My Writing Setup

I don't often have the luxury of talking about how I write copy.

Might be a good time to open up.

Not too long ago, my set-up was using Windows 10, Dragon NaturallySpeaking and Google Docs.

However, it has many disadvantages.

For one, it's Windows...

  1. It's unreliable, as updates often kill a day's productivity
  2. There's a lot of spying and surveillance built-in
  3. It doesn't let me customize things enough

And while there are redeeming features (such as the aforementioned compatibility with Dragon)...

Those are completely outshined when it comes to one of my recent use cases, where I had to collate a large number of social media copy into... a book.

Sorting things out was a major pain in the ass.

For one, we're looking at ~400 pages of text. That's completely overkill for Google Docs.

My computer isn't bad, either...

  • Ryzen 5 1600x @ 4GHz (yes, I overclock)
  • 16GB DDR4 RAM @ 2133MHz (yes, I could get better, I don't care much)
  • nVidia 1050 Ti (Ehhhh I should have gone with AMD on that, too)
  • SSD for OS and all applications

But still Google Docs just chugged along like it was about to die.

Moving chapters around? Nope, Google can't have you doing that, just copy-paste things by hand.

Can't have the software actually HELP the process, right?

I mean yeah, Docs is easy and quick when needed, but it's completely unfit when it comes to large-scale editing.

So what did I do?

I had only a few weeks to put everything together into some semblance of form.

Using Docs was such a struggle I spent more time scrolling around to find the proper place to put my chapters than actually editing them.

Looking for good solutions, I found This Video, where Jay Dixit talks about how he uses Emacs to write long-form, and how easy it is.

Next morning, I get up, I install Emacs, copy-paste everything into a new org-mode file...

And then I spent an 'entire' 20 minutes just getting headlines and subheads to read properly, as indented bullet-points.

For ~400 pages of text, that ain't bad at all!

But then disaster.

Emacs is rather poorly supported on Windows compared to Linux.

Fair enough, I've used Debian for a few years.

So I install Debian, Emacs, and I'm ready to go... right?

Yep. Just works out of the box. I had to install a few packages for Debian, but other than that, it just works.


Now, don't get me wrong, there's a bit of a learning curve to Emacs.

It's not the same.

But at the same time, all I really use on a regular basis are:

  • the pane feature (you can see multiple places in the same file at the time via indirect buffers)
  • ctrl+backspace for deleting the last word
  • ctrl+k to remove entire lines
  • ctrl+enter to create new bullet-points (headers)
  • and alt+arrow keys, to move those bullets around in the hierarchy

Now, the magical part that made this the ONLY solution for long-form I'll accept is...

Every bullet-point is its own header, and when you type in underneath it, that text is attached to that particular bullet.

Which means that if you move the bullet... you move the text.

And that saves MASSIVE amounts of time, because you can just do this to rearrange your entire book in minutes:

  1. Move your cursor to the bullet/ headline/ subhead you want to move
  2. Hold ALT and move the bullet where you want the chapter to be
  3. DONE

No copy-pasting, no selecting text, no fuss.

The same applies to lists, because bullets are, de facto, just unordered lists.

You can turn the above into this:

  1. DONE
  2. Move your cursor to the bullet/ headline/ subhead you want to move
  3. Hold ALT and move the bullet where you want the chapter to be

By doing nothing else than moving to the third line, holding ALT, and tapping the up arrow twice.


It boggles the mind that so few people use this.

And yes, there's a learning curve. But it's not too steep.

If you can google things every once in a while, you'll be fine.

So how do I deal with client-work?

Just make a new org-mode file.

I keep most of my research separate, in my general '' file.

This includes notes from courses, snippets from books, notes from videos and interviews that I thought valuable, and a significant amount of topical copy that I can just swipe.

I keep that file open at all times in the left pane, and the client file on the right.

That way, I can just look things up as I go, since everything's nicely categorized.

Here's what it looks like...

Screenshot of my Emacs workspace

This is my left screen - I have two 1080p monitors.

The other monitor is just Firefox with Tree Style Tabs add-on, which I use for large-scale research when I'm writing.

This saves me significant amounts of time - the information I need is just a shift of my eyes away.

As far as I'm concerned, there's LITERALLY no better way to write than this.

Especially when you have large volume, or are using multiple sources of information at once.

Found this helpful? Excellent.

Didn't? Great.

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