The siren song of Vim

The internets are conspiring against me. First, I saw this 20th anniversary appreciation of Vim at Ars Technica. Then came this short post promising me that switching to Vim would be quick, painless, and even fun. Finally, today I read Brent Simmons’ post about navigating in various Mac text editors—he compares them all to Vim, the gold standard.

Worse than Brent’s post itself is his link to Bram Moolenaar’s “Seven habits of effective text editing,” a beguiling essay that first lured me to the treacherous coast of Vim a decade ago.

I know better than to try Vim again. I wrote a blog post about how I know better than to try Vim again.

I tend to rewrite sentences as I’m typing, stopping in the middle to go back and reset the tense or flip clauses around. It’s rare that I can type an entire paragraph without stopping to edit it. The need to keep shifting in vi from command to insert mode makes it a very clumsy editor for this type of writer.

I’ve tried to change my writing habits. I’ve tried to turn my brain’s internal editor off and just let the words come out, trusting myself to fix them later on. It would make writing much easier, regardless of the text editor I use. But I can’t do it.

One of the few advantages of reaching middle age is coming to recognize your strengths and weaknesses and knowing what you can change and what you can’t. This is something I can’t.

So why am I launching MacVim? Why am I looking at its cartoonish toolbar and thinking I’m sure there’s a setting to hide that instead of quitting in horror?

MacVim toolbar

Why am I looking at its tiny default font and lack of line numbers and thinking of .gvimrc instead of :wq? Why am I thinking about how wizardly I’d be in Vim by now if only I’d stuck with it ten years ago.

You know why as well as I do. It’s the same reason we look for a better calendar app (I’m back to using the iPhone’s built-in calendar), a better pen (still using the Jetstream), a better to-do list manager (I’m back with TaskPaper). It’s that nagging sense that there’s a better, faster, smarter way to do things.

And usually there is. But you have to know your limits. Experience tells me that the scripts and TextExpander snippets I create usually do save me time or, at the very least, frustration. Experience also tells me that despite Vim’s wonderful navigation and editing commands—and make no mistake, they are wonderful—modal editing isn’t for me.

[This post written in my comfortable old friend TextMate.]


5 Responses to “The siren song of Vim”

  1. Marc Wilson says:

    What happened to Agenda? I started using it on your recommendation and have been very happy with it.

  2. Dr. Drang says:

    When I first started using iCloud, Agenda didn’t sync (or didn’t sync fast enough) so I returned to the built-in calendar. Agenda is still installed on my phone, but I haven’t felt compelled to switch back to it.

  3. Alan Schmitt says:

    I also was recently lured by the siren songs of Vim, which I used for 6 years a while back. As it was only the editing features that I wanted (compared to the extensibility of the editor), I found that I was better served with evil: Vim editing features under emacs.

    And I need emacs: I haven’t found another editor that can launch and keep interacting with an external process.

  4. Charles Turner says:

    The thing that really killed Vim for me was it’s handling of word-wrapped paragraphs of text. It’d be great if I was only writing code, but the pages and pages of my dissertation— just couldn’t bear the screen refresh.

  5. Bill Odom says:

    I tend to rewrite sentences as I’m typing, stopping in the middle to go back and reset the tense or flip clauses around. It’s rare that I can type an entire paragraph without stopping to edit it. The need to keep shifting in vi from command to insert mode makes it a very clumsy editor for this type of writer.

    I’m sure you already know this, but just in case it’s a surprise to others — the GUI versions of Vim (including MacVim) allow you to use the arrows, Home, End, etc., keys without ever leaving Insert mode. Sure, when I’m coding I jump among modes with abandon, but when writing prose, I stay in Insert mode (performing exactly the kind of edits you describe) for long stretches without any trouble.

    I’m happy to provide additional details if you need them.