Just like Vim there is often a lot of "config fu" that you can pick up from the webpages (definitely spend a few hours or so soaking up the various config file examples at xmonad.org, I think it is worth it), and the mailing list.
First of all, if you are happy with much of GNOME you can run xmonad inside GNOME. This is nice because you can use GNOME's panels and panel-based applications (
network-manager is invaluable on my Ubuntu laptop). You also get the benefit of GNOME's theme manager for the UI widgets, which can keep things "pretty".
This page is useful to help you set this up:
As for "full-screen applications":
There are several approaches that you can mix and match until you find a setup that best works for you. In my case, I've set two of my workspaces Beta and Iota (I use greek letter names, but they may as well be named "Mail" and "Music") that default (on restart) to the Full layout, with most of my other workspaces defaulting to to the tiled layout of my choice. (I can always cycle the layouts as needed with the usual Mod+Space shortcut.) That way I know that when I open applications on either of those workspaces, they will get the full view. I tend to open my mail and browser on one (Beta) and my music player on the other (Iota), with other apps spread about the other workspaces. To make this easier I have a hook that, when I launch my media player or mail program, but not my browser, it will automatically move them to my standard workspace for them. (Sometimes I will open browser window tiled, for instance when I'm working on a webpage layout and want to have a dev-mode browser for quick previews.)
The last big tip I can give you is that the
#xmonad channel on FreeNode can be a good place to get some gentle encouragement or useful help when you need it, as technical-oriented IRC channels tend to be.