Emacs is not just for computer geeks; also, these are the things that keep me going

Reposted with permission because (a) it shows that people who aren’t computer geeks can also love Emacs, and (b) it gave me a warm and fuzzy feeling and encouraged me to keep writing, so I want to keep it around just in case I get in a rut again.


I’m an emacs newbie who’s trying to both simplify and empower my computing life, and I’ve chosen emacs as the tool to do that. I’m pretty excited about that, and overwhelmed, too.

Actually, a little background might help: I’m a PhD student in early modern (read: renaissance) English literature. Yeah, I’m a Shakespeare guy. I work in a field in which computers are, to most folks, MS Word, MS Entourage, and MS Explorer. I’m a nut who actually plays with stuff. (Actually, I don’t tell my colleagues about it. It could honestly damage my career. I know, it’s disturbing.) I also have some tech chops, being a refugee from the heady late 1990s tech boom where I co-founded a small company that made some money before it collapsed. I’ve been able to do the basics in emacs for years. The basics, but nothing more.

My introduction this time was a rather circuitous route: I moved from Mellel (on the Mac), to Scrivener where I discovered the wonders of MultiMarkdown. Happily I discovered that I could use MMD and TextMate to create LaTeX files without having to look at a bunch of distracting LaTeX markup. I could write plain text and, with a couple of handy keystrokes, create beautiful PDF files that my committee would appreciate. The plain text files took up no space and could be edited anywhere. I could fit a bazillion of them on my USB drive and carry loads of research with me to my office on campus (where I got a hand-me-down Dell running XP v.e.r.y.s.l.o.w.l.y) and on my much speedier Mac at home and even in Linux. Neat. Still, MMD felt hack-y and was only supported by one guy and I wondered if there was anything else like it out there.

Which lead me to muse-mode. From there you can guess my path of discovery: org-mode, planner-mode, remember: oh my!

For a prose writer like myself, the ability to have the cursor jump forward and backward by letter, word, line, and paragraph was nothing new, but M-a and M-e have changed my life. Why don’t all word/text processors understand that the sentence is the fundamental unit of prose writing? Why don’t they all allow me to navigate using units that make logical sense?

Whoever said that emacs was for programmers only surely isn’t a writer.

(This is becoming much longer than I had anticipated, sorry.) My point in writing is to tell you how invaluable I have found your two public chapters (I think they’re 7 and 8) have been for me. The whole idea of writing a book about emacs as cool (as opposed to just highly functional) is both obvious and revolutionary. Know that I would buy a copy today if only it were available.

I noticed in your blog that you felt you had lost some steam on the book. Please don’t. My life is better, my writing is better, my research is better, and, much to the joy of my wife, my progress toward a completed PhD is better, all thanks to emacs which, based on the tools I’m using, is also in thanks to you.

So thank you, and keep writing. I, for one, and hungry for more. I’m sure others are, too.

Jeffrey Windsor

  • I second that.

    I had translated more then a dozen of IT books from English to Russian. At first I tried to use Microsoft Word but it is next to impossible to work with text when touch typing at speeds of 300-600 cpm.

    As there are only two text editors (one of them is Vim which has two modes: beep and mess everything up) I chose Emacs and found it never interferes with the flow of thought allowing to concentrate on book not on editor.

    and encouraged me to keep writing

    Many Emacs users I know are waiting for your book so if you want some more encouragement please do tell us. :)

  • I third the sentiment.

    I’m a minister of religion who has never programmed anything significant past a bit of BASIC on my Sinclair ZX-81, yet I find myself living in Emacs on GNU/Linux. I write my sermon notes, typeset music for our church band, listen to music, IM and irc as well as pretty well everything else from there. Oh, and don’t foget tetris.

    Like most emacs users I’ve learnt what I know through liberal use of C-h i , reading emacswiki and hanging out at #emacs. I mastered my GTD/org-mode fu from your site, and I’m going to be having a crack at bbdb soon, again from things I’ve gleaned here. So please, keep it coming!

    If a book were available, I might well be tempted to put it on the Christmas list!

  • Guillaume Faure

    I also wish to say thank you for all your hard work.
    I’m an emacs user for quite a time now (well in fact I switched back and forth between vim and emacs for a long time), but I only recently begun to “live in emacs”. I wonder if I actually should thank you for that :p. Reading your blog post were the main trigger of this step forward, and yes I really should thank you after all :D. Your writing is absolutely cool, I really love reading most of your post, not only emacs ones now.

    Like said in this reproduction, the idea to write about “fun” in emacs was a cruel missing, i think, since you obviously can have a lot of fun in there.

    I hope you could restore your interest in your witting your book about emacs. I’m waiting it faithfully from France :p (sorry for my English, you know how french peoples are in learning English :p).

    Thank you again.

  • Whenever it was that I met you in Tokyo, that is when I got convinced that emacs was the way to go. Progress has been slow, I can thank the three kids we have now for taking all my free time and making it fun, but I’m still here, struggling with my M-x things.

    Keep on the good work Sacha !

  • Wow. Thanks. =)

    I often don’t feel up to the task of writing about something as complex as Emacs and something as fast-moving as an Emacs package extension (I’m looking at you, Org! ;) ), but you’re right–it’s worth learning about, worth writing about, worth sharing.

    Thanks again. =)