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Does anyone know a good emacs configuration for creative writing? I'd be looking for the ability to write, edit, and export to libre office or word (so the less technical people get edit/view). I'm looking for something that would be appropriate for novels, not just short stories or blogging.

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I have an excellent Vim setup, most of which I wrote myself, but I can't help you with emacs. –  JSBձոգչ Dec 5 '11 at 20:13
What features for the writing/editing part of that are you looking for? Is your goal to write in flat text, or is a markup language acceptable? Tell us more about what you want to do before the export part, please. –  Monica Cellio Dec 6 '11 at 15:34
One great advantage in using plain text (among techies) is that it is good for generic version control like git, which provides history, diffs, selective merging, and other logging and collaboration features. –  Peter DeWeese Dec 14 '11 at 22:42

5 Answers 5

up vote 6 down vote accepted

My personal setup uses Vim, but a large part of the stack would be applicable to any sufficiently advanced text editor. (Note: "sufficiently advanced text editors" are basically just emacs and Vim.) I don't know of any existing package that does all of this, but writing this for myself was actually pretty easy since it's just a matter of stitching together the existing tools.


I compose all of my stories using Markdown markup (the same markup that StackExchange uses on all of its sites). This allows me to do basic formatting (italics, underlining, outlining) with simple text decorations. For ordinary writing purposes, more complicated formatting is almost never necessary and is almost always a distraction. There already exist packages for both Vim and Emacs to facilitate syntax highlighting and other shortcuts for composing text in Markdown.

I write with Vim's spell-checker turned on. My .vimrc (.emacsrc for you) automatically looks for a file called .custom.add in the same folder as the file, and includes it as a custom dictionary. This allows me to add character names, place names, invented words, etc. to the custom dictionary for every story. When I'm done, the .custom.add file then serves as a convenient list of characters and other non-English words that appear in the story.

I have mapped a keystroke to invoke dict, allowing me to look words up in a dictionary with a single button, either to search for synonyms or check on my spelling. I've mapped other keystrokes to exporting to any of the formats discussed below.


I use pandoc for converting from Markdown into any of the myriad formats that pandoc supports. In my case, I'm interested in LaTeX (which I later convert into PDF), HTML, and RTF. Getting good LaTeX and RTF output requires that you write a custom output template, but this is actually pretty trivial, and the pandoc documentation covers this in plenty of detail.

I use the sffms LaTeX package for typesetting the LaTeX/PDF output. Sffms makes it dead-simple to create manuscripts that fit standard manuscript format with no effort at all. I prefer to send PDFs to people unless they've specified otherwise.

RTF can be read natively by every existing word-processing program, so I rarely find the need to convert it to something else. If I do, I open up the RTF file in Word and then save it in Word format, which is usually the only other thing that people ask for.

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If you want to work within emacs, I would consider org-mode; it's what I'm currently using for writing projects (amongst other things).

First and foremost, it's an outliner, with facilities for structuring your document(s) hierarchically. If you want to plan a story out into acts, acts into sequences, sequences into scenes, maybe scenes into beats...structuring it hierarchically in an outliner is perfect. If you don't want to impose much structure, you don't have to -- use as little or as much as you want.

It supports basic markup. It supports hyperlinks within your document, between your org documents (kind of like your own little private wiki), and to other types of documents or web pages or what-have-you. And, it supports exporting to a variety of formats (including HTML, LaTeX/PDF, and cleaned up ascii-text). It's a very deep, powerful program written within emacs, and creative writing is one of many things you can do with it. A version of it comes with modern emacs distributions, but I recommend downloading and using the most current version.

There are many modes that come with a modern emacs distribution that may help as well. I would be sure to enable flyspell-mode for spell checking as you compose, visual-line-mode for word wrapping to the editor window if you don't want to insert hard newlines, possibly linum-mode for displaying a running count of line numbers in the left-hand margin.

I personally like visualizing my whitespace glyphs (tabs and newlines in particular) and whitespace-mode can be configured to display these things subtly instead of gaudily. I would recommend against visualizing the "space" character...with a monospaced font, it should be pretty obvious that all the places that are not actual ascii characters, tabs or newlines are in fact space characters. The desire to do this may come from the fact that I'm a programmer using emacs first, and a semi-aspiring writer using emacs second.

Use google and the emacswiki for learning about all things emacs, and the tutorials on the org-mode website for org mode. The hack emacs series by rpdillon has a number of episodes on org-mode which I found to be useful.

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This is an old thread, but maybe this contribution will still be helpful: I've written several books using emacs, and am also the author of the Woodnotes Guide for Emacs for Writers (not Coders) 1 and produced a cheatsheet 2 of commands and settings I find useful. Both are totally free/Creative Commons licensed.

If you're curious, on the same site you'll find an article I wrote about how I use emacs and other Linux tools to write books and another on how to make an epub from text files (for example, created using Vim or Emacs). I don't have a "10 reputation" so SE won't let me post more than two links. Have fun!

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Post more links. –  John Smithers Jan 10 at 20:03

In addition to what Matt Anderson said, Org-mode does export to MSWord and LibreOffice. Here's a video I made demonstrating this: http://vimeo.com/31564708

I haven't done it, but I understand there is also an 'import' function that converts from MSWord/LibreOffice ODT to native Org-mode files. The little comment/annotation-blocks in right margin are also supported for export, and, I expect, import.

The video is actually of VimOrganizer, an Org-mode clone I'm writing for Vim. For export (and some other functions) it calls out to an Emacs server to perform the operation. VimOrganizer has gotten to the point that its an excellent solution for people who would like to use Org-mode but who -- for whatever reason -- have an aversion to Emacs. I don't like editing in Emacs myself, but Org-mode is a beautiful piece of work.

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Since I use LaTeX, I divide the project into several files (settings, functions, chapters, etc.) One frame, one window, if you like/need enable flyspell and use the text-scale-adjust to fit the text to your screen width. I think there is no need for more.

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