Book idea: Thinking With Emacs


For: Beginner to intermediate Emacs users (non-technical backgrounds are okay) who want to use it for organizing what they know/think and learning more
Outcome: People can use this incredibly powerful although somewhat intimidatingly technical tool to aid their learning
Possible collaborator: Bill Zimmerly

The basics
Objective: Get people from 0 to 1
– Writing conventions used in this book
– How to install Emacs
– Basic concepts and keyboard shortcuts
– Some customization

How to Learn Emacs - v2 - Large



2014-02-27 Map for getting the hang of Emacs movement #emacs #map #guide

2014-02-27 Map for getting the hang of Emacs movement #emacs #map #guide

Objective: Help people get the hang of using Emacs as a text editor
Introduce structured writing with Org

– Writing
– Outlines
– Lists
– Tables
– Links
– Finding your way around

– Practical applications
– Planning your projects
– Exploring decisions

Objective: Quick win – helping people export their work into a form that other people can understand

– Exporting to HTML
– Exporting to other formats (LaTeX?)

Remembering and organizing
Objective: Capture those quick thoughts

Capturing thoughts
Organizing your thoughts

Practical examples:
– Keeping track of ideas
– Reading books
– Remembering solutions to problems

Planning your life
– Using Org for planning
– Reminders
– Regular reminders
– GTD and other ways of working

– Organizing your notes – thinking in terms of contexts, projects,

Working with numbers
– Why use Emacs instead of a calculator?
– Quick calculations using Emacs Lisp
– Org spreadsheet
– Calc

Saving time with shortcuts
– Making your own keyboard shortcuts
– Keyboard macros

2013-12-12 Plan - The Lazy Person's Guide to Saving Time with Emacs

Configuring Emacs
– Customize
– Your configuration file

Going beyond
Inspirational writing to encourage more use.

How and why Emacs becomes the center of many power users’ computer activity.

Extending Emacs
– Finding the source
– A quick primer on Emacs Lisp
– Interactively understanding code with Edebug
– Writing your own

2013-12-12 Plan - Getting started with Emacs Lisp

Modifying the way Emacs works

– Advice
– Changing behavior

Working with code
Additional tools for making sense of software projects?

Emacs, statistics, and research
Objective: Help people use Emacs to support research

Other notes: Org

2014-01-07 Map for learning Org Mode for Emacs

Thanks  to sahilsinha, timvisher,rknnv2, gozes, GlennRStreet, ScriptDevil, BalticPasta, berndweiss, krrrcks, emisshula, and others for feedback! =)


INTERESTED? WANT TO LEARN MORE? Comment below or e-mail me at and let’s talk about what you’re curious about. That will really help me turn this book idea into reality! =)

  • Like this idea. I remember that years ago you were working on a “Wicked Cool Emacs”. I’m sorry that never appeared. :-(

    • I’m learning that if I want to get a book-like resource out there, I should probably write it in small chunks first on my blog first. =) And that it’s okay to really only want to write three chapters of something before moving on… ;)

  • Paul D

    All I could possibly suggest is that you do NOT do the “usual” coding book. Boring, drab, full of awful screenshots, keyboard shortcuts (in plain blah text). Make it full of your own hand-drawn goodness!

    It would be so great to buy a computer book not just jammed full of boring text & code, and instead with a ton of hand-drawn sketches.

    • Absolutely! If you like stuff along those lines, check out Why’s Poignant Guide, Learn You a Haskell, and Illustrating C. =)

  • Raymond Zeitler

    All the topics under “Working with numbers,” plus Org and also “Interactively understanding code with Edebug” interest me. As well, I have an idea for an Emacs extension that I need help with, even though I have the book “Writing GNU Emacs Extensions”

    • Have you gotten the hang of Edebug? If so, do you remember the parts that particularly stumped you? If not, where are you getting stuck? =)

  • Steven LeBeau

    I’m an intermediate-novice coder who has dabbled with Emacs on and off for a long time. I’m really bad at time management and organizing my million and one ideas, but discovering Org-Mode has given me some hope that there’s a better way of organizing my life and capturing creative ideas (music, comedy, writing, and software) than having a stack of half-empty composition books. In other words, I hope this book actually happens :)