Paper Emacs

Since I moved to bullet-journaling, most of the time I have been writing on paper. Even though I’ve not restricted my Emacs time to Clojure programming, paper and fountain pen have changed the way I approach my favourite text editor for prose.

As I was writing articles for my blogs, I’ve discovered that I wanted my text-editing environment as close as possible to the beautiful, distraction-free feeling of a blank page. There are plenty of themes and modes out there to suit this particular need, but the combination of settings and packages I am about to describe has proven to be the most satisfying so far.


A light theme is the obvious choice to mirror the paper look. Since I have been using modus-operandi for a while now, there is no reason to look for something else. Everything in markdown-mode is supported, and with a variable-pitch font (FiraGO in my case) the buffer stops resembling code for once.

Editing modes

I write all my articles in Markdown, but to achieve the desired distraction-free effect I rely on Protesilaos Stavrou’s tips, slightly adjusted to my preferences: “Focused editing tools” for Emacs and Emacs: configuring mixed fonts in Org mode. I am using a variant of Olivetti like him, the only difference being the use of text-scale-increase to increase the text size and text-scale-decrease to restore it back to normal when leaving the mode.

On top of that I use freeze-it, which is like having someone slapping my hands away from the text before the current paragraph. Harsh, yes, but for the obsessive-compulsive writer an effective way to keep the mind focused on one thing at the time. I can always review the previous paragraphs later, and with the big picture in front of me editing often becomes deleting.


Once again, I find myself tweaking the mode-line. Setting modus-operandi-theme-3d-modeline has been enough thus far, but something less prominent can be closer to the no-frills of my BuJo. Luckily William Rankin, the author of Olivetti and freeze-it, shared his magic tricks and I followed his lead. I merely threw in coloured indicators for modified, read-only, and remote buffers. Sorry, I can’t resist a little bit of fanciness.

Final notes

There is more than this to my writing environment. For instance, I wrote about spell-checking before and I use Artur Malabarba’s suggestions on paragraph movements. Not to mention the default Emacs facilities for marking, killing, yanking, and moving around the buffer. Nonetheless, this should be enough to write prose in a quieter and more fruitful way.