Writing all four ways

Over the last few months I've written articles in several different ways, although the final product is not very easy to tell. Having now performed this experiment (?), I can now discuss my reflections on how each of the writing methods felt like, and how I'm going to continue going forward.

The four methods that I have used are:

  • Writing in org-mode, which is my default choice. Org-mode is a combination markup language and to-do list, and is in my opinion one of the best-written part of the Emacs world I have ever seen. The text format has seen currency outside of Emacs as well, though it only truly shines inside Emacs due to the low cost of integration with other parts of Emacs.
  • Writing in Gemtext. If you are reading this on Gemini, this needs no further introduction. Otherwise, it is an extremely stripped-down markup that is also line-oriented. Because of its line orientation it is also used as a sort of rudimentary data serialisation system à la .ini and .conf, though one ultimately engineered for reading by humans.
  • Writing in a word processor. Again, if you are reading this on a computer at all, this should need no further introduction. But for reference, I used LibreOffice as it is the only reasonable choice to use on a Linux desktop.
  • Writing in a notepad on mobile. Yes, that actually happened.
  • Org-mode

    There are other choices I could have made as well, but I didn't do on account of lack of time. However, I will probably be doing it in other ways in the future as well, if I can think of viable (key!) ways to do it.

    org-mode

    My native "typing" format when it comes to writing in plain text with some level of markup is org-mode, which is particularly pleasant to write. In fact, there's not much to say about it because it is my baseline experience to which I compare everything with. There's also a to-do list portion, but that's not particularly relevant to writing text so we'll only briefly touch upon it here.

    I've typed up very large amounts of text (800 kchar) in org-mode, and for that purpose it is extremely adequate. By and large the markup is also line-oriented and fairly intuitive, but on the other hand it is much "fatter" than Gemini on account of it being almost the exact opposite philosophically: it has a maximum feature set, up to and including allowing raw LaTeX to be inserted if needed. Nevertheless, for easy purposes of writing articles like this there's no need to resort to such drastic measures, and for just /typing/ it is fairly easy to handle all of it.

    One particular feature that org-mode has that makes it stand out against a hypothetical version that is "just write" is exporting. One can export against a number of other formats, such as plain text formatted in a pale imitation of the ASCII art of old, LaTeX (and then PDF), HTML and even Gemini. The Gemini export however does not undo semantic newlines which could be a bit of an issue at times. I have not found time to resolve that particular problem.

    In conclusion, it is a particularly pleasant way to write things, but that's probably because I'm used to it all these years, and exporting to Gemini requires a bit of post-processing and awareness of the lack of features to Gemini.

    Gemtext

    Writing in Gemtext is a strange sensation compared to org-mode. Gemtext does not support semantic newlines, so there is no rhythmic hitting of RET while typing within a paragraph. This is more natural in the sense of things appearing in the way that they are supposed to appear in a WYSIWYG sense.

    The main issue with long lines is of course that Emacs is not particularly happy about them. It's not that it can't handle it, but I need to accommodate it by disabling line numbers and enabling word-level line wrap. That's not very nice, but at least it is automatic.

    Long lines also make version control unsatisfactory as now there's a massive glob in the diff even for fairly trivial one-word changes:

    Semantic newlines

    Example of semantic newlines and the resulting diffs.

    This is unlikely to resonate amongst many with advanced git setups, and it isn't actually all that debilitating when it comes to using version control, so it's unlikely to handle it.

    Of course, if you're writing for Gemini, then its native format is going to be a perfect fit for the feature set. It's also not difficult to rig up a solution to convert it to other formats, and if you don't feel like it there are many converters built by other people already.

    Overall, it feels a little bit like splitting the difference between org-mode and a word processor. It's not a bad thing to write, but I'd hate to write anything ambitious with it. A good stopping point is probably around 20 000 characters.

    Word processor

    As hinted at earlier, writing in a word processor is further along the scale starting at org-mode and going through Gemtext.

    It is surprisingly not as bad as one might have expected, even though I have not used a word-processor to write anything substantial for almost a decade and. The different context it has to a text editor enables an alternate state of "flow" that I think would probably have influenced me to write in a different way but I can't actually confirm that.

    As with org-mode if I want to write for Gemini I have to ensure that I keep myself from using features that are too much for Gemtext to handle. And since there is no dedicated output facility, converting to Gemtext does involve some copy-and-paste of the HTML export plus some post-processing.

    While writing though, it is fairly easy to judge how much one has written because of the built-in division into pages and a running word count. That allows one to write to a constrained word limit if it is the case, and while there is no hard number for writing in Gemtext it is still useful for figuring out when to wrap up because writing in Gemtext is not as open as writing in other formats.

    The verdict here is that it's not ideal but it's hardly not a viable way to write words in Gemini or even as a storage medium.

    Android notepad

    There's a notepad app that I used to write one article.

    It is absolutely not nice to write anything substantial in that notepad – double so now that I have lost the stylus to it so I have to use a grubby thumb to type (swipe) slowly – but again it is not a total loss. I actually managed about five hundred words before I had to move back to a more traditional writing environment.

    The main advantage to writing in a notepad is that it can be treated as a Gemtext editor in most ways: plain text and Gemtext are almost exactly the same anyway, and the tiny amount of markup don't add much friction to write things. Additionally, transferring to a computer is not at all difficult if one has KDE Connect, which is in this use case better than using most other cloud-based solutions solely on the fact that it is entirely local and therefore you don't have to move your data halfway around the world and back. Since I already use KDE Connect it's not at all an obstacle, but if you are using an iPhone it is not available there so be aware.

    KDE Connect

    Putting it all together it's not an experience I'd replicate again unless I'm in a particular circumstance, which is when I absolutely have to jot an idea or ten down when I'm on the bus or a computer is otherwise unavailable. The fact that one can seamlessly move to typing on a computer later makes it ideal for that purpose.

    The future

    I'm still not settled on what I should write these things on, even though I've tried multiple ways of doing it.

    The main issue is that Gemtext is always going to be somewhat awkward to work with as it's not my "native" format and some adjustments are always going to be needed. There is no canonical adjustment so what feels ideal would have to change now and then according to my own tastes.

    I still think however that all the articles put together should be in some kind of master org-mode file however, just to make it easy for categorisation.

    ^