Brainstormbringer, Eater of Black Moods


First, let me say that if I were a good Stoic I’d be blaming the workman and not his – my – tools. That said, I’ve been trying to finish writing my third book (a book of fictional reviews of the board games, video games, and sports of a parallel Earth). I’ve been working in Emacs, and although I love many things about the program, I’ve come to think it’s not ideal. In fact, it’s too good.

I’ve gone through a couple of periods of creative block, and one of my initial home remedies was a browser add-on to prevent me from viewing my favorite websites during certain hours every day. It kept me from visiting those sites, all right – but I could still visit most of my bookmarked sites (I literally have 28,835 bookmarks at present) and I could engage in non-writing, offline computer interests such as interactive fiction (lately I’ve been fascinated by The Gostak).

Moreover, the Emacs editor itself has been too interesting – too tempting to tinker with and learn about – for me to write much in it directly. Now, the AlphaSmart Neo, on the other hand, is a limited-capability keyboard with a tiny screen they gave to children in schoolrooms ten years ago. What could be duller? It’s great.

To recap, the tragic flaw of Emacs is that it’s highly hackable and therefore intrinsically cool. That’s bad. You don’t want a writing tool that’s an end in itself.1 Your tools must be invisible enough, unattractive enough, not to draw you away from your work, or, Muse forbid, become your work. Emacs, like the slightly demonic mystery in “Step Right Up” by Tom Waits, will find you a job. It is a job.

That’s why tonight, after weeks of drought while trying to write in the excessively excellent Emacs, I completely shut down my Ubuntu laptop for several hours, broke out my Neo again (Marty has dubbed it Brainstormbringer, a much more exciting moniker than it deserves), and extended my manuscript substantially.2

What would you think of an auto mechanic you hired to fix your car but instead billed you for merely putting her toolbox in order? I’ve spent a lot of time messing around with Emacs, FunnelWeb, and Pandoc in my attempts to just write. This is the opposite of the “Fuck it! Ship it!” philosophy of Markdown I started with.

In conclusion, I frankly don’t care whether you fuck it. Just ship it, by any means at hand.



WordStar is also powerful, and that’s why it has both plenty of fans (for retrocomputing software) and people saying they still get work done on it (as distinct from fans). It might also help explain why there’s a WordPerfect mode for Emacs. On the other hand, Emacs probably has Morse code and pizza-ordering modes too, so I shouldn’t find it remarkable it can emulate WordPerfect.


I used to get a lot done with boring old Gedit too – the Linux equivalent of Notepad.

What do you think? And hey, how about leaving comments on this blog, rather than on Twitter or F*c*b**k or wherever else you found this? Thanks.

Photo by João Pimentel Ferreira (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.

2 thoughts on “Brainstormbringer, Eater of Black Moods

  1. I use RescueTime to monitor what I do on line. When I started, it wasn’t great revelation, but i enjoyed seeing the numbers. If you are really struggling with distraction, it might help you get a better handle on it with the feedback RT provides. However, I’m not sure how well the plugins work on linux and it won’t help with playing with emacs – that will all look like “productive” time 🙂


    • Thanks, Bill. RescueTime looks potentially useful, and it does have a Linux version, which usually means at least Ubuntu. It has Android too. Why, I bet I could spend at least the rest of the day installing and configuring it… 🙂


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