Why I use plain text files for my notes
Recently I noticed a colleague using TextEdit on her Mac as her primary method of taking notes. I asked her why she doesn’t use something more modern like Apple Notes, Evernote or any from the ever-growing pool of specific note-taking apps available. She replied with a beautifully simplistic answer:
I’ve been taking notes like this since I started using a computer.
Her reply made me realise that I was very caught up in finding the perfect notes app/tool. I’d spend an unhealthy amount of time researching privacy, cloud syncing, subscriptions, markdown vs no markdown, is it exportable, etc, etc...
Most of the features I was researching didn’t matter to me. The main reasons I take notes are mainly about jotting down an idea, drafting something very roughly, or archiving content.
When I looked at my Apple Notes, Evernote and Bear set up I realised that I wasn’t using anything particularly fancy that they provide out of necessity. When I looked past the crafted UI and marketing material I had a moment of clarity, I didn’t really need these extra tools.
Why plain text?
I decided that I wanted to go with something hassle-free, minimal options for styling, tiny interoperable files, and that I can organise and store wherever and however, I wanted. Plain text files combined with some minimal amounts of markdown seemed to fit the bill.
Where do I host my files?
This is what I love, I can through them anywhere and pick them up anywhere. I use Apple hardware for my personal and professional life so naturally, my notes live in a folder on iCloud Drive. I love knowing that I can lift that folder and drop it into Dropbox, Google Drive, or a self-hosted solution whenever I like.
What text editor do I use?
This is something I spent a bit of experimenting with. Although I currently use a commercial app down to preference I was pleasantly surprised at the open-source options and the pre-installed solutions.
Plain Text editors for Mac
On my Mac, I use iA Writer as my primary note-taking tool. I love everything about this application. The UI is beautiful, it has a file explorer baked in, smart folders, and hashtag organisation. The best part is that it’s purely a client sitting on top of my text files, it doesn’t try to take ownership of my files and wrap me into an ecosystem.
PreText I was surprised at the lack of offerings on the App Store for a basic text editing application that didn’t want to control my files. Apple has yet to create a plain text editor for iOS (no idea why) but PreText has been created to be that. It’s nothing fancy but pulls together a few native iOS components to bring TextEdit to iOS.
Ultimately I bought iA for both iOS and Mac because I love the UI and the company behind the apps have a solid understanding of their product, their customers, and their business model.