Emacs for writers

Manage Snippets with Yasnippet

Yasnippet [6] is described as "a template system for Emacs," which doesn't say a lot until you realize that this plugin expands abbreviations into text snippets assigned to them. Yasnippet is a rather powerful tool that offers a wide range of features and customization options. However, you don't need to learn all its intricacies to put this tool to some basic uses.

Of course, you need to install Yasnippet first. Use the M-x package-list-package command to fetch a list of all available packages, and then locate and install the yasnippet package. Create the snippets subdirectory in ~/.emacs.d and add the following expressions to the .emacs file:

(require 'yasnippet)
(yas-global-mode 1)
(yas-load-directory "~/.emacs.d/snippets/")

Before you can use Yasnippet, you need to populate the ~/.emacs.d/snippets directory with snippet files. Start with creating the text-mode directory for storing snippets that work in Emacs' text mode. Create a text file and paste the following text into it:

# name: Tagline
# key: tgl
# --
Better is the enemy of good enough

Save the file under the tgl name. As you can see, a basic snippet file consists of three parts: the name directive that provides a short description of the snippet, the key directive that defines the snippet's abbreviation, and the text that replaces the abbreviation. In this case, when you type tpl and press the Tab key, the abbreviation is replaced with the specified text. Yasnippet has other clever tricks up its sleeve, too. For example, instead of the key directive, you can use binding to assign a snippet to a keyboard shortcut:

# binding: C-c C-c C-d

This way, you can insert a snippet using the specified key combination.

Final Word

The described configuration settings and plugins make Emacs more writer-friendly, but to unleash its full potential, it's worth mastering Emacs' fundamentals. Plenty of Emacs tutorials are floating around, but The Woodnotes Guide to Emacs for Writers [7] provides a comprehensive introduction to Emacs functionality relevant for writing professionals.

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