Starting and Finishing More Long-Form Writing in Drafts.app

I’m writing this blog post in Drafts.app on my Mac. But before I publish it, I’ll also probably do some light editing of it on my iPad before bed. And I’ve been capturing ideas, short thoughts, and building a basic outline on my phone over the past few days as things occur to me or I find myself with a bit of downtime.

I’ve been a heavy Drafts.app user on iOS for years. But this workflow is relatively new for me and came about with the release of its Mac counterpart two months ago.

Previously, for going on I don’t know how many years, all of my long-form writing, which typically means blog posts, has lived exclusively in MarsEdit. (Really long-form stuff like magazine articles and a few aborted attempts at writing a book are done in Scrivener.) The app syncs perfectly with WordPress and allows me to write in Markdown and preview my words in a live, pixel-perfect preview of my blog’s template.

But MarsEdit doesn’t sync between my desktop and laptop. And there’s no iOS counterpart for writing on-the-go. So that forced me to write the whole post from first draft to published version on the same machine. It also meant the outlines for my longer posts and short scribblings lived in other apps – sometimes OmniOutliner, other times Apple Notes, and occasionally OmniFocus and Drafts.app. I didn’t have a single unified workspace for all my thoughts.

Drafts for Mac has changed that. With seamless sync, I can begin writing anywhere I want, come to a stopping point, and pick back up later exactly where I left off on any device.

Dr. Drang wrote last week

Drafts has become the place “where text is.”

I couldn’t agree more. Looking through my Drafts Archive section, it’s now overflowing not just with short beginnings and snippets that got quickly shuttled off to other apps, but real writing. It’s my one place for everything in-progress as well as a history of final outcomes.

As for the specifics of my new blogging workflow, all of my posts are assigned a tag of blog. (It’s currently the only tag I use for anything.) Then, I have two custom Workspaces.

One called “Blog Posts” which only shows drafts tagged blog, defaults to Markdown syntax highlighting, and automatically switches to my Markdown helper keyboard on iOS.

And then there’s another workspace titled “Everything”. It doesn’t actually show everything. Rather, it’s everything that’s not tagged with blog. I’ve currently got about twenty unfinished posts in some form or another in my Inbox. I don’t want those clogging up and crowding all my other notes which tend to be more “action oriented”.

These two workspaces let me quickly switch between notes that I might need to do something with or reference and those that stick around longer and require a more focused, creative mood to tackle.

And as an added bonus, the Mac app can now show a live preview of your post rendered in your website’s theme, too – just like MarsEdit. (The iOS app has been able to do this for a while as well, but it doesn’t let you see the preview and edit text at the same time.)

Anyway, that’s all a long way of saying that I couldn’t be happier with this new setup. Drafts truly is where all of my text starts.

A Faster Way to Create Multiple Tasks in OmniFocus (with all sorts of details!) Using Drafts.app

Following-up on my previous post about using Drafts to create new GitHub issues, here’s another action I built and use all the time.

This allows you to create multiple tasks in OmniFocus with defer dates, due dates, and tags in one step.

It does this by parsing a compact, easy-to-write syntax that I’ve adopted from other OmniFocus actions and tweaked to my liking and then converting it into TaskPaper format, which can be “pasted” into OmniFocus in one go. This removes the need to confirm each individual action separately.

Yes, you could also do this by writing your tasks in TaskPaper format directly, but I find its syntax (while innovative!) a bit cumbersome for quick entry. The format this action uses isn’t as feature-rich, but it does everything I need and with less typing.

Instructions:

Each line in your draft becomes a new task in OmniFocus, with the exception of “global” tags and dates, which I’ll describe later.

Each task goes on its own line and looks like this:

Some task title @defer-date !due-date #tag1 #tag2 --An optional note

The defer date, due date, tags, and note are all optional. If you use them, the only requirement is that they come AFTER the task’s title and the “–note contents” must be LAST.

The defer and due dates support any syntax/format that OmniFocus can parse. This means you can write them as @today, @tomorrow, @3d, @5w, etc. If you want to use a date format that includes characters other than letters, numbers, and a dash (-), you’ll need to enclose it in parenthesis like this: @(May 5, 2019) or !(6/21/2020).

Global Defer/Due Dates:

By default, tasks will only be assigned defer/due dates that are on the same line as the task title. However, if you add a new line that begins with a @ or ! then that defer or due date will be applied to ALL tasks without their own explicitly assigned date.

Global Tags:

Similarly, if you create a new line with a #, then that tag will be added to ALL tasks. If a task already has tags assigned to it, then the global tag(s) will be combined with the other tags.

Full Featured (and contrived) Example:

Write presentation !Friday #work
Research Mother's Day gifts @1w !(5/12/2019) --Flowers are boring
Asparagus #shopping
#personal
@2d

You can install the action into your own Drafts.app from the action directory.

Creating New GitHub Issues From Drafts.app

After last week’s post about how to create a GitHub issue with image attachments from an email, I thought I’d try and speed up how quickly / easily I’m able to create new issues that don’t come from customer emails – i.e., the ones that just randomly occur to me.

Drafts is my preferred way of capturing text and ideas on Mac and iOS and then doing something with it. It has tons of scripts (actions) to do just about anything, and you can write your own if you need something custom.

So, after a quick look through GitHub’s API docs, I put together this script for Drafts.

It fetches your most recently active repos, presents them in a dialog prompt to pick one, and then creates a new issue in that repo using the contents of the current draft. Simple. Fast. Awesome. And a lot easier than trying to navigate GitHub’s mobile website.

You can install the action into your own Drafts.app from the action directory.