Learn Vimscript the Hard Way

Training Your Fingers

In this chapter we're going to talk about how to learn Vim more effectively, but we need to do a bit of preparation first.

Let's set up one more mapping that will save more wear on your left hand than any other mapping you ever create. Run the following command:

:inoremap jk <esc>

Now enter insert mode and type jk. Vim will act as if you pressed the escape key and return you to normal mode.

There are a number of ways to exit insert mode in Vim by default:

  • <esc>
  • <c-c>
  • <c-[>

Each of those requires you to stretch your fingers uncomfortably. Using jk is great because the keys are right under two of your strongest fingers and you don't have to perform a chord.

Some people prefer using jj instead of jk, but I prefer jk for two reasons:

  • It's typed with two separate keys, so you can "roll" your fingers instead of using the same one twice.
  • Pressing jk in normal mode out of habit will move down and then up, leaving you exactly where you started. Using jj in normal mode will move you to a different place in your file.

If you write in a language where jk is a frequently used combination of letters (like Dutch) you'll probably want to pick a different mapping.

Learning the Map

Now that you've got a great new mapping, how can you learn to use it? Chances are you've already got the escape key in your muscle memory, so when you're editing you'll hit it without even thinking.

The trick to relearning a mapping is to force yourself to use it by disabling the old key(s). Run the following command:

:inoremap <esc> <nop>

This effectively disables the escape key in insert mode by telling Vim to perform <nop> (no operation) instead. Now you have to use your jk mapping to exit insert mode.

At first you'll forget, type escape and start trying to do something in normal mode and you'll wind up with stray characters in your text. It will be frustrating, but if you stick with it you'll be surprised at how fast your mind and fingers absorb the new mapping. Within an hour or two you won't be accidentally hitting escape any more.

This idea applies to any new mapping you create to replace an old one, and even to life in general. When you want to change a habit, make it harder or impossible to do!

If you want to start cooking meals instead of microwaving TV dinners, don't buy any TV dinners when you go shopping. You'll cook some real food when you get hungry enough.

If you want to quit smoking, always leave your cigarettes in your car's trunk. When you get the urge to have a casual cigarette you'll think of what a pain in the ass it will be to walk out to the car and are less likely to bother doing it.


If you still find yourself using the arrow keys to navigate around Vim in normal mode, map them to <nop> to make yourself stop.

If you still use the arrow keys in insert mode, map them to <nop> there too. The right way to use Vim is to get out of insert mode as soon as you can and use normal mode to move around.