Doom Emacs – a Text Editing Playground I Didn’t Know I Needed

Technology

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jotham.lim

After migrating my notes to Notion, the names Emacs and Org-mode appeared constantly in threads, podcasts, and forums.

Though I knew the destination, embarking on expeditions into different productivity systems is an inevitable part of the journey. A straightforward note-taking system expanded into task management, calendars, and time-tracking solutions.

The toll on my wallet is substantial, a practice I heavily discourage. To maintain my sanity, I reassured myself that playing with software is a cheaper hobby compared to more extravagant pursuits like cameras and cars. Plus, the benefits of increased productivity and the self-discovery intrinsic to each platform migration more than justify the costs sunk into this hobby. But still, I find it hard to justify the expenditure, even though I’m supporting developers and their work.

I habitually adopt new hobbies during transitional periods in my career. Six months ago, it was the website migration to Hugo and fussing over themes to personalize the site. Now, it’s relocating from Obsidian to Doom Emacs.

So Why Emacs?

Plain Text Files

Originating from Obsidian, I fully endorse the core ethos of plain text files. They are simple, scalable, future-proof, and easy to understand. I like to imagine that my text files will remain relevant centuries from now, accessible via some ancient terminal lost in space, much like sci-fi stories. It’s hard to expect proprietary databases from emerging productivity app makers to last that long.

I appreciate that I can effortlessly access my Obsidian and Hugo files within Doom Emacs as projects. Although I’ve migrated to org-mode, Emacs has a potent, format-agnostic text editor. I can compose my Obsidian files swiftly without needing any import/export tool.

Vim Motion

If plain text was the goal, Obsidian would have been sufficient – and so would other known editors such as LogSeq, Joplin, and one of my favorites, Bike Outliner. But few have full-fledged vim motion support, as does Evil-mode.

I’m proficient enough with markdown, shortcuts, hotkeys, automation, macros, and cursor manipulation in standard text editors. But I work and LIVE in my notes in both my professional and personal life. They are extensions of my brain, and to some degree, my identity. It’s therefore natural that vim motions would be the next logical improvement in my brain externalization capabilities. Similar to how poets learning a new language and culture can enrich their prose and vocabulary.

Currently, I’m still taking baby steps. Writing and editing this post is frustratingly slow. But already, I find myself frustrated at the lack of modal text editing in other software. Give me a few months, and I believe things would turn for the better.

Ease of Entry

Without Doom, I would never have ventured into Emacs. Doom comes pre-configured with packages and settings that render Emacs newbie-friendly while offering enough flexibility for customization.

Many might venture into Vanilla GNU Emacs after familiarizing themselves with Doom Emacs and the Elisp language. However, veterans still prefer Doom for several reasons. It’s simple, practical, and so well-tuned that configuring GNU Emacs is generally not worth the effort.

The software’s speed is remarkable. After learning how to set up a server daemon and client for Emacs, the load-up time is instantaneous. It’s amazing how efficient the software is, even though it runs on essentially a single core.

Cost Savings

After tinkering with Doom Emacs for a while, I realized that many other productivity apps are mere attempts to replicate what Org Mode brings to the table.

Task management, note-taking, and PKMs – Org mode does it all, better and faster, with more customization in a free, open-source manner, well before new apps entered the scene.

Why bother with imitations when I can go directly to the source? If only I had ventured into Org mode right from the start, I would have saved so much more. (Well, that’s not entirely accurate. I can’t help myself from trying out new, shiny things.)

Aesthetics

I won’t lie – the aesthetics of Doom Emacs is perhaps the main driver of my switch from Obsidian. It began when I stumbled upon the Hugo.386 website theme, which emulates the old-school MS-DOS aesthetic.

Expressing my love for the design would be an understatement, and I spent countless hours diving into HTML and CSS code to give it my personal touch. This made me comfortable with messing around with configuration files after being spoiled by years of using UI settings. When I realized that migrating to Doom Emacs was within the realm of possibility, I downloaded the Parus theme to emulate my blog’s aesthetics as closely as possible.

Now, I use the Modus Theme for accessibility reasons but coupling it with an Iosevka font, and it feels like I’m living within a terminal.

Final Thoughts

My thoughts today lack structure – it’s simply me expressing appreciation and love for my new toy, Doom Emacs. Perhaps it gives you an idea of why I haven’t posted much in recent weeks.

But, I plan to write more often in the future. I’ve only started using Doom Emacs less than a week ago, and I definitely need the practice.

Cheers!

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