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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
If you're a programmer like me, you've probably used Emacs before. But if not, as a writer you might be quite interested in one of Emacs' most powerful features: Org mode.

Emacs is a text editor that has been in development for almost 30 years. It originally appeared on UNIX and UNIX-like systems in the 1980s, and is now up to version 24+ In my considered opinion, it is the most powerful single-process application ever written. It is described as a "self-documenting text editor." Not a word processor, as it doesn't do formatting. It just allows you to enter and save plain text.

This might sound spartan, and it is. At the same time it is quite liberating. As a programmer, I find word processors by and large to be some of the most backwards, broken and infuriating tools available on any platform (I never EVER use a word processor for anything). I believe it was best described to me by a UNIX developer colleague of mine: "Writing with a word processor is like trying to assemble a 327 V-8 engine block with your teeth."

Emacs has many dozens of modes, mostly customized for various programming languages like C and Perl. It's core system is a Lisp interpreter. However, its Org mode is designed as an outlining tool, and at that one function, it works better than anything I have ever used.

I have converted all of my manuscripts to Org documents, making each chapter a collapsible node in a large outline containing all the notes, character names, etc. for that book. It is a gigantic leap forward from the days when everything was stored in separate files. The cool thing is, even Org documents are plain text: machine readable by just about anything, even a browser.

Emacs is free and licensed under the GNU Public License, so you can share it with your writer friends and anyone else who needs a great organizational system. It runs on every OS, and there is even an Org Mode for mobile devices. I recommend giving it a try:
http://www.gnu.org/software/emacs/emacs.html

Here is a good site for Org Mode:

http://orgmode.org
 

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Thanks for the tip.

I am a long-time Linux user, but emacs seemed to me to have a rather steep learning curve. I write in simple text-format (gedit) as well, since I share your abhorrence for wordprocessors.

For my organizing needs I tried a lot of things, from TiddlyWiki to DokuWiki (which is also text based) on a local LAMPP stack. I've looked at NixNote. I'm afraid I actually need a database. I wish there was something like Lotus Approach for Linux.

I guess what I'm asking is whether emacs has relational database-like functions.
 

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heavycat said:
If you're a programmer like me, you've probably used Emacs before.
I am a programmer, but I have developed a seething hatred for UNIX, and Emacs is one of the main reasons why. (Don't get me started on vi.) The interface is so cumbersome as to defy logic. As much as I recognize the program can probably make me an omelet and notarize my will, I can't get past the epic klunkiness of it. It was written in the dark ages and for all its power, its age shows.

But I'm not all that on board with basic text editors as a means to writing anyway. I use one all the time, but if I need to do anything remotely book-like I prefer the word processor. Being able to slip in and out of italics as needed, or change paragraph formats, is too important. Sure you can write for different formats in a text editor, like HTML or TeX, but writing lengthy prose in HTML is unpleasant (I've done it) and TeX is unwieldy. Having to deal with the format rather than the text is too good a way to pull me out of what I'm writing.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
I guess what I'm asking is whether emacs has relational database-like functions.
It doesn't (to my knowledge) have relational database functions accessible through a query language like MySQL, but Org Mode does have tagging and the ability to store metadata in each outline node. That combined with the unbelievably powerful search functions (full regexp plus real-time Lisp function evaluation and the ability to macro search processes) provides a fair amount of power.

Since you run a LAMP stack you already know how to use MySQL, and Emacs can run a MySQL shell in a terminal window if necessary. The only graphical front end to MySQL I have any experience with is the OpenOffice front end which I find is the database equivalent of a word processor. :) I just prefer an on-the-metal shell, because it does exactly what I want and exactly nothing more.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
The interface is so cumbersome as to defy logic. As much as I recognize the program can probably make me an omelet and notarize my will, I can't get past the epic klunkiness of it. It was written in the dark ages and for all its power, its age shows.
I agree. Its age does show in its absence of bugs. I've used Emacs pretty much exclusively for about 4-5 years now. I have never lost a single bit of data due to a crash or an error. In fact, it has never crashed. Not once.

I recommend this story about the Hole Hawg. Its a very entertaining parable about the difference between UNIX and other operating systems, but it applies equally to Emacs and other applications:

http://www-personal.umich.edu/~adbisaro/misc/holehawg.html

I would encourage you to give Linux a try. I think you'll find some of the recent distributions like Puppy Linux, Mint, Arch and Ubuntu to be rather polished and far less "klunky" than older versions.
 
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