writing in org modeΒΆ

With all luck, I’ll have most of a draft of the short story I’ve been working on done by the time this goes live, but if not certainly rather soon there after. This is an exciting announcement in and of itself, but perhaps the more interesting thing is that in the process of doing this I sank into writing this story in org mode.

My general M.O. for writing for the last several years has just been to write and store the files in markdown and use whatever text editor I fancy. I write the blog this way, I write papers this way. Everything seems to work fine, there are converters for LaTeX, HTML, and the plain text format is absolutely and completely readable to people who aren’t as obsessive about text files as I am.

While I’m a huge org-mode proponent, I don’t tend to think that org-mode makes a particularly good writing environment (or haven’t, heretofore) because unless you use org-mode org files are sometimes a bit ugly, and the syntax is enough different from markdown to confuse me, and...

The general consensus, that I’ve seen is that while org-mode is indeed a great boon to the intensive-emacs user, that it’s not an ideal production editing environment. muse-mode, or my favored markdown-mode might be better if you’re actually writing text.

And then, as I got into the writing of this story, I realized that I was flipping rather seriously (and annoyingly) between my notes for the story and the story I was writing. Also, when I’m writing book-length (or conceptually book-length) work, I tend to break up the text into more manageable chapter-length or scene-length files, which is conceptually useful for me.

In a short story, it didn’t seem to make sense to break things up into more than one file, and after I’d written a couple thousand words, I realized that something needed to be done. I created a file, with some header meta-data (using the yaml form that jekyll), an org-mode statement to define custom-status words that seem relevant to the writing/editing process, and then first level headers define key scenes or breaks in the story. I’ve never written (or read, to the best of my memory) a story that required more than one level of organization (but ymmv), and then–and this is the clever part as far as I’m concerned–property drawers for notes about what happens in the scene.

Property drawers stay folded by default, and are intended to store a collection of key-value pairs, but they don’t get exported by default, and so are a good way to keep your notes and your writing together and then export, as needed when drafting is done.

Also, I’ve recently added the following to my key-binding list, which adds a property drawer to the current heading, which is indeed a good thing:

(global-set-key "\M-p" 'org-insert-property-drawer)

I’ve posted a copy of my template file for your review and edification.

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2009-05-18

  • tychoish
  • org-mode, emacs, writing, cyborg

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tychoish is a blog about software, science fiction, community, music, knitting, and economies with particular attention to their past and future histories. Produced in Brooklyn by tycho garen.

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