Sotto Voce.

"Qui plume a, guerre a." — Voltaire

Of Human Keybondage

As I have written about before, I am on something of a personal quest to develop an “inline editing language,” something that will allow me to use the alphanumeric keys to edit while I write, as quickly as I write. I call it “wred” or “wreding,” for writing and editing.

Like your average computer user, I am adept at using native keybindings (keystroke combos that involve the fn, ctrl, opt, and cmd keys) and arrows to edit. However, in order to use them I have to leave the organic flow and take the cursor away from the rockface (or typeface?). In other words, I sacrifice forward momentum whenever I have to go back into the paragraph to manipulate the text, then return to where I stopped writing, and then resume writing.

Which of course is exactly the thing that creative writers are taught is “bad” — you should never stop to edit, you should just get it all down however it comes out, and then go back and rewrite later.

Copywriters and writers on deadline, on the other hand, generally don’t work that way. As Tom Chandler pointed out, “When you’re looking for 100 perfect words, fire-hosing the first draft is a wasteful exercise.”

What I want to do is to be able to “edit forward,” with my cursor never leaving the leading edge of the sentence regardless of whether I am putting words down or taking them away. I want to be able to write the equivalent of this:

“It was the grooviest, no, the gnarliest, no, the best of times, it was the crappiest, no, worst, of times, it was a time of really stupid idiots, no, the age of silliness, no, foolishness . . . “

. . . and let the computer make those changes to the text behind me while I keep on writing.

So far, the closest I’ve been able to come to my vision is the set of powerful keybindings developed for the Vim text editor. In my spare time, I’ve been teaching myself Vim’s basic editing combos, and they do seem to solve some of the problems that I’m talking about. But with Vim, I keep hitting a snag.

I can only use the Vim key combos when I’m in Vim.

For plain text, that’s not a problem. But none of my clients work in vanilla ASCII. My working life is filled with RTF and Word documents, web-based text editors, and apps. Doing the work in Vim and then having to port it over to another format to apply styles and formatting slows stuff down. Especially when the client comes back and asks for more changes. So as a result, I just don’t get as much practice with the Vim commands because they aren’t part of my daily work routine, which means it’s taking me longer to learn them.

Why, oh why, can’t I use those keybindings anywhere, in any app? After looking into using TextExpander or Keyboard Maestro as a way to create universally applicable Vim keybindings, it hit me that maybe someone else has already thought of this too. So I asked Mac wizard Brett Terpstra whether anyone has made a set of Vim keybindings for the Mac. He suggested that I try Karabiner, a keyboard customizer that lets you create keybindings. Apparently, it comes with the Vim key combos baked in.

So now I’m off to play with Karabiner, to see if it helps me spend more time with my cursor at the far right end of the sentence, and not lost somewhere in the middle. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Categorised as: Wred

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  1. sottovoce says:

    Hmmm, I wonder if this would work with dictation software. A note for future reference.

  2. TCWriter says:

    I’m addicted to Emacs keybindings, and experience some of the same issues. I can write and edit in Emacs. I get to use the Emacs editing keys in Firefox (Firemacs extension). So that covers my original copywriting and my online writing.

    It’s a surprising percentage of my writing.

    But when I edit MS Word documents (in LibreOffice) — or anywhere else outside Emacs or Firefox — I’m stuck using the standard keyboard commands (including the devil’s own cursor keys). The Emacs commands I subconsciously press make odd things happen.

    I have a rule against adopting unusual software or keybindings. Once, in a fit of sore-fingered ambition, I learned the Dvorak keyboard. It worked, but not on anyone else’s computer. Hilarity ensued.

    So consider this a warning. Save yourself. Run. Your cause is noble, but as the Greeks taught us, doomed.

  3. TCWriter says:

    “worse” (forchrissakes)