Publishing Workflow with nvALT and MultiMarkdown

Last week a friend of mine told me about his experience of using Microsoft Word to write a paper. I won’t share it here with you because of the abusive language he used. Suffice it to say that it wasn’t a good one. I recommended my workflow to my dear friend, as I’m very happy with it. I think the tools might be useful to you as well.

The workflow is simple to learn and simple to follow. I’m quite confident that some of you might drop Microsoft Word and the like for ever.

The Tools

  1. MultiMarkdown is an enhancement of the famous Markdown text-toHTML conversion tool by John Gruber of Daring Fireball fame.
  2. nvALT is a fork of the Notational Velocity editor, which I used quite extensively in the past. nvALT has a built-in preview window, which can render text formatted with MultiMarkdown. nvALT is free, but you should donate to support the developers.
  3. Dropbox lets me access my files from anywhere. With Dropbox documents can be edited on the go with your iDevice without the need to sync through iTunes.

If you do not want to give up working with your favorite text editor you can use marked. This tool is much like the preview window built into nvALT. I haven’t used it myself yet, but I heard good things about it. It is available in the Mac App Store.

What is MultiMarkdown?

MultiMarkdown is a mark-up language like HTML, but designed for readability. Do not stop to read here, it is not as geeky as it might sound. If you ever tried to format a plain text email you probably have come quite close to MultiMarkdown without knowing it. Let me show you an example of the beauty of writing with MultiMarkdown. This is the text as you would write it with MultiMarkdown formatting:

nvALT Editor

And here is the text in nvALT’s preview window:

nvALT Preview

This is neat and clean, isn’t it? The text you wrote with the MultiMarkdown formatting is readable. This is in stark contrast to other markup languages like HTML or XML. The preview window looks as if you have used HTML to write it. That is, because it is HTML. The preview window converts the MultiMarkdown to HTML in the background. You can even use this HTML to publish on the web, as we will see later.

What is nvALT?

nvALT is a plain text editor with incremental search built into it. nvALT makes it really simple to work on many different articles in one session. This is especially useful when writing a book or maintaing a blog. nvALT can search across all your documents and bring up relevant information in seconds. And it has a preview window for converting the MultiMarkdown formatted text into HTML and rendering it in a web view. You also can save the HTML as I will show you in a minute.

Using Dropbox with nvALT

When I’m on the go too, I still can edit my documents. nvALT has no internal document format, as, for example, in the case of Microsoft Word. nvALT saves the documents as plain text. This means you can use any editor to make changes to your documents. Just make sure to save the changed document in plain text. This allows me to work on my iPad or iPhone. I can work on my documents from anywhere, as long as I have access to my Dropbox folder. Nowadays I keep everything in plain text files formatted with MultiMarkdown. My exercise log. My ToDo list. My Wordpress articles. Every piece I write. One workflow to rule them all.

Easy Workflow

As I said, the workflow is straightforward. Write your content with the nvALT editor and use the MultiMarkdown syntax to describe the formatting. You can see the ready formatted text in the preview window of nvALT. When you are satisfied with what you see, save the HTML source of your document and publish it via Wordpress, or convert it to LaTex or PDF.

I keep all of my documents in one Dropbox folder and use nvALT to find the documents and make changes. nvALT makes it easy to find documents through its integrated search capabilities. Switching between many different articles is a matter of _milli_seconds. For me, this is one of the biggest advantages of working with nvALT.

nvALT also supports distraction free editing of your documents. One press of the key and it’s you and your text. The menu bar and all other windows will be covered by nvALT.

Advantages of working with nvALT and MultiMarkdown

  • The basics of MultiMarkdown can be picked up in a minute.
  • You can use MultiMarkdown to create HTML, LaTex, OPML, PDF, and Open Document.
  • You can keep your documents in a DropBox folder and edit the documents on your mobile device. You do not have to worry about syncing your documents. If you want to edit your documents on the iPhone or iPad I recommend using the Elements app. Elements has a Markdown preview included in it.
  • Future proof. You will always be able to work with your old documents, because the files are stored in plain text. One who tries to work on one document with different versions of Microsoft Word will appreciate this a lot.
  • You are not bound to nvALT. You can use nvALT at home and use Notepad at work to edit the same document.
  • Searching and switching between articles within nvALT can be as fast as lightning.

Publishing the text on your blog

Publishing your writings in your blog can be done with copying the HTML from the preview window into the edit window of your Wordpress installation. To get to the HTML just open the preview window in nvALT using the menu Preview > Toggle Preview Window and then switch from preview to source with Preview > Toggle Source View. That’s it.


This workflow is easy to pick up and it doesn’t cost you a dime. It is painless, cross-platform and future proof. Give it a try and let me know how you like it in the comments.

When I searched Google to find a good tool with which I can write for Cute Machine, I found Eddie Smith’s excellent blog practically efficient. This is where I learned about nvALT. Check out his blog: you might enjoy reading it as much as I do.

I plan to self-publish a small book on Amazon’s Kindle Store in the near future. Using the workflow described above should help me in this endeavor. I will let you know whether the described workflow can keep up to what I have praised it for.

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Jo's Profile ImageWritten by Jo Meenen who lives and works in Frankfurt building digital doodah. Stalk him on Twitter