The launch of Iceberg is big news for writers using WordPress. It is a powerful, elegant and distraction-free writing tool built on top of WordPress’ Block editor. The same people who created the highly successful plugins CoBlocks and EditorsKit have done it again! Rich Tabor and Jeffery Carandang have been working on this project for the last two months.
Iceberg is different from other writing tools such as Ulysses or iA Writer. As a plugin Iceberg integrates seamlessly with your WordPress site. You use Markdown to format your text. The slash commands “/” to add images and other media to your post are still available. To add links just paste them to highlighted text. Once the muscle memory sets in, writing can be painless. The thoughts are “hitting paper” so to speak without being interrupted by pop-up toolbars. It’s a pleasure to use and it’s rocking fast.
In the background it produces native blocks for your content directly into your post. It hides most of the other features of the editor-related UI so you can concentrate on writing.
When you are done writing and editing, you can switch to the block editor to add the final touches, apply categories, deal with Yoast SEO, add caption to your images, color settings, convert your quotes to “Quote” blocks or anything else on your publishing checklist.
This is an exciting new product. It fills a gap many writers have felt missing with the transition to the block editor. Iceberg gives you the best of both worlds — a writing tool focused on long text writing and publishing as well as the powerful WordPress CMS. Iceberg does not touch your content; it just shows it to you in a different, more elegant writing interface. And should you choose to deactivate the plugin, you won’t lose any content or formatting.
Sensibly, Tabor and Carandang opted for a premium model for their plugin. Gutenberg is still in active development and building a widely used tool on top of it, requires a great deal of time and agility to produce a quality product with staying power. The source code is still available on GitHub.
Getting started with distraction-free writing and Iceberg
Once installed and activated, you invoke Iceberg via the Plugins section in your block editor– the 3-dot menu in “Options” menu, seen at the top right of the block editor or via the keyboard shortcut.
Then you see a full-screen canvas with little else but your post or an empty post. The cursor greets you in the “Title” section. From there, use the Enter key to get into the post’s body section. Then simply start writing your story.
The editing surface has a very clean interface with only the bare necessities and some hidden gems.
The Interface, Options and Settings
On the top left you see a back arrow that gets you back to the “All Posts” list in your WP-admin and the rest of it.
Next you see a Half-Moon icon that invokes the Theme switcher. You can either adopt one of the existing themes or custom-build your editor theme by changing text, background and accent colors.
You can also change the typography of your editor screen, using four different fonts, and controls for font size, line height, line width, and paragraph spacing.
On the bottom right you find a little keyboard icon — that is your Markdown cheat sheet which shows other keyboard shortcuts for heading, Formatting and the Interface.
The settings mentioned above are also reachable via the menu behind the 3-dots on the top right of your editor window: Edit your editor themes, typography, get back to your “All Posts” menu, exit Iceberg or start a new post.
My favorite feature is the “Options” menu item. It opens a new modal window with checkboxes to enable/disable various Writing and Interface options.
You can make Iceberg as your default WordPress editor. When adding images into Iceberg, they can be minimized, so they are small images and don’t interrupt your writing flow. You can switch on or off showing heading levels indicators and scale the heading levels with larger font.
Very elegant is the “Table of Contents” represented by short lines on the left edge of the canvas at eye level. Hovering over them, you can see the headers and sub headers. Also, they are jump points to the respective section. For longer text this is quite useful. The length of the line indicates the heading level and the differences are quite subtle.
General information about the documents is displayed at the bottom of the screen: Number of words and characters and reading time.
In the “Interface” section of the “Options” menu you can turn off part of the menus and icons that populate your Iceberg surface entirely.
Once you are done setting your theme, you won’t need the Theme editor anymore. You know there is a “Back to All Posts” in the 3-dot menu, so you do not need the arrow anymore. And you are up to date with your keyboard shortcuts, so you don’t need that either. Some people can be perfectly fine without a table of contents. If it’s a distraction you can switch it off.
What’s left is the cleanest WordPress writing canvas. It’s just you, your text and the “Save Draft” and “Publish” button with your text tracking how many words you write.
My Missing Features List
Convert Paragraphs to Lists
I could really use a way to convert Paragraphs to Lists (only see convert list type in the shortcuts). I often start writing and then realize this is better displayed as a list and I need this almost on every post I write in the block editor and other places.
Updated 5/26/2020 – This has already been implemented during for this release. Highlight the paragraphs and use keyboard shortcut opt+cmd+8 and they convert to list bullets/
Small Formatting Toolbar
Medium has a tiny formatting toolbar that magically appears when I highlight a portion of a text. This would help Markdown newbies with discovery until they know all the shortcuts.
Decreased Steps from Idea to Writing
“I have an idea for a post. How many steps is it before I’m writing what I’m thinking? The more steps, and the less memorable they are, the more likely it is that I will either forget the idea before I start writing, or decide not to detour because it takes too much time to record it.”Dave Winer, leading evangelist of blogging and creator of RSS 2.0 standard
To minimize the steps from idea to start writing a possible implementation could be to show Iceberg with a new post, instead of the WordPress Dashboard after login. Alternatively, modify the “Quick Post” section into an Iceberg representation, that can be maximized with a shortcut/click on a button (inspired by Dave Winer’s blog post).
Also inspired by Dave Winer, paragraph-level permalinks could be a feature for the “Options” modal to turn on and off on the post level. They would make quoting and linking in other people’s post so much easier for the reader, including sharing on the social webs. This would also create an instant live-blogging flow.
Is there a way to quickly preview my post on the front end? For now, I need to get out of Iceberg, use the Preview feature of the block editor and then get back into Iceberg. I would love to do this directly from Iceberg in a modal window without the detour to the block editor and back.
If Tabor and Carandang are working on some SaaS features for writers who use Iceberg on multiple sites, I have some ideas.
Store Custom Editor Theme in the Cloud
Having a place to store my preferences would make my Iceberg instance look the same for all the sites for which I write content, and I don’t have to replicate the settings and changes propagated over all the sites.
Other writing tools and editors allow a feature with text snippets stored for reuse. The block editor uses reusable blocks for this. It would be great if Iceberg could tap into that functionality as well.
A copy of the snippets should go into my cloud storage. Being able to import them to other instances of Iceberg would be wonderfully productive.
Create Custom Keyboard Shortcuts
The block editor provides an API to create custom keyboard shortcuts. Maybe Iceberg can expose it to the writers on a site and allow for custom keyboard shortcuts without writing code and plugins.
It’s me, my thoughts and my typewriter again, now in the 21st century.
Iceberg fosters distraction-free writing in a sparsely populated screen.
Most of the time, I go with the trend of using less text and more images and other visuals for a post, and follow the reading habits of our readers.
Iceberg actually makes me want to write long texts again and be able to let my thoughts flow on the screen; it lets me find out what I am thinking.
Iceberg supports a writing flow for WordPress that’s otherwise only available as a local app in Hemingway or Ulysses. It eliminates one integration step from your writing flow, though. It’s also beautiful and fast.