The Atom text editor
I’m in a slow-moving, gradual transition towards setting up the Atom text editor as my primary writing environment. The Atom text editor is an open source, ‘hackable’ text editor supported by the Github team. ‘Hackable’ simply means it’s easy to configure. Github support means Github integration, making version control and backups very simple. Since my webpage is hosted on Github pages, I also use Atom to write posts and edit my site. When you push changes to Github from within the editor, the webpage updates automatically. Since Github pages is based on Jekyll, you can write everything in Markdown and have it automatically rendered in HTML.
Figuring out how to make all of this work, you cannot help but learn a little bit about the differences between static and dynamic websites and why static websites seem to be making a comeback in recent years. Basically, they’re cheap, fast, and flexible. You have complete control and are not restricted by server-side design and content management choices. Everything is in plain text, so backup, version control, and future-proofing is ensured.
There are thousands of packages that extend the functionality of the editor in countless directions - crucially, for academic writing, lots of support for Markdown and citations through Zotero. The discussion here and guide here talk about the possibilities. Interestingly, it should also be possible to get Python and Jupyter Notebooks working within Atom, which is something I have yet to explore. As I expect it will take some effort to get everything working seamlessly, this is a transition that will have to develop bit by bit. The end goal will be to have one single program through which I can write articles, notes, and posts, convert them to PDFs and Word documents through Pandoc, carry out analysis in Python, update the website, and stay organized with my todo.txt file.
In case any of this turns out to be useful to others who are considering something similar, I’ll record my experiences in future posts. There are lots of reasons you might consider moving away from WYSIWYG editors such as Microsoft Word. Here are some of them:
- ‘Why Microsoft Word must die’ by Charlie Stross
- ‘Word Processors: Stupid and Inefficient’ by Allin Cottrell
The ideas behind this workflow are outlined brilliantly at Michael Descy’s PlainTextProductivity website. He uses Sublime Text instead of Atom, which is closed source and $70 per license. Kieran Healy also has a fantastic guide and reasoning behind plain text social science, where he also provides an Emacs starter kit. Over time, I hope I can implement something similar to the approaches they describe for Sublime or Emacs but in Atom, as it seems a bit more modern and approachable.