Writing in a terminal emulator

By Ev Bogue - December 15th 2014

For years I was on an obsessive search for distraction free writing experiences. I used to use a funny program that looked similar to a terminal emulator, but was for writing, on Mac OS X to write all of my pieces. I tried a handful of other writing experiences, but they always seemed to 'want' something from me beyond just typing words.

I want to be able to write without anything popping up, or being able to see my desktop. In fact, I don't even have a desktop on my computer to see anymore!

Then, one day, I discovered the terminal emulators and vim. Why anyone would write anywhere other than in a terminal is now beyond me.

How do you get started writing inside of a terminal emulator?

That's simple, find your terminal, make it full screen, and install vim if you don't have it already. At this point learning Vim's commands is the hardest barrier to entry. Vim operates in two dimensions. Use i to enter the insert dimension and esc to exit it. In the move dimension use hjkl to move around. ":wq" to close.

But how can you design a perfect writing experience on your terminal?

  1. Install Arch Linux
  2. Install xmonad, terminology, vim "pacman -Syu vim terminology xmonad"
  3. Program xmonad's terminal hotkey "alt-shift-enter" to launch terminology.
  4. Pop "exec xinitrc" into your .xinitrc file. type "startx" to launch xmonad
  5. Launch a terminal, open a file, write.

If you need to distract yourself, xmonad is designed to handle multiple screens. Just launch another terminal and xmonad will re-arrange your screens for you.

But why would you want a distraction free writing environment?

When your beer and fish money depends on writing for a living, you need to be able to churn out large numbers of words without being distracted. Back before Inbox 5000 was the most popular thing on the planet, people valued a thing called "productivity". Right now, I wouldn't mind writing 4000 words a day, not including emails. Studies have shown that it can take almost a half an hour to come back to the "productivity zone" after you've distracted yourself. A terminal emulator is the perfect way to single task, because there's nothing else to do but write that book or blog post you've been working on.

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