LateX is Leslie Lamport's document preparation system based on Donald Knuth's TeX typesetting language. Although at times rather complicated, it is the most powerful tool available to people like me for typesetting and formatting documents. I failed to learn it after several serious attempts, but one day I essentially placed myself in a situation where I had to learn it in order to function, and that worked.
In 1994 my wife and I were doing heavy dialect fieldwork in rural Fújiàn, but our visas ended in the Spring and we left China to look in on family and prepare for the next bout of fieldwork. At that time, the University of Washington had a little humanities computing center, where I went to get help with various computing tools. While there, I heard one of the staff making an enthusiastic plug for LaTeX. That must have been just after the Mittelbach/Goossens LaTeX Companion appeared. I found the software hard to install and soon gave up. In those days, I took my field notes by hand with technical pens and transferred them to Microsoft Word files, using a Macintosh font of my own design that had all the phonetic symbols I needed.
That situation repeated itself a few times in the following years. Norm Kabir made a valiant effort to interest me in LyX in 2006, knowing of my desire to automate the typesetting of database dumps. but I gave up again after difficulties with installation and with typesetting Chinese text.
In the Spring of 2010, however, while taking math courses at City
College, I began to feel frustrated reviewing my handwritten notes or
searching through them to find some example or detail. I tried taking
notes on a simple text editor, but there were inevitable problems
representing the more complicated mathematical forms. At the start of
the Fall semester, remembering LaTeX, I installed the Mac "TeXShop"
editor and spent one evening learning the most basic commands, choosing
a command reference card to have handy all the time, and setting up a
simple template. After tentative note-taking in a couple of classes
early in the term, on 14 November I took the plunge and began using
LaTeX for all in-class writing apart from exams. I have done so ever
since, and am now able to reproduce just about everything I ever see in
the classroom, except for actual drawings. (LaTeX tables remain
time-consuming, and tree diagrams are just passable in the
I'm a strong believer in the value of proficiency, to be cultivated by hands-on practice and even rote repetition, rather than understanding alone — because when we think we understand, we sometimes don't really. And I'm convinced that the way to learn LaTeX is by forcing oneself to use it all the time. The pressure of real-time transcription forced me to solve problems on the fly and find ways to retain what I had learned, and I think that is the best way to approach a complex tool like LaTeX. If I had waited until it was convenient to learn it, I would probably never have done so at all.
(My initial template was for LaTeX proper, but I have since switched to XeLaTeX in order to get better support for Chinese.)