A conversation on Twitter-- never the best place for full explanations -- apparently became confusing yesterday while we were discussing the art of formatting ebooks during #kindlechat. Looking back, I can see where at least one person, and likely others, didn't realize we'd made a jump from using 'Word docs to upload' to 'creating html docs to upload.' When I talked about using html in Word (and not letting Word create the html itself), someone assumed I meant you must do so to make the text work.
No. Many people (as they pointed out during the chat) use straight doc files without a problem. That doesn't mean everyone should use them, however.
The addition of html is for those of us who really love to play and tweak with how our work looks. Rather than being a waste of time, this is a step forward for anyone who wants more control over the end product.
I'm only doing very basic stuff right now. However, I'm teaching myself some of the more esoteric material, like working with Adobe InDesign, so I can do even more. I've played with CSS files in other areas, and I'm gradually getting a clear idea of what kinds of things can be done. This is really very exciting stuff to play with if you are inclined to that sort of work.
Writing your material in a plain text editor (and one assumes coding as you go?) may work for some people. I imagine shorter works wouldn't be so difficult. However, for novelists who are used to working with full-fledged word processors (Word, Open Office, etc.) this would be torture. Someone who has been working with Word for long will use control+i to get an italic font out of instinct and keep going without a thought. Stop and put the coding in? No, that's not going to work for many fiction writers who write in a flow with their stories. Go back and put the codes in after you write? Wouldn't that be a true waste of time when you can do a simple find/replace for the format if you even intended to use the html code? (And other code types, of course. Just using italics as an example.)
There is nothing wrong with typing your work up in a plain text editor if it works for you. There is also nothing wrong with work in Word, Open Office, etc., either. Neither is there a problem with creating your work in InDesign, Dreamweaver, Expression Web or any other program which might help you with html, if that's what you want to do.
Like everything else in writing, there is no one true way. The answer is always what will work for you. Never let any of us tell you that you must do something in a certain way. Many of us will say what works for us, though. How else will you ever know if there are other ways to do things?
The only thing you need to worry about is the finished product. Did you get what you wanted? Does it look good on various ebook readers? If you are only going to stick only with Kindle, you don't have to look at anything else. If you want to reach more readers -- and that's the main goal of most fiction writers -- then you need to be aware of what works across the board. Most of the coding does, so there's usually not a problem.
All the coding and what programs you use to create your work won't mean anything if you don't put your full attention into the text itself. Don't worry about what program you use to create it. Use what you are most comfortable with, because this is the most important part of all. Paste it all into a plain text editor afterwards if you think that will work. Or code from the program you are in if that's what you want to do. But first and foremost, get your text right. If you have spelling problems, then you better work with a word processor that can check spelling for you. Grammar can by iffy. Far better that you teach yourself to use proper grammar than to rely on any program or even on beta readers to help out.
For those of us who often take years from first draft to final product, the idea that ten minutes of find/replace for some special coding 'is a waste of time' is absurd. Even an hour or two playing with the output so that something we've invested so much time and energy into will look it's best is not 'a waste of time.'
Do what suits you and do the work you enjoy. Remember that there is no single right way.