I do a lot of writing. Articles, blogs, ad copy, ….. whatever. Regardless of what I am writing, it is a creative process, where ideally, ideas and concepts flow from my brain to my current project-document .
Distractions inhibit this creative process, and they are personal. What is a distraction to me, may not even cause a blip on your personal distraction radar screen. For this discussion, let’s just use a broad brush approach and say that a distraction is “anything” that inhibits workflow. A tsunami would qualify should such a disaster occur around you as you work, also a fly buzzing around your head would qualify as well.
Contemporary word processors, to me at least, are very much like that fly buzzing around your head…..distracting. There are tabs, tool bars, and drop down boxes. Then you have formatting options, media options, and so on. As I use a word processor, I find my mind going back and forth between the flow of information to my document, and thoughts, such as: …..where will I place the artwork? …..New Time Roman or Cooper? …..do I put this word in italics or quotes?
A short while ago, I began thinking about my writing process and how it has evolved (?) in the digital age. Back “in the day” when I did research, depending upon the complexity of my project, I actually went somewhere, like a library, to gather information. My next step was to sort through my research, filter the data, and determine what I would use. I would create a loose outline. Then I would hammer the whole thing out on a legal pad; do my edits, and then type the document (on a typewriter). Finally, I would re-edit the piece, and if needed, type it again. Today, as I write this article, I am sitting in front of three monitors (two for research and one for the document itself – until recently on a word processor) three Mac computers (two dedicated to the current project, and one file server), gigabyte ethernet for computer connectivity, and speeding my research activity along is a fiber-optic pathway to the internet. I still use a legal pad for my project outline.
As I weighed the “pro’s and con’s” of each writing process, what bubbled to the surface consistently was the fact that there was a higher degree of focus on the product itself during the “back in the day” writing process. Today’s technology has certainly improved the research and editing processes, but the very tool designed to publish the document, the word processor, has so many layers of complexity, that it may actually be inhibiting the creative processes behind the actual writing of the document itself.
I decided to test the theory that a conventional word processor could in some way diminish my creative output. As soon as I concocted this theory, I also realized that it would be about as easy to prove the existence of the “sound of one hand clapping”. There is no way to measure it. I decided to do something slightly less quantitative, and also on the far side of being subjective: I would use my personal comfort level in using the software as a measure of success in my writing process.
I started looking at software and immediately ruled out any program having something over a moderate degree of complexity . This immediately ruled out programs like Ulysses III and Scrivener (both are great for novels, and to me, overkill for simple writing). What is left basically are text editors that are tweaked for writing instead of programming. I tried several variants of text editors and found FocusWriter totally met my needs. FocusWriter is donation ware, and you can get it at gottcode.org/focuswriter/.
Here is the publisher’s description of the product: “FocusWriter is a simple, distraction-free writing environment. It utilizes a hide-away interface that you access by moving your mouse to the edges of the screen, allowing the program to have a familiar look and feel to it while still getting out of the way so that you can immerse yourself in your work. It’s available for Linux, Windows, and Mac OS X, and has been translated into many different languages.” It’s features are:
- TXT, basic RTF, and basic ODT file support
- Timers and alarms Daily goals
- Fully customizable themes
- Typewriter sound effects (optional)
- Auto-save (optional)
- Live statistics (optional)
- Spell-checking (optional)
- Multi-document support
- Portable mode (optional)
- Translated into over 20 languages
Both the download and install were both painless and simple. For eye-candy (no complexity involved), I added a theme (downloadable at: http://blog.scrybr.com/category/focuswriter-themes). To do this on a Mac:
- Download theme
- Unzip the file
- Open FocusWriter
- Go To Settings > Themes and click import
- Browse to find the unzipped theme
- Click “Open”
- The theme is installed
Want to change the font? Under the FocusWriter’s Settings > Themes option at the top of the program window, make sure the current theme is highlighted, then click the Modify button at the right of the theme window, a new window will open, click the text tab and adjust the font to your liking.
Using the program is SIMPLE. For example, moving the mouse to the top of the screen will force a drop-down toolbar, displaying the program’s modest options. In use, what you have is a blank page, and you simply add the words. There is little to distract you in your writing process. Once I complete an article, I save it as a text file (this is an important step because I have found that copying the text without saving it first sometimes creates a distorted outcome once the text itself is pasted into a word processor), then copy the text from FocusWriter to my word processor for editing, adding media etc.
As far a my comfortability with the FocusWriter, I am very comfortable with it. I have used FocusWriter for over 6 weeks now. To me, my creative flow is better and my writing is more focused. In the end, subjective or not, I am happier with the quality of my work. It’s worth a try.