Writing in Emacs

ByEnrique Kessler Martínez|
April 07, 2021
374 words
1 minutes

Emacs, as the amazing-operating-system-disguised-as-an-editor that it is, it holds several modes that are interesting for writing from blog posts, articles, and everything that comes to mind.

Even though I'm a strong advocate for org-mode, there are other modes that need to complement org-mode in order to reach the point that any writer might be comfortable with when working with past editors —namely Word, LibreOffice and more.

Starting with the king, org-mode is an all-time favorite package by most Emacs users, as it provides the entire productivity ecosystem that most people need in their daily lives: from to do lists, agenda, calendar, exporting and more, all while using a Markdown brother writing style. It is also highly configurable, allowing for other packages to add to its already extensive functionality. I wouldn't recommend starting with other authoring modes inside Emacs, like Muse or even Markdown. Org-mode is already part of Emacs.

When writing, specially when writing some document that might have some complex structure, it is always good that you can outline your document with org-mode. Using collapsible headers —in org-mode, we use asterisks to define the level we are on. There is a good guide on structural writing with org-mode by Tony Ballantyne here.

Some of the other features that I need when writing my notes —I use org-roam to be able to get the bidirectional-links goodies— or blog posts are spelling, logic and style checking.

For spelling, I use Flyspell, configured to be a minor-mode staying in the background. It waits for me to press the "correct word at point" keybinding (that I have assigned to C-M-i) and checks the entire buffer for spelling errors and corrects the last one. You can also cycle through the possible corrections with the same keybinding again. As I write in both English and Spanish, use a custom function to switch the dictionary Flyspell is using:

(defun fd-switch-dictionary()
  (let* ((dic ispell-current-dictionary)
         (change (if (string= dic "english") "spanish" "english")))
    (ispell-change-dictionary change)
    (message "Dictionary switched from %s to %s" dic change)
(defun flyspell-buffer-after-pdict-save (&rest _)

(advice-add 'ispell-pdict-save :after #'flyspell-buffer-after-pdict-save)

Lastly, for logic and style checking, I recently started dabbling with proselint, which is a Python3 package that provides linting for prose text. I connect it to my Emacs modes using Flycheck. I followed this blog post for the configuration.

(use-package flycheck
  :ensure t
  :config (
           (flycheck-define-checker proselint
             "A linter for prose."
             :command ("proselint" source-inplace)
             ((warning line-start (file-name) ":" line ":" column ": "
                       (id (one-or-more (not (any " "))))
                       (message) line-end))
             :modes (text-mode markdown-mode gfm-mode))

           (add-to-list 'flycheck-checkers 'proselint)