader, lying in bed and chatting before lights-out, began to talk about “the writing process” as they learn it in elementary school, I leapt for the laptop and began to record. Take ten minutes, and learn how it’s done.

    [The Writing Process: An Interview with a Fourth Grader was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2011/03/22. Except as noted, it is © 2011 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

    What’s (Not) Going On around Here: Craft

    A very short while ago (subjective time) I announced a plan to pen a short series of insufferably self-absorbed, navel-gazing gritty, fact-finding posts about what goes into this particular web address. For my purposes, the series amounts to an attempt to respond reflectively and directly to the fact that a five-post-a-week habit had fallen into…irregularity.

    This morning, I take a moment to stir into that glass of water a few words on writing.

    For me, putting words on a page is enjoyable in direct proportion to how much attention I can give them. Like anything else. It’s the difference between a leisurely afternoon maintaining your bicycle and sweating out your shirt to patch & inflate a torn inner tube on the way to your first job interview in three months. Or, to return inadvisably to the theme of “irregularity,” it’s the difference between crafting your martial arts patterns & techniques every morning and flailing through them in miniature while behind the wheel driving late to the promotion test.

    To put it in terms of product rather than process, a blog post worthy of the name is, on average, a good 250+ words that are lovingly chosen to accomplish some keenly-felt goal…not, as Drifty reminds us through prophetic sign-act and through don’t-miss dialogue with Blue Gal, twelve words wrapped around a link to Digby. Or to James, or Peter, or Mark.[1]

    So I offer what another craftsperson, Poul Anderson, liked to call “the triumphant discovery of the obvious”: it turns out that, when one is five-alarm, brain-yammering, cringing-and-trembling, fear-mad busy on most days of your vain life that are given you under the sun… one finds that opportunities to craft quietly-running bicycles, effective Taekwon-do patterns, and satisfying strings of words fall as few as workers, and as far between as pebbles in the sky.

    BACK TO POST (N.B.: Secondly, I’ve got to get more bloggy friends with OT names. But firstly, we need to make permanent the thread about Where All da [Biblical-Studies-Bloggin] Wimmin At?)

    [What’s (Not) Going On around Here: Craft was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2011/02/16. Except as noted, it is © 2011 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

    Students, You’re on Notice!

    Yesterday afternoon, my son had a play date with a Taekwon-Do classmate who also happens to be the child of one of our Masters students. The student, my wife, and I chatted aimlessly while the kids played on a water slide in the back yard. Among the topics that came and went were:

    • The first of the Amarna Letters (EA 1), with comments on the epistolary genre of the letters (specifically, how a flattering salutation and an exhaustive list of well wishes and assurances of well-being precede a body mostly involving bitter squabbling);
    • How 1000 words is really not that many to write, and how students with writing experience know that editing down to 1000 words is ‘way harder than getting up to 1000 words in the first place.

    Not three hours later, I got an email from said student, in which she:

    • composed the email in a parody of the epistolary genre of EA 1; and
    • pointed me to where she had demonstrated our point about writing by banging out 1000 words on the first topic to come ready to hand, specifically Ecclesiastes 1–2.

    Students who would complain that form criticism is intractable or that 1000 words is a lot to write: you’re on notice!

    [Students, You’re on Notice! was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2010/07/30. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

    SBL 2010 Program Book

    Mark Goodacre alerts us that the preliminary online program book is available for the 2010 Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature. He tells us what he’s doing there (I am so totally at that second one, Mark), and invites us to do the same.

    The title of my own presentation is, “To Those Far and Near”: The Case for “Community” at a Distance. I am presenting it in the session, “Academic Teaching and Biblical Studies.” The theme for this session is “A Workshop on Interactive Technologies for Teaching and Learning.”

    Insert here obligatory fear-based murmblings about the current state of the project.

    Who else is presenting? What other interesting things are you doing at SBL 2010?

    [SBL 2010 Program Book was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2010/06/08. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

    Reading-from-the-Page in Presentation: Crazy’s Defense

    Opinions about how to present effectively (or at least, not crashingly boringly) at the professional conferences come up perennially on the blogs, usually (for us Bible types) around the time of our November professional conference, but at other times as well. Other fields also make their own observations (h/t to Bitternsweet Girl).

    Now, Dr. Crazy makes a thorough argument for the “reading from a piece of paper” model of presentation. Crazy is in literary studies, and most of her argument is directly relevant to what we usually do in biblical studies: present novel interpretations of literary source material that is already well known to our hearers.

    As usual, Crazy’s post draws thoughtful comments, some of which challenge the distinction she makes between presentations of experiments (as in the sciences) and presentations as described above (as in literary and biblical studies, though I know our epigraphy and archaeology sections might fall more into the description-of-research mode).

    Take a look. It’s never too soon to be thinking about the next conference. Does Crazy make you re-think the “reading a paper” mode of presentation favorably, even though that’s almost certainly not how you teach?

    [Reading-from-the-Page in Presentation: Crazy’s Defense was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2010/04/30. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

    Well, It’s Like This…

    So what does it take for a reasonably regular blogger to go AWOL for nearly two weeks? Not much, it turns out. I changed my daily schedule a bit in order to get more physical exercise, and there was this beautiful spot in the day when I usually write my posts, and…

    Anyway, I’m playing with solutions. Keep me on your reader, if you would, while I settle into a new routine.

