Evolution of an online essay

Dec 18, 2013

I’m working on a very long essay now.

My essay started as a Fargo outline of ideas (after a page of scribbles in a ScienceOnline-branded Field Notes notebook).

Then I used iA writer to expand those ideas into a first draft.

Then I copied that first draft into Draft, and edited and rewrote a couple more versions.

Then I copied the essay into Medium. Medium has a new update, with some new formatting options.

There’s been a lot of discussion lately about what purpose Medium is meant to serve, for users and its investors. Read two: Anil Dash and Noah Nelson.

I previously posted two essays to Medium, about dengue fever and Lucky the Cow. But, I’ve kept my distance from Medium, for one reason I won’t go into, and for another reason: I want to own and control my own content, and so I keep most of my blogging here at mistersugar.com.

But I was tempted by the full-width image placement, and using the updated Medium has actually been kind of fun. It’s easy to format my writing with photos and pullquotes and section heads. This reminds me of being a high school editor of the literary journal New Pennies, and learning to cut and paste galley pages.

It also reminds me of learning to use Pagemaker on Macintosh computers in the back-room computer lab of the Carroll News, my college newspaper. I’d be there late at night, joined by a young English professor named Mark Winegardner, who used the Macs to design posters to promote the writers he was bringing to campus — Tim O’Brien, Robert Stone and John Edgar Widemann, among others — while I designed pages of the newspaper or my latest Zuiker Chronicles (Anton Edition) newsletter to send to family and friends. It also reminds me of learning HTML to create Zuiker Chronicles Online and the Coconut Wireless.

All of these experiences, and tools, have helped make writing easier and design fun. Yeah, I know professional designers do it better, and that in Medium we’re not really designing, since the company has structured it to their design styles. But even these limited tools for text formatting and image layout give enough options to make an author feel in control of the product. Oh, and the ability to place comments alongside paragraphs, and to invite friends and colleagues to review and offer editorial advice before an essay is public, are also very nice.

I hope to have this new essay in Medium ready to be public in a few days.

I’m also putting the essay into a self-hosted Ghost blog to see how that new blogging tool compares.

I’ve been trying lots of online writing tools this year. See previous posts here and here.

I’ve just read that the makers of iA Writer have a new, more powerful writing-and-editing tool available. It’s called Writer Pro. I’ll buy it in the morning (not available for U.S. purchase until midnight) and try it on another set of ideas that I’ve outlined in Fargo.

btw, Om Malik’s reflections on how blogging has changed over the 12 years he’s been doing is quite insightful.

Anton Zuiker

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