Vim keyboard shortcuts for writers

For the last couple of weeks I have been doing all my writing using a distraction free Linux writing environment. It is based around Debian Linux and Vim, and looks like this:

Please don’t be intimidated by the “hacker” style user interface. I promise that if you are a writer that uses an existing word processor, you are smart enough to use Vim!

Vim differs from your typical GUI based text editor (such as Notepad, Word, Pages, Scrivener et al) in 2 main areas:

  1. Vim is largely controlled through the keyboard - not the mouse.
  2. Vim runs in a text based terminal, rather than a graphical window.

These are both benefits to the writer because:

  1. Not having to move your hands off the keyboard increases typing speed and reduces RSI.
  2. Running in a text based terminal is lightning fast and uses very little CPU and RAM. This will make your existing machine faster, or allow you to use a low priced laptop.

I think that Vim is a brilliant tool for writing first drafts and then iteratively editing that draft. While you can publish direct to eBook, PDF, Word and other formats from Vim, I think the most powerful way to use Vim is as a distraction free writing environment for your first, second, and third drafts.

Right now, I have been using Vim for 2 weeks, in an irregular capacity. I feel completely comfortable using Vim, and have written 4 blog posts, and thousands of (edited) words with it.

Here is my quick-and-dirty guide to using Vim as a writer:


Now for a few commands.

Vim commands are verb based, which lends itself exceptionally well to writing prose.

Commands: normal mode

Commands: insert mode


When in insert mode, Vim acts just like any other editor. You use the keyboard to form words and sentences, and those words and sentences appear on the screen.

Where Vim becomes exceptionally powerful is when editing in normal mode.

Let’s take this example. Say I have 3 paragraphs that just don’t belong. In a GUI based text editor I have 2 options:

  1. Move my fingers off the keyboard to the mouse, then use the mouse to put the cursor at the start of the first paragraph, then press and hold the DELETE key until every individual character has been deleted.
  2. Move my fingers off the keyboard to the mouse, then use the mouse to highlight all 3 paragraphs, then move my fingers back to the keyboard, then press the DELETE key.

Using normal mode in Vim, I would simply press 3d}, and voila!

This is broken down as:

Here are some similar examples:


Vim has SO much more!

Here are some more useful commands for writers using Vim:

I have found a Vim cheat sheet to be essential. The best one I have found is this Vim cheat sheet.

Another excellent resource for writers using Vim is the Woodnotes guide to Vim for writers

Vim will save you time

I first read about Vim over a year ago. It seemed like the learning curve would be too steep, so I didn’t give it a chance. But I am so glad that 2 weeks ago I took the time to learn the basics. Those basics can be mastered very quickly, and more advanced commands can be learned over time. My writing efficiency, and in fact my entire motivation and enjoyment of writing, have improved immensely in the last 2 weeks as a result of having this lightning fast distraction free writing environment in front of me.

I hope you give Vim a chance to enhance your writing, and if you do, please let me know how you go.

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Posted on Mar 21, 2017 in Articles & How To | Tags: WritingProseLinuxDebianVimDistraction Free