Writing a novel in Markdown

P.D. Workman
14 min readDec 10, 2021

As a prolific author, I am able to test and tweak my methods to come up with my own workflow and best practices more quickly than most.

I used Scrivener for drafting and formatting books for about seven years. That workflow involved generating a docx file which I then manually tweaked with drop caps and other formatting features I could not accomplish directly within Scrivener, then using that file to create the other sizes/bindings that I needed. Then, of course, save them as pdf files for upload to my distributors. If I had changes to make to a book, I had to change the three or more docx files individually, as well as the Scrivener file which I still used to generate the epub and mobi versions. It was quite intensive. I was also running into problems with files becoming corrupted, taking huge lengths of time to open/close, and not converting properly from version 2.0 to version 3.0.

I finally broke down and purchased Vellum in the summer of 2020, and at that point, began to rejig my workflow to eliminate Scrivener. (I have not completely eliminated it, as I still use it as a tool for formatting large print and my WordPress portfolio files, but I no longer write in it, I just import a Vellum rtf export file for that purpose.)

It took a few different attempts at using docx or odt files for my first draft before I landed on using Markdown files (one per chapter) for drafting, then compiling the Markdown files for my editor, and importing the finished file into Vellum for formatting and publishing. Now when I have changes to make, I only need to make them in Vellum, not in half a dozen different files, and I can produce my ebooks and print interiors with just a few clicks.

Initially, I was using Notebooks App to create the Markdown files and compile them, and have since made the shift to doing it all in Obsidian, using the Longform plugin. By my count, I have written 13 books in Markdown, so I have had 13 iterations to tweak and refine the process discussed in this article.

Note: if you are moving a project from Notebooks to the Longform plugin, you need to do one tweak first. Notebooks creates a plist file for each of your MD files, which contains various internal information about that file. Longform does not know to ignore plist files and does weird things with them. So…

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P.D. Workman

Writing riveting mystery, suspense, and young adult fiction about real life issues.