WiKen's EmacsWiki Page

The Spirit of Emacs

Yes, I use emacs… since around 1990. About the second week I was using it, I posted a question about emacs to a discussion list and among the helpful replies I received was one from a guy named Richard Stallman. Of course I didn’t know who he was at the time, didn’t find out until about a year later. Then I was impressed that a guy with his credentials and his todo list would bother answering a question from such a total newb. It’s that kind of spirit that help make emacs what it is.

Manuscript Mode


By manuscript-mode is meant a mode for writers of fiction, nonfiction, essays, books, and poetry which they can use for creating, editing and submitting manuscripts. The submission format for such writing is dictated by the (human) editors who work at publishing houses or the publishing houses themselves. Writers are absolutely in no position to negotiate with publishers about the kind of format submissions may be in. The writer either conforms to the standards of the publishing house or the writer’s manuscript is tossed into the trash.

It’s probably an understatement to say that emacs is a very feature-rich editor. This is why it’s baffling to me that emacs works for all kinds of natural languages, even those that read from right to left, that it can read and write gzipped files without intervention, that it neatly formats numerous programming languages, that it can color-code the text of programming and scripting languages for syntax, that it can nicely format calendars in a variety of ways and note holidays quite deftly, and that it does dozens of other complex operations, but that it can’t handle double-spaced text… and that people don’t think it should.

Well actually, I do understand why some say that emacs shouldn’t bother with double-spacing and other formatting features specified below. The reasoning is based on the theory of content vs. presentation. Emacs is a text processor and therefore should concern itself only with creating the content. Once the content is created and finished, then other applications (such as LaTeX) are used for the presentation of this content. The rationale for this paradigm is that the writer shouldn’t have to be concerned with the details of how something is formatted or, more generally, how it will appear on the printed page; instead the writer should concentrate solely on producing the content and let others concern themselves with the formatting of the finished product. I don’t disagree with this paradigm, but do believe that its application to the creation a manuscript is not apt.

Before an article is actually published, the manuscript can (and often does) go back and forth between author and (human) editor several times before it is considered finished. Then and only then is it passed on to the (human) typesetter. It is at this point where the work, the manuscript, passes from the content phase into the phase where its presentation is the concern- here and not any time before this point. We should, then, consider double-spacing and other features as part of the content development phase and not features to be delegated to the presentation phase.

It’s been suggested that an author could pre- and post-process the manuscript text (using the UNIX utilities “tr” and “pr” for single- and double-spacing) and still use emacs in between. But should an author have to preprocess the text every time s/he sends out and every time s/he receives back a manuscript? This is an acceptable short term, ad hoc method for the more computer savvy author. But it is the complete opposite of the maxim that “a writer should concentrate solely on creating content and not worry about formatting.” Would we ask the same of a person who writes, say, shell scripts? Would we say, “Every time, after writing the text of the script, you must post-process it. And, every time you want to be able to make changes to it, you must pre-process it”? This sort of necessity will certainly discourage authors, even many tech-savvy ones, from using emacs. Even committed emacs users will regard this sort of rote activity as unvarnished tedium. The fact that C compilers universally handle preprocessing transparently (for a long time now) attests to the fact that, when- and wherever possible, we like to hand off to our software any and all rote tasks and other forms of tedium. Given all the countless other things emacs does and does with nicely formatted output, it doesn’t seem beyond reason to ask if double-spacing might be something emacs could do.

Is it perhaps the case that an emacs solution for this situation just too difficult? This is what I’m currently trying to determine.

Features of manuscript-mode

Manuscript-mode should initally contain the following features (perhaps others will suggest themselves later):

This format is not my idea. This sort of formatting is what magazine and book editors generally specify… this or Word. (ugh!)

Feasibility of manuscript-mode

So how deep into emacs would this need to go? Is it possible and feasible to do in emacs?

Welcome to the wiki! I think it would be much easier on you if you wrote the text single-spaced (and then figure out all the variables you need to change, that should be possible), and leave the double-spaced printing to the printing module (eg. ps-print), or add the double-spaces just before sending the document. I don’t think you really want to work on a double-spaced document for days and weeks anyway. – AlexSchroeder

Hello! Yes, as a writer, double spacing is important for when I hand a document to my friendly editor, on paper. However, I wouldn’t want it double spaced on screen as then I shouldn’t even see a whole page worth of text at a time. 6_6 Anyway, I get my printouts to be double spaced by using:

   (setq ps-line-spacing 10)


I love the spirit behind this project/idea. I’m actually pretty new to emacs and use it solely for writing prose. I use ergoemacs and org-mode, and for right now, it’s sufficient, but for the reasons mentioned above (sending to readers for input, namely), it would be nice to have a manuscript-friendly mode. – SWebber