® Benjamín Juárez


About the Vim editor

When you write in Vim, it doesn’t pretend that you’re looking at a book. It’s text. The notion of ‘presentation’ is off the table. Layout can take a running jump.

Vim presents you with the text at a much simpler level. [...]

To Vim (verb): To remove superficial presentation in order to reveal sub­stance.

Example: ‘We were larging it at the Time Piece last week until the last tune, Get Lucky. Then the main lights came on, the music turned off, and the bouncers moved in. The place was totally vimmed.’

Every imperfection jumps out. It’s just you, your eye­balls, and your text.

Ian Hocking

This Writing Life

November 17, 2013
Categories resources, the writing process
Tags text, vim

To Vim

I see that Apple has updated its word-pro­cessor Pages again. The new ver­sion has some sweet fea­tures, but if you open a doc­u­ment cre­ated in the pre­vi­ous ver­sion, you will be asked if you wish to upgrade the file format. On click­ing ‘yes’, the pre­vi­ous ver­sion of Pages will nev­er again be able to open the file.

That, in itself, is not a prob­lem. But, let’s say, you don’t upgrade your ver­sion of Pages imme­di­ately. Let’s say you wait until the ver­sion after that. Will that ver­sion open the files you have right now? Possibly not.

When a file format is updated, you get new fea­tures. I under­stand that and I applaud. But there are dis­ad­vant­ages. Once you’ve been writ­ing for a few years, and you look back for your floppy, your ClarisWorks files, or even your Kindwords files, you real­ise that file format change is the krypton­ite of lon­get­iv­ity.

Check out this art­icle by Charles Stross on Microsoft Word, entitled ‘Why Microsoft Word Must Die’. Now, we all hate Word, don’t we? Come on. You do.

I hate Word from a pos­i­tion of some expert­ise, because, back in 2003–2005, I used it to write my PhD thes­is. That was a single doc­u­ment con­tain­ing mul­tiple con­tents tables (some for chapters, sure, but oth­ers for psy­cho­lin­guist­ic examples), cross-ref­er­ences, a bib­li­o­graphy, and a great deal besides. I learned the hell out of that pro­gram. Thus did I learn to hate it. It is buggy, poorly designed, and over-fea­tured.

Going back to the point made by Charles Stross, it is a real shame that the pub­lish­ing industry relies on Word as its work­horse.

Stross men­tioned anoth­er pro­gram that he some­times uses. It is called vim. I also use it.

Format Wars: A New Hope

Back in 1976, the year I was born, Bill Joy wrote a text edit­or for UNIX. That edit­or was called vi. It was designed to work over a com­puter ter­min­al (i.e. a text-based inter­act­ive inter­face). It had two modes. In the first mode, whatever the user typed would be entered as text in the cur­rent doc­u­ment. In the second mode, the key­board became a way of nav­ig­at­ing around the doc­u­ment. You can read more about the pro­gram over at Wikipedia.

The pro­gram was updated by Bram Moolenaar for the Commodore Amiga, a com­puter I used as a kid. Moolenaar called his pro­gram vim. This stood for ‘Vi improved’. The year was 1991.

What’s It Like Using Vim?

Where I grew up, we often bought fruit from the vil­lage shop. The apples didn’t come from China or South America. They tasted good, but were a bit small and occa­sion­ally bruised. Later, we bought fruit from super­mar­kets. They were nev­er bruised and they all looked the same. Didn’t taste as good, but by then I’d for­got­ten what non-super­mar­ket apples tasted like. Nowadays I eat ponsy ‘organ­ic’ apples, and they tend to come from Kent, where I live. They’re smal­ler, more bruised, but the taste real.

Where am I going with this? Is Vim some kind of home-grown product? No, it’s American.

Is it tasti­er than Microsoft Word or Apple Pages?


It’s like this. When you write in Vim, it doesn’t pre­tend that you’re look­ing at a book. It’s text. The notion of ‘present­a­tion’ is off the table. Layout can take a run­ning jump.

Vim presents you with the text at a much sim­pler level.

If you—by which I mean ‘me’—write a story in Word, or Pages, and print that bad boy out, the product you hold in your hand is some­what disin­genu­ous. It mas­quer­ades as a fin­ished product. The imper­fec­tions and short­falls of your prose are very slightly obscured by the lay­out and present­a­tion, both of which are telling you, uncon­sciously, that the work is already like the work you see in books.

To Vim (verb): To remove super­fi­cial present­a­tion in order to reveal sub­stance.

Example: ‘We were lar­ging it at the Time Piece last week until the last tune, Get Lucky. Then the main lights came on, the music turned off, and the boun­cers moved in. The place was totally vimmed.’

Every imper­fec­tion jumps out. It’s just you, your eye­balls, and your text.

Stop Being So Arty-Farty. What Is It Actually Like To Use?

Vim is Fast

When you’re typ­ing text into the com­mand line, the com­puter is not ren­der­ing graph­ic­al gub­bins. Letters appear slightly faster. Not so much faster that you notice it in Vim, but fast enough to notice that text ren­der­ing is slower in most oth­er places, not­ably Word and Pages.

Vim as a Learning Curve

Vim has key­board short­cuts for:

These take time to learn. I’m still learn­ing them. But, even after a few minutes, it becomes much faster to nav­ig­ate a doc­u­ment using the key­board than using the mouse.


Vim is used by a lot of geeks (mostly for pro­gram­ming). I’ve nev­er encountered a bug or had it crash.

How Do I Start?

Every jour­ney starts with a single jump, grasshop­per. From Engadget, VIM 101: a quick-and-dirty guide to our favor­ite free file edit­or.

Happy vimming.



[Author:]{.author-heading} Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist. View all posts by Ian Hocking

[[[Author]{.screen-reader-text} Ian Hocking]{.author .vcard}]{.byline}[[Posted on ]{.screen-reader-text}November 17, 2013November 17, 2013]{.posted-on}[[Categories]{.screen-reader-text}resources, the writing process]{.cat-links}[[Tags]{.screen-reader-text}text, vim]{.tags-links}

2 thoughts on “To Vim”

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srcset="http://0.gravatar.com/avatar/63c2608699b3c0ea977ffdc37cfb5d48?s=84&d=mm&r=g 2x"}
**[Leon](http://github.com/q335r49/textabyss){.url}** [says:]{.says}

[February 21, 2014 at 2:35

Hey Ian,

This is self-pro­mo­tion­al, but my big script­ing pro­ject for vim
has just reached a mostly mature state. It is a pan­nable, zoom­able
‘infin­ite plane’ for organ­iz­ing massive amounts prose called
“textabyss”. Check it out at:




.avatar-42 .photo width="42" height="42"
srcset="http://2.gravatar.com/avatar/bbc9494f134f7e638a6337f60809d433?s=84&d=mm&r=g 2x"}
**[Ian Hocking](http://ianhocking.pip.verisignlabs.com/){.url}**

[February 22, 2014 at 8:26

Hi Leon

Thanks for the link. I checked out the video and I think the concept
looks really inter­est­ing. Reminds me a bit of the Archie(?)
frame­work sug­ges­ted by Jeff Raskin, one of the ori­gin­al Mac
guys. I haven’t got time to explore your Vim pro­ject at the moment,
but best of luck with it.



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