A Writer’s Tech Stack (No Subscriptions)
Learn how I use Markdown syntax with Notion, Scrivener, and Typora to write blog posts, freelance articles, and books
As a freelance writer and self-published author with a personal blog, I rely on my software and systems to ship my work. These three tools are the framework for my writing process, and I couldn’t be happier with them.
For each of my go-to tools — Notion, Typora, and Scrivener — I’ll explain what they can do, how I use them, and why I love them.
If you want to:
- Write in Markdown
- Own your writing software and locally save individual files of your work
- Streamline your publishing process and spend more time creating
… then this is the tech stack for you.
- Type: Website and Application
- Price: Free+
- Purpose: Organization, Planning, and Outlining
A SaaS product in the midst of a meteoric rise, Notion is what I use to organize my life. It’s where I track my projects and tasks, manage my calendar events, log what I read, and it’s where I brainstorm and outline everything that I write.
Notion is a flexible, no-code, modular software with which you can build just about anything that relies on relational databases —think an intuitive, customizable, well-integrated network of Excel sheets with an appealing and light design.
Connect Ideas, Create Outlines
I have a writing database in Notion where I create pages based on ideas for future pieces. It could be an idea for a Tweet, an article, a short story, or an issue of my newsletter. All my ideas are in one place, so that I can easily organize them and push them through my writing process.
If I have a new idea, I create a page from a custom template and jot down any initial thoughts, then categorize the idea by the type of content and its status. Is is it ready to outline, draft, revise, or ship? When I’m sitting down for a long writing session, I can go to an article in the ‘Draft’ category, which has already been outlined, and get to work!
The “Mention” is Notion’s most useful tool for outlining. Using the ‘@’ symbol, you can link to any other page in your workspace. In my workspace, I have a database of my own thoughts and one for quotes from other sources. In an outline, I will mention pages, linking them to build out my idea.
Using Notion’s simple and effective formatting options, dragging and dropping blocks, and mentioning other pages in my workspace, I construct articles by combining and referencing ideas that I’ve already captured.
Even though I host my blog on Notion, I don’t write in Notion. Once I have outlined a piece in my Notion database, I’ll draft it in one of the other two tools in my framework. I don’t write in Notion because I want all my writing to be stored locally in separate files, and those files need to be in a format that’s easy to compile and share.
Enter Typora and Markdown.
- Type: Application
- Price: $15 (one-time payment for 3 licenses)
- Purpose: Writing Articles in Markdown
Typora is a Markdown editor that offers a live preview of the formatted text as you time. It does a wonderful job preserving the lightweight feel and function of Markdown and plain text and shows you how the final product will look. That’s a rare combo.
Each file saves as a Markdown (.md) file but can be exported to PDF, Word, HTML, and other formats with a single click.
I write in Markdown so that I can quickly and effectively format my work without having to wade through rich-text formatting, which adds extra clicks to my writing process. Rather than highlighting text, clicking style buttons, and navigating drop-downs — like you have to do in Word or Google Docs (and on Medium) — I can keep my hands on the keyboard and produce a dynamic, well-formatted document. I write in Typora because it is a beautiful and powerful markdown editor.
Besides it being a Markdown editor, there are two features of Typora that make it perfect for my newsletter, blog, and many of freelance projects.
- Files automatically save as .md
- Exporting is simple and immediate — no additional formatting required
Typora is the perfect companion for my Notion blog because Notion also uses Markdown syntax for text editing, and supports importing Markdown files. So, I can outline a piece in Notion, draft and revise it in Typora, then publish it to Notion as a full page with a simple import.
That’s why it’s important that Typora saves my work as .md files. I can import them into Notion as full pages ready to be shared to the web, and the formatting is already taken care of by the Markdown syntax.
Typora is great even if you don’t have a Notion blog or no use for .md files because you can export the Markdown files to ship your work wherever it needs to go. If you write in Typora, you can leverage the power of Markdown, see a live preview of your content, and export finished work to any number of file types.
It’s lean, versatile and serves me well.
- Type: Application
- Price: $53 (one-time payment)
- Purpose: Writing Long-Form Prose
Scrivener, by Literature & Latte, was the first of these tools that I started using. It’s a robust writing software that offers both a desktop and mobile app (cloud syncing with Dropbox) and an extensive, robust set of features.
Scrivener is best for large projects that have sub-parts, like a book, white paper, short story collection, anthology, etc.
Here are some of my favorite features:
- Nest folders and files to segment a project, use the structure to format the compiled output
- Take snapshots of a file to compare and/or revert to a previous version
- Write without distractions in “Compose” mode, as if you were on a typewriter
Divide, Conquer, Compile
The blank page is daunting. Where do you start? Where do you go? Where are you trying to get to anyway? Scrivener sets you up for success by helping you plan and structure projects, breaking them down into manageable pieces that you can take on one at a time.
I use Scrivener for all my long-form prose. For me, that means that I’m using it to write a non-fiction book (from chapter outlines in Notion), and I use it for essay writing and short fiction too.
Instead of writing a book, you write one section of one chapter. Instead of a story, you write a scene. Instead of an entire paper, you argue one of your sub-claims.
Here’s the best part: Once you’ve divided up your project and done the hard work of writing, Scrivener handles the compiling. You can segment your document according to the project’s file structure and format it by applying custom style templates. Scrivener exports to seemingly every file type, so your manuscript can quickly become a Word doc, or your book can be compiled into an .EPUB file.
Unlike Typora, which saves files as a .md, or Word, which saves as a .docx, Scrivener saves as a special Scrivener project file. So, to ship anything from Scrivener, you have to export or compile it. This is another reason why Scrivener is best for large projects that you will compile and share once at the very end (or for something that you won’t share, like a personal journal).
You can pass off the baton, and Scrivener will sprint to the finish. The bigger the project, the more work Scrivener does for you because the more content there is that is automatically formatted according to your files and templates.
Notion: Organize your thoughts, ideas, content and combine and link them to create outlines for future pieces
Typora: Write in Markdown with a live preview, save files locally, and export anywhere without hassling with formatting, in whatever file type you need
Scrivener: Break down large projects into manageable pieces — one project home made up of its sub-parts — and leave the formatting to the magical “Compile” button