My Emacs Journey 2018

I have started to use Emacs around the summer time after shelving the task of getting started for several weeks. My intention was to find a cross-platform editor which is not Electron-based (e.g. Atom or Visual Studio Code). The thought of learning Emacs, an editor which is pretty much older than I am, seemed intimidating at first, which was the major reason for putting it off for so long. Now, at the start of the new year, I can look back and say, that the invested time was well spent. I'd like to summarize a few concepts and tools that I have learned along the way.

The Right Tool for the Right Job

I am still using other applications such as Notepad++ or Visual Studio and that is fine. I don't feel the need to use Emacs as a hammer for every nail or screw that I'll encounter.

New Ways of Thinking

Emacs is different than most editors or IDEs that I have used in the past. Concepts such as buffer management, the "everything is text" philosophy or the tinkering aspects were rather new to me. It took me a few days to internalize the common vocabulary (e.g. M-x foobar, minibuffer, killing and yanking or well known package names), which made re-reading several resources pretty important. The /r/emacs subreddit has helped me a lot.

I intentionally decided to start with a plain vanilla version of GNU Emacs so that I could start with the "original" way of how to use to editor. Pretty soon some aspects started to itch, which is where I either had to learn the "intended way" or I had to bring in some external packages (extensions).

Org Mode

Most of my personal or work related notes used to be written in Markdown. I have since migrated a major chunk of my personal notes to org-mode. The hierarchical and task-oriented nature of org-mode really appeals to me. I do not consider myself a power user, because I am only using a few of org-mode's features, e.g. I still prefer a traditional calendar, even if org-agenda has some appealing features.

You can find my literate Emacs configuration here. Even though one would consider committing files managed by a package manager a no-go, I have decided to add all .el and *.elc files, so that I can get the exact same code when checking out the repository on a new computer.


Magit was one of the reasons why I have decided to learn Emacs in the first place. I still like to fire up the good old console to use the git CLI, but because of its interactive nature, Magit has made the process of staging and committing files fun.

Ivy, Counsel and Swiper

Emacs ships with ido, a completion framework that you can turn on to e.g. speed up the process of finding files in the minibuffer. I did not enjoy the look and feel of ido, which is why I turned to ivy. I have never tried helm (ivy and helm seem to be the two "go-to" completion packages), which is why I can't give an educated insight into their differences, but from what I have read, ivy seems to be more "light weight" compared to helm.

IDEs do offer features such as finding and replacing text in different files, but ivy offers these features in a way, that I have never seen before. I really enjoy the quick feedback and interactive nature that ivy can pull off.


I have recently re-discovered RSS feeds for myself. Back in the day, I was a heavy Google Reader user, but those days are long gone. Elfeed is a decent RSS reader that I have started to enjoy. Based on some custom configuration from the author himself, I have written my own elisp functions which integrate the youtube-dl CLI to download podcasts and videos in my feed.

Further Improvements and Closing Thoughts

It might seem crazy that the process of learning and configuring Emacs is never really "done", but most of the time it does not really feel like work.

Things that I might tinker on in the future include:

  • Window management
  • In-buffer navigation
  • Customizing the mode line
  • Creating a simple theme

Published: 2019-01-01