Getting Started with Emacs

I’ve been reading about, mucking around with, and generally doing nothing with emacs for literally years. Every time I’d start, I’d quickly get overwhelmed with all the key chords, modes, confusing terminology, and just generally insane complexity (which perversely are also part of the appeal). So although I’ve long fantasized about being an EMACS WIZARD, I’ve done very little to advance that cause. Because, reasons laziness. I even started thinking that Sublime Text might be an acceptable substitute.

But no more!

Today was the day I made my first real attempt at learning Emacs. First, I went through the builtin tutorial. This is absolutely essential to get started with Emacs – it gets you used to using the keyboard/key-bindings to move around the screen, killing and yanking (cut and pasting), and other basic commands. I’d started this thing several times in the past, but my eyes quickly glazed over with the large screen of text, but honestly, I just hadn’t given it a chance. Today I did, and for some reason the usual eye-glazing didn’t occur. I read avidly, did all the interactive exercises, and got a ton out of it. All in about 45 minutes or so.

Next up was Chris Forno’s awesome introductory emacs videos. They average about 10 minutes apiece, and cover all the essentials. It’s important to follow along with what he’s doing in your own Emacs, so that you get the full benefit of his knowledge. As I result, I ended up with a somewhat customized Emacs (Solarized theme, Consolas font), *finally* understood how to switch buffers easily, and removed the toolbars from my Emacs to force me to use the keyboard:

mouse-unfriendly zone


All told, I probably spent about 8 hours in Emacs, doing the tutorial, following the videos, and general futzing around.  That’s the most time I’ve spent in a concentrated effort to actually start learning the damn thing.  It definitely reinforced the idea of learning by doing – that reading/watching videos isn’t the one true way. I feel more comfortable in Emacs than I ever have (which isn’t saying much, but it’s a start), and finally feel that I’m starting to ‘get’ it on more than a theoretical level.  All of ‘the advanced, self-documenting, customizable, extensible editor’ 1 stuff is meaningless until you really see it in action.


  1. use Emacs every day
  2. work up to using it for JS coding
  3. read the entire manual. Blog series potential!
  4. learn to use Org-mode.
  5. Blog about learnings.
  6. Maybe: learn me some Emacs Lisp programming.
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