Why You Should Write Your Drafts in a Text Editor

by: Scott Nesbitt | 04 September 2017

Ah, the humble text editor. It was once considered the tool of the programmer or the techie, used for writing code and fiddling with arcane configuration files. Not any more.

Text editors are also for those of us for whom C is the third letter of the alphabet, for whom Python is a dangerous snake, and for whom Ruby is a precious gem. Yes, text editors can be simple but powerful tools for writing just about anything.

By that, I mean drafts of anything — blog posts, articles, book chapters, documentation, scripts.

Here are a few reasons why you should consider writing your drafts of in a text editor.

Text Editors Offer Fewer Distractions

Especially compared to word processors or any other writing tool or app. With a text editor, there are few (generally no) formatting options.

What does that mean? You can focus on words. You don’t need to worry about formatting, where to put images, any of that. You write first, and add all the ornaments later.

Text is a Universal Format

As I keep saying to anyone who will listen, the structure of a text file hasn’t changed in decades. And it’s not likely to any time in the near future. You can move your text files between Linux, Mac, the web, Android, iOS, and Windows. You won’t lose anything.

That’s not quite true. Different operating system have different ways of ending lines of text. Opening a text file written on a Mac using Windows Notepad causes all the lines to run together. That said, a good text editor (trust me, Notepad isn’t a good text editor) makes sure that doesn’t happen.

Text Editors are Everywhere

Every operating system comes with a text editor built in. You can download any number of free, open source, or for-pay text editors. And there are several text editors available on the web or as apps for smartphones and tablets.

What does that mean? Maybe you’re not writing on your computer. Maybe you’re writing on your tablet. Chances are you’ll access to text editor. You can take comfort in the fact that what you write will smoothly move to your computer or to your blogging software.

You Don’t Run Into Quirky Formatting

Ever copy and paste something written in Microsoft Word into another application (say, the editor in WordPress)? Unless you used the Paste Special or Paste as Plain Text option of your web browser, all the formatting from the Word file got carried over.

What’s wrong with that? I can hear you asking. Plenty. Often, that formatting doesn’t come across as cleanly as it should. You get different fonts, fonts of different sizes, and more. Cleaning that up manually can be a major chore — doing that can take longer than it took you to write the post.

Compare that with copying and pasting that contents of a text file directly into your blogging platform’s editor. Everything goes smoothly and you can add formatting as you see fit.

Text Editor + Markup Languages = Consistent Formatting

According to Wikipedia:

A markup language is a system for annotating a document in a way that is syntactically distinguishable from the text

All that means is you add symbols or tags that represent formatting to your text.

One of the best known markup languages is HTML, which is used to format web pages. Another popular one is Markdown, which uses keyboard symbols to denote formatting. In case you’re wondering, I use Markdown for a lot of what I write (including articles in this space).

Using markup languages, you can accurately and easily apply formatting to your text where needed. The formatting stays consistent across your blog posts. On top of that, many blogging platforms support you copying and pasting text formatted with markup languages into their editors. There are even a few blogging platforms built around markup languages like Markdown.

While text editors lack the glitz of word processors or dedicated blogging editors, they’re easy to use and are flexible. With a text editor, you can concentrate on your words and worry about the frills later.