Do you ever find yourself so distracted by everything modern life has to offer that you just can’t get any work done? I sure do. With me, since my work entails writing on the computer, my distractions are all in the digital realm. Sometimes it’s “just one game” of Tetris or Minesweeper. Other times I just can’t tear myself away from the blogs I read or the sports scores I just “have” to keep track of. It may be fun – that’s one of the big draws of the Internet – but it sure can be a drain on my productivity.
I’ve tried a lot of things to combat this, but one of the most effective (short of disconnecting from the Internet altogether), is one of the many distraction-free word processors. The idea is simple: create a writing environment free of all distractions. This not only includes distractions outside the writing arena (such as emails, instant messages or the aforementioned sports scores), but also distractions related to writing. “Should I use italics or bold?” “Would this look better using Helvetica or Gill Sans?”
There are all kinds of things that can slow down the writing process. I’d rather that if anything slows me down, it’s the search for the perfect word, and not another chance to get cheap Viagra or help some Nigerian prince who needs my help getting his fortune out of a bank. To this end, distraction-free word processors are a huge help. The idea, as I said, is to cut out all distractions. This article is about one of those word processors, written in Qt and available for Mac, Windows and Linux, called FocusWriter.
How FocusWriter accomplishes its distraction-free environment is similar to other programs of the genre. Instead of opening up a new document that inhabits its own window, FocusWriter takes over your screen. It presents a writing area to you in fullscreen mode. This rids you of most of the distractions on your computer. It isn’t easy to check how your team is doing, or whether the stock market is up or down, or whether Aunt Edna has posted new pictures from her trip to Las Vegas.
In addition, however, FocusWriter also removes all the standard writing distractions you face. It does this by removing all the regular formatting options. There is no bold, or italics, or underline, or superscript or subscript. Instead, there is just text. You can choose which font is used, and what size the type is on the screen. You also have the choice of a background image (in the three screenshots you can see the default setting, then two backgrounds I selected from the Web), as well as the color “paper” your text is on.
What’s interesting, however, is that FocusWriter, unlike other options I’ve tried, actually does have all the formatting options available. They’re just turned off by default. If you move your mouse to the top of the screen, you’ll see a lot of options have been grayed out. If you go to the Format menu and scroll to the bottom, you’ll see an option to “Make Rich Text,” which when selected, makes all those formatting options available. Then, you can use bold and italics and all the other formatting options I just said weren’t available. So that’s a nice option: you can use them or not… the distraction level is entirely up to you.
If you move your mouse to the bottom of the screen, you’ll see even more goodies. First is a constantly updating word count, which is nice when faced with either a minimum or maximum word count. FocusWriter also has the ability to help you meet your writing goals for the day. You can select to either write a certain number of words, or write for a certain amount of time. At the bottom of the fourth screenshot you can see that as I was writing this, I was 42 percent finished with my daily goal. Go me! In addition, FocusWriter has a ton of preferences. You can choose to auto-save your work, and when you return to it, FocusWriter remembers where you left, and places the cursor at the bottom of the writing, so you can return to work right away. If you want all the formatting options on by default, you can set rich text as the standard, and there are many toolbar options – not turned on by default – to provide even more formatting options.
All in all, I’m really impressed with FocusWriter. I’ve used half a dozen or so of this type of word processor, and a couple had a few extras FocusWriter didn’t (one even played soothing music in the background while in use), but of them all, FocusWriter is by far the most polished. It has the most word processing features, so if you need something other than plain text, it can provide that environment. Or, you can leave it as distraction free as you want. It’s all about options, and FocusWriter provides more than most.