January 25

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Write Better Blog Posts with Workflow and Drafts

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If you liked my post about blogging on an iPad, and the best writing programs available on the iOS App Store, here’s a little more.

In my first post, I assumed that you were writing an essay-type post, full of big ideas, in which prose came first, and the links and quotations came second. First you wrote, and then, when you had finished writing, you went back and cleaned up the piece, got it ready for the web.

That’s why I began the piece talking about writing apps on the iPad, great programs like Ulysses and Drafts.

But, of course, not all blogging is like that. Sometimes we are responding to another person’s post, or want to connect a few different arguments; sometimes we just want to fire off a quick piece that’s nothing more than a link, a quotation, and a comment.

In theory, these sorts of posts would be a slog to compose on an iPad. You’ve got to select text on a web page, copy it into your text editor, go back, select links, copy them over, HTML or Markdown those links up, and then send the post to your blog. It’s a lot of bother for a quick response. But with the new capacities of iOS9, the best iPad (and iPhone) apps are getting better and better at speeding up the process for you.

Why should a short post take you a long time to write, when it doesn’t have to?

Here are two options for writing quicker “link” posts.

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  1. Workflow Safari Extension

This method requires the app Workflow. You’ll need to download that app, download a particular workflow, and enable the Workflow action extension in Safari. (See my previous post for how to do that last part). The actual workflow, by Wojtek Pietrusiewicz, is here (click the link to download it):

Publish Link Post Workflow:

I bought Workflow for iOS on the day it came out. The app was already amazing back then, but lacked a few features which could help me use it on a daily basis. The most recent update added WordPress support however. It took me a little over thirty minutes to put together a rough workflow for publishing linked posts on Infinite Diaries. I’ve been perfecting that workflow ever since and I’m finally ready to share it with the world.

This, a great workflow from Infinite Diaries, is a blisteringly fast way to post to a blog. Once you have it set up, when you see an online argument you want to respond to, all need to do is select and copy some text from the page to use as your quotation. Then you run the workflow from Safari’s list of action extensions. The workflow even provides a text box in which you can write your response: you don’t need to leave the web browser.

If you are feeling brave, you can simply publish as is. There are no more steps: the piece will be up on your blog in moments. Or, if you are more cautious, you can choose to post the new post as a draft, and edit it later.

PS: What I especially like about Wojtek Pietrusiewicz’s post is how he narrates each step of his workflow. If you are looking to use the Workflow app more, and are unsure about all the steps involved, his piece is a great tutorial in designing a longer and more complex sequence.

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  1. Drafts Safari Extension

Drafts has always been a remarkable app.

Macdrifter:

Drafts makes me feel powerful and like an astronaut from the future. It’s a joy to use but surprisingly powerful.

Its makers, Agile Tortoise, present it as a hub for text, a starting point for any kind of writing on an iPhone or iPad. You write something first in Drafts, then decide where it is supposed to go.

In other words, rather than pulling up the Facebook app and writing a status update (“Wow, it’s snowing”), instead, you write the update in Drafts, swipe left on the screen, thus pulling up all the “actions” you’ve created or downloaded. These actions allow you to send the contents of the draft almost anywhere in iOS. You could send the contents of the draft to post as a status update on Facebook, or as a tweet on Twitter, or as an event in Fantastical, or a diary entry in Day One. You could even send the same bit of text to all of those places at once, simultaneously: allowing you, for instance, to keep a private diary of all your Facebook posts.

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You can see a directory of pre-made actions here, all of them available for download. You can also read Gabe Weatherhead’s excellent post “Getting Drafts Right for 2016” for a guide to what the app is capable of.

But sending information out of Drafts is only half of what the app can do. What makes Drafts even better, for us blog writers, is the ease with which you can take text from another iPad app, such as the Safari browser, and send it into a specific draft.

Just like Workflow, Drafts has an action extension (it has to be enabled, too, before you can use it). This extension allows you collect notes, quotations, and links from the web — any kind of text. You can then insert that text into your existing drafts, or using the clipping to create a completely new draft.

For instance, if you are in Safari, looking at a webpage, and you see a paragraph you’d like to respond to in a blog post, you simply highlight the text (you don’t even need to copy it — selecting it is enough), and activate the Drafts action extension from Safari’s share sheet. Not only does the extension extract the highlighted text, the address of the post, and the post’s title, it also allows you to add all that text to an existing draft.

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Step one: select text on a page and activate the extension
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Step two: create a new draft or add the text to an existing one

If you look at the above screenshot, you can see the buttons, at the bottom of the pop up window, to “Prepend” or “Append.” These buttons allow you to pull up a list of your recent drafts and add the captured text at the top or bottom of one of those drafts.

In other words, you can drift about the web, selecting links and quotations, adding each of them to a single draft of a blog post. Let’s say you want to write a post responding to three different writers. You visit each of their sites in turn, highlight a paragraph you want to quote, and one by one send those paragraphs to the same draft, the one you plan to write your blog post in. Then, when it’s time to write, you move from Safari to Drafts: your post already has its quotations and web addresses ready for you.

(And then, once you’re ready to publish, you can access a Publish to WordPress workflow from within Drafts, one you’ve set up as a Drafts action. Feel free to use mine: “Publish Complete Post” and the simple Draft action I use to launch it: Run: Publish Complete Post)

This method is not as quick as Pietrusiewicz’s workflow, clearly, but it allows for much finer degree of control over the blog post you’re constructing. If a simple text box will not contain your words, Drafts and its extension seem the better option.

(That’s how I put this post together.)

PS You can, of course, send text into a draft from other apps, not just Safari. You could, for instance, export a sheet from Ulysses and append it to a draft, taking a scene, say, from your novel in progress, and adding it to the bottom of an email you’re writing in Drafts.

With in that mind, you could in theory turn Drafts into a research repository, collecting notes from all kinds of sources; you could even assemble a novel in it. Why, then, do I use other apps, like Ulysses, for writing long-form? Well, not only is Drafts text-only, with very little capacity for working with images or pdfs, it is also not really set up for complex organisation, or for building up a long sequence of related files, like the chapters of a novel. You can’t tag drafts and you can’t arrange them into sub-folders.

Right or wrong, this omission is by design, part of how the developer conceives of the app’s function:

Drafts is meant to stay active: you write text, format and arrange it, and send it elsewhere. For any project that requires many sessions of writing, an app like Ulysses makes more sense.

PPS I should also mention that Drafts is currently 50% off in the app store, as part of Apple’s Productivity sale. Although I don’t know the developer, Greg Pierce, it’s clear that he puts a huge amount of work into his apps, and (I’m guessing) he probably doesn’t make anywhere near as much money from the App Store as he should. If you are interested in writing on your iPhone / iPad, do give Drafts (and the other apps on sale) a look. It’s very well worth $5 (and $10 normally).


Tags

blogging, drafts, greg pierce, ios, Ipad, pro, wordpress, workflow app, writing


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