    To thank you for stopping by, and to keep such lapses as this of mine in perspective, I offer you The Known Universe:

    [Well, It’s Like This… was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2010/04/28. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

    Follow-up: Writing the Bible

    Having my adult students add 350 words to an existing biblical narrative proved a tremendous success in terms of inspiring close readings of, and imaginative engagement with, the details of the text at hand.

    In an earlier post, I speculated about a possible assignment in which students would write a sequel, or prequel, to a thorny biblical narrative. Here is the assignment as eventually described to the students (who, in this course, are lay people seeking degrees suited to varying lay pastoral ministries):

    The Rape of Tamar, and “Writing the Bible”: 350 words.

    Read 2 Sam 13:1–22. Read it again with care, attending to the ways in which the narrator accomplishes characterization and plot. Get an understanding of the narrative in its details.

    Imagine that you have the opportunity to add 350 (contiguous) words to the story: either right before it, or right after it, or at a single location inside of it somewhere. Imagine what task(s) might you want to accomplish with these words. Do you want to settle down problems, or highlight them? Produce justice, or underscore injustice? Explain things that seem unclear, or confuse things that seem clear? Defend particular characters, or condemn them?

    Remember that you’re writing a narrative: give the characters things to say, things to do, ways to interact with one another. Don’t just fill it all with the sonorous pronouncements of an all-knowing, external narrator.

    You don’t get to delete any part of the biblical text, only add material: up to 350 words, all written continuously, either right before, right after, or somewhere within the story.

    Finally: in keeping with the tenor and devices of the surrounding narrative: you don’t get to give God an active part or a speaking role. Characters may refer to God, but only human beings are explicitly active, speaking parts in the story.

    In your post, use some device to show where your words fall with regard to 2 Sam 13:1–22.

    One student created a childhood relationship between Amnon and Tamar to serve as background to the rape story. Another allowed Tamar to confront David for his negligence and speak an oracle against him. One of them allowed Tamar to take revenge by slipping a male beggar into a drunken Amnon’s bed. Several of them added layers of double-cross to the political machinations in the background of the story.

    The students did a simply amazing job with the assignment. I was all the more surprised because we have not discussed narrative criticism, yet they worked skillfully with different ways of accomplishing characterization, with using time, and with plotting. Since I have not really been happy in the past with my ability to teach narrative criticism to introductory students, I think that from now on I will use this assignment as a “getting started” exercise in narrative criticism: by having them do this first, I can then use their own narratives as a resource for illustrating the elements of narrative.

    [Follow-up: Writing the Bible was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2010/03/31. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

    Write the Bible: Poetic Parallelism

    In an earlier post, I suggested an opportunity for students to “write the Bible.” This is another one, stolen from…er, inspired by, a friend.

    Teaching biblical poetry to her students, my friend (who sometimes comments here as HebProf [whups: HBprof]) came up with a cool exercise: she gave them the first of a pair of parallel lines from a biblical poetic text. The students would then write a second line such that it is parallel to the first. For example, she might give them the first part of Psa 102:6 (English verse numbering; Hebrew Psa 102:7)

    I am like a barred owl of the wilderness

    The students would then each write a line they propose to be parallel to that first line. After comparing suggestions, they are shown the biblical parallel line, here

    I have become as a screech owl of the wastes.

    My own learners will be M.Div students reading the texts in English translation, and while there are more sophisticated ways of understanding Hebrew poetic parallelism, I think that Robert Lowth’s old “synonymous, antithetical, and synthetic parallelism” is a good place to begin. Given opportunity, I would look for ways to talk further with introductory students about “seconding” and “stair-case parallelism,” and only in a seminar setting get into ideas of grammatical, morphological, and semantic parallelism.[FOOTNOTE]

    So, for example, the biblical line is clearly meant to be “synonymous” parallelism. By having students produce a range of alternatives, it can be made clear that “synonymous” embraces a wide range of possibilities to answer Psa 102:6a, such as:

    I am adrift on the sea alone. Or,

    I am a beat cop at midnight on a street corner.

    A student trying to create an “antithetically” parallel line for Psa 102:6a might offer the following:

    But you are like a new bride among the village women. Or,

    But I will become like a crow among the flock.

    For a “synthetically” parallel line, she might try:

    with no cloud for shade. Or,

    Who will tend me?. Or,

    A raptor snapping at mice.

    The difficulty that students would have grasping the nebulous category of “synthetic” parallelism would, I think, provide a wonderful jumping-off place into the more recent descriptions of poetic parallelism with their clearer engagement of grammar and linguistics.

    What do you think of such an exercise? Do you have suggestions for improvement? Are there other exercises by which you have your students “write the Bible”?

    BACK TO POST I am glancing at David L. Petersen and Kent Harold Richards, Interpreting Hebrew Poetry (Guides to Biblical Scholarship, Old Testament Series; Gene M. Tucker, ed.; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992), chapter two. I think that this resource would be a great choice for a class of mostly English-language exegetes with a handful of students who have taken Hebrew as an elective.

    [Write the Bible: Poetic Parallelism was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2010/03/11. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]