Distraction-free writing

This guest post is by Jan Felt. He is a blogger obsessed with marketing communication and career development. Read more of his work on his blog: CyberFootprint.

WriteRoom screenshot

Two pages to go. The deadline looms. You are sitting at your computer, replying to morning e-mails. After a couple of words, Twitter starts buzzing. So, you reply and check out some links your friends tweeted. As the time flies, adding information to your article seems too much, so you add a couple of graphs instead. One page to go.

Hoping that your editor will be content with that, you add some pictures. You file the article and go for a cup of coffee. After a well-deserved lunch (I finished the article, didn’t I?) you get a message from your editor. She’s cut your graphs and pictures and the original copy has been slashed in a half, due to redundancy.

Swallowing your irritation, you start again. Two pages to go…

Focusing on writing

Does this situation seem familiar? If yes, you are not alone. The information age has made writers more connected, constantly online and much less productive. Technology has robbed us of the most important skill a writer must have – ability to pay undivided attention to the copy.

Although are no complete cures, there are some tools that can help. Distraction-free text editors can help you focus on your copy.

What is a ‘distraction-free text editor’? They are simple programs that hide everything except what you are writing. No fancy formatting, no toolbars, no Windows taskbar. It’s just you and the text. Linuxandfriends shared a list of most of the programs available.

To simplify your choice, I recommend WriteRoom for Mac and Q10 for the PC. In case you are on a public computer, you can use web-based Writer. But let’s look at those editors in-depth.

Q10

Q10 is a lightweight and intuitive free program. Its popularity is becoming widespread, due to these features.

  • Built-in timer. Set it and write; it will tell you when to take a break.
  • Portability. You can run the program from a USB
  • Customisation. You can choose the colours for the background and text
  • Memory. No matter whether you save your writing or not, next time you open Q10, the last article will appear
  • Differential word count. It can keep track of how many words you write in each session.

There is no scroll bar but you can use arrow keys or page up and down keys to move through the text. Novelist might prefer Liquid Story Binder (paid) or StoryMill. Other than that, there are no tragic flaws in the software. Q10 will surely become your writing buddy.

WriteRoom

WriteRoom is a paid programme ($25), but you can use it for a limited time for free. If you are serious about writing in a fully customisable high-performance editor, the purchase will make sense. Joe Turner offers a more comprehensive review of the application.

JDarkRoom

For the experimenters, try JDarkRoom first. It works with Macs as well. What is so special about this application?

  • Scrollbar. Unlike in Q10 the text does not appear static
  • Formatting. Supports rich text and formatting (bold, italic)
  • iPhone version. Yes, you can use it on iPhone

Writer

Writer is a web-based editor, allowing you to easily create and access your documents from anywhere. All you have to do is to create an account and start writing. All your documents will be saved on the servers. You can create a decent writing environment by switching your browser to full screen. Though, it seems like a good idea, a part of the upper toolbar is always visible in Firefox, making it slightly more difficult to concentrate on your writing.

Writespace

There is also an add-on to MS Word 2007 called Writespace. It works directly with Word 2007, so there is no need to copy and paste text from one editor to another. On the other hand, it has several drawbacks. Writespace eliminates all previous formatting (bold, italic, underline), which you might find annoying. Furthermore, the installation process is really slow and difficult, especially if you have a firewall. As Kaushik put it, “apparently, this add-on isn’t for all.”

Maximising returns

Writing everything from start to finish only in these simple editors is very difficult. All editors save their work as .txt files, making the final version of the documents visually unappealing. Don’t use these programs to format the text. Microsoft Word is much better at it. However, when it comes to transcribing ideas from your head to the computer screen in a calm environment, there is no better software than these programs.

I use Q10 to create the first draft, which is spellchecked and finalised in MS Word. If I am writing for the web, the WordPress WYSIWYG editor serves as a good tool to put finishing touches on the post.

Using the right software is only a part of the equation, though. To create a good copy, it is important to have a proper physical environment. Matthew has already outlined the essentials of concentration on writing, so check there first.

Overall, the experience with the distraction-free text editors taught me that good writing often results from simplicity and calm environment.

What is your experience? How do you keep out distractions?

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12 Responses to Distraction-free writing

  1. Jes May 5, 2009 at 8:50 pm #

    For distraction-free editing on Windows, I prefer Darkroom (also free). For me, a notable advantage over Q10 is that Darkroom can be configured to blank out multiple monitors (if Q10 can be made to do this, it wasn’t obvious to me). It also doesn’t do the faux typewriter sound effects, which I found distracting in Q10.

    http://they.misled.us/dark-room

  2. Honza May 6, 2009 at 10:50 am #

    I’ve never tried DarkRoom on multiple monitors, so I can’t tell about its capability to perform well in this context. Thank you for sharing this info with us!

    As for the typewriter sounds in Q10, they can be easily switched off as well. Strangely enough, I sometimes find those sounds motivating. It feels like a sign of progress – the more it clicks, the more you are getting towards the desired goal. :-)

  3. Guy Thomas Wade May 15, 2009 at 2:45 pm #

    Also, have a look at Write Monkey. It has a lot of helpful functions. The one I like best is the word count function.

    Thanks for this post!

  4. Jenny Pilley June 15, 2009 at 7:49 am #

    I have never used these tools, however last year when writing my dissertation this is exactly what I could have done with! I seem to have good will power when writing articles, press releases and other online content, yet with my story writing after 10 minutes when the need to do research strikes, I end up becoming distracted. I will definitely be looking to this software when I feel the urge check my emails for the umpteenth time that sunday afternoon. Thanks!

  5. Joakim August 9, 2010 at 8:20 am #

    If you want RTF-file support you might want to look up:
    http://jsvard.wordpress.com/chicago8/
    It’s freeware and distraction free as well…

  6. Rich Jones September 7, 2011 at 5:18 am #

    I’m a big fan of LightWrite, which is a free/open source online DFW. Check it out here: http://gun.io/w/

  7. Ciaran Rogers October 24, 2012 at 5:28 am #

    Loved your post haven’t tried q10 as I am mainly mac based but i am a big fan of Bean. It is free for mac users and has a good full screen distraction free mode if you want it. Also keeps word and character count in view which is perfect for blogs and editing tweets.

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