Zen and the art of distraction-free writing

In my quest to get back to regular writing I’ve been checking out some of the ‘distraction-free’ or ‘minimalist’ word processors/text-editors. As we connect to more and more things, and our screens become filled with more and more windows, its definitely harder to stay focused on the job at hand. Any time I open up a text-editor to begin writing there’s always something blinking away at me, a web-page asking to be refreshed or an IM friend waiting to be replied to….or to be bugged by myself. These distraction-free text editors mainly help by offering you a sparse, full-screen writing mode, blocking out everything else leaving you alone with the text.

[Note: I was writing this using WriteRoom, one of the better known distraction-free writing apps currently out there. It fills your screen with black and presents you with the blinking cursor and green text of a 1980s computer screen. As I was typing, lo-and-behold a chat window invaded my dark void of creativity….]

Despite the ability for other apps to intrude on my fortress of solitude, I have found that these applications really do help. (Although it probably helps to log out of IM first…). It definitely helps focus you on the task at hand, leaving you with very little to distract you. It almost guilt’s you into sticking to it, without remorse forcing you to confront the lack of words before you, all the while poking you with its little blinky green cursor. It makes the text the only thing you need to deal with, and you have to consciously shut it down and return the chaos behind.

Zen Garden
Photo owned by callion (cc)

Whilst WriteRoom strips you down to the bare-basics of a WarGames-style interface, another app OmmWriter takes the whole thing a step further. Not only does OmmWriter try to help you focus on your writing by removing the clutter of the modern desktop, it even tries to help foster your creativity by providing you with a serene and calming environment; supplying ghostly scenery that sits subtly in the background, haunting, ambient soundscapes, and accompanying your every key press with plinky little sounds. At first it sounds a bit much, in fact one could argue that if anything it adds distractions not present in other word processors. But it seems to work, although I did turn off the keyboard sounds, OmmWriter lets you silence it, and replace the snowy scenery with simple white also. The main background music can help I find, especially if you also need to drown out the ambient drone of the modern office. Alternatively, Boards of Canada does the trick…The result is a rather Zen-like experience, that goes some way to help you relax and concentrate on the job at hand.

I’ve found myself switching between WriteRoom’s techy minimalism and Ommwriter’s sparse serenity, both offering different variations of the same experience. Be warned though; these really are stripped down apps, there is little-to-no presentational options. At first this bugged me, but then I realized that its all part of the plan, to concentrate on the words. With anything you type with these apps you are always going to take them elsewhere; be it publishing online or offline, wherein you can tinker to your heart’s content.

They’ve definitely helped me get through bouts of writers-block, you should check them out. The above mentioned apps are Mac-only, but there are PC equivalents to WriteRoom, namely JDarkRoom. (Note: WriteRoom comes with a 30-day free trial but therein costs $24.95; JDarkRoom however is written in Java so is cross-platform). There is also the online Writer.