Plain Text is Where Ideas Can Grow and Flourish
Rice University history prof W. Caleb McDaniel wrote an academic book all in plain text. As an evangelist of plain text for academics, he does a better job than I could explaining why you should get off Word when you’re making serious ideas: the risk is just too darn high that you’ll lose something, be stuck on a single platform, or get distracted by heavy software.
To his list, I want to add two more ideas: searchability and versatility. Among the 117 plain text files currently sitting in my installation of nvALT (of which this post is number 117) sits essentially a corpus of every good idea I’ve had over the last four or five years: class notes, brainstormed ideas, conference articles, an aborted book, lectures and memos. Anytime I think of something, it can go here, and I know I’ll be able to find it again. It’s basically effortless to copy out of these files to send an e-mail to a colleague or open them in a program like FoldingText to brainstorm more deliberately.
The notes expand and contract and, somewhere in the middle of them, good ideas sit. When I need to think, write or solve a problem, I hit a hotkey on my computer and I type. To me, that’s a far more efficient (and elegant) way to make idea work more like idea craft.