This post was written by former Gradhacker author Trent M Kays

I’ve seen the blinking cursor on my laptop screen awaiting my commands before. It taunts me, and there are times when I just can’t write. I’ve always found it a bit humorous, since my job is teaching writing, but even writing teachers can’t write sometimes.

Writing has always (normally!) come easy to me. I enjoy writing on many levels, but I recognize that others have difficultly with writing in different ways. When it comes to my students, I provide them with techniques and tools to aid their writing processes. A set of tools, which is helpful to all distracted writers, encourage distraction-free writing environments, and I always urge my students to use them.

Here are a few distraction-free writing tools, which may help you and your students:

Pen.io This tool is one of my favorites. It’s browser based, dead simple to use, and free. Basically, you open the browser link, and you’re presented with a blank screen. You have the ability to save to PDF or to a secure and password protected webpage. The Save to Pen.io option saves to a webpage and the Save to a PDF option allows you to download a PDF of your work. I think one of the strong aspects of this browser based tool is you can save to a webpage, which anyone can access if you provide them with the link and password. It’s a clean and accessible tool. One caveat is you are unable to download your work to file types other than PDF; however, you can always just copy and past your work from the webpage into a RTF document.

FocusWriter

I made a screen capture of this tool because there is a sound element. Zoom in or open the above video to fullscreen for details about why I love FocusWriter!

The only caveat to FocusWriter is it doesn’t offer grammar check support, which is something many students seem to need, even if it isn’t used correctly. (I would go into a diatribe about how the grammar check in Microsoft Word is horrible, but it is something most writers expect to see, and I don’t have time in this post.)

Microsoft Word 2011 (Full Screen Viewing)

The lastest edition of Microsoft Word (2010/2011) offered an excellent fullscreen and distraction-free writing option. It comes with the ability to select fullscreen under the View tab, and it presents you with a blank screen and minimalist tool bar. It’s a nice writing environment; however, if you’re not a fan of Microsoft Word, then you’ll probably not enjoy it. While the view does provide you with a clean writing area, that’s about all it does. You can’t set a theme, and you can’t save it in the cloud with one click. Despite those drawbacks, most people have Microsoft Word and might find some benefits in the distraction-free writing environment it provides.

I prefer FocusWriter for my distraction-free writing space because the themes, ease of use, and price (FREE!) are attractive to me. It’s more customizable than Pen.io but less cumbersome than Microsoft Word. I would prefer it to have grammar check support, but I usually open all files in Google Documents or Microsoft Word for final formatting check, so I am provided with a final proofreading opportunity. These are just a few distraction-free writing tools, which I recommend to my students; there are more than these three tools, but these are the ones my students seem to respond to the most.

What distraction-free writing tools or strategies do you use to aid your writing processes?

Photos and YouTube video provided by the author // Creative Commons licensed: CC-BY

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23 Responses to Distraction-Free Writing Tools

  1. Ashley says:

    I’m a fan of 750words. It’s a web-based program – just a blank screen with nothing but a line of boxes at the top (so you can see how many days that month you’ve written) and a word count at the bottom. You can save, search and export everything. It’s been a lifesaver this year, honestly. I may refine text in Word, but drafting always happens on that site. It doesn’t hurt that they have monthly challenges and badges that indicate how long you’ve been writing – it adds a little bit of fun to the process :)

    • Trent M Kays says:

      Yes, I’m familiar with 750words.com, and I’ve used it before. I like it; however, I think any amount of writing is an accomplishment, and 750words.com values 750 words a day. If you don’t make that cut, then you’ve failed. Writing isn’t about failure; it’s about process.

  2. Rob Walsh says:

    I’ve also become a huge fan of distraction free writing tools. I really abhor Microsoft Word as there are tons – TONS of little icons everywhere that I rarely ever use. So why are they always visible? Too distracting.

    My favorite distraction free writing tool at the moment is IA Writer. It’s available in the Mac App Store as well as on the ipad.

    Its interface is a sole white screen with an elegant typeface and a single font-size. You can do things like bold type, create headings, lists, etc by typing tags from the simple markup language called, Markdown. The best thing about Markdown is that you don’t have to ever grab the mouse to click on ‘bold’ or ‘italic’ and you don’t have to use a keyboard shortcut either. You. Just. Write.

    One of the more clever aspects of IA Writer is its ‘Focus Mode’ where all the text on the page becomes slightly faded out while the current sentence that you’re writing is not faded out and in the foreground.

    There are other little lovely aspects to it – like, at the bottom of the window it not only keeps a running word count, character count, and the approximate time it would take a reader to read the text.

    I’d be interested on hearing how you think this app measures up to the ones that you’ve reviewed here.

    - Rob Walsh
    http://www.scholasticahq.com

  3. Tona says:

    WordPress also has a full screen option, like Microsoft Word does.

    And I second the previous comment: I like 750words also, it’s so simple and uncomplicated.

    I also, when desperate, have been known to use Dr. Wicked’s Write or Die. Sometimes nothing else works.

  4. Jordan says:

    I’d also recommend 750 words, though I’ve often found it most useful when I’ve hit some sort of block and need to write my way through it. Thanks for the advice!

  5. Erin says:

    I use Q10 (http://www.baara.com/q10/) – it’s similar to FocusWriter, but I like its typewriter noises better.

  6. Kim says:

    I used to use Q10 quite a bit. It’s a full screen environment that shows you word and page count at the bottom. You can define a target amount of words you want to write, and it show will show you what percentage you’ve done already. You can also change the font, text, and background color. I really enjoyed the typewriter sound effects too.

  7. Taylor says:

    As someone who is in the process of writing a prelim proposal, this post was so informative. I’m curious though. I’ve checked out all these options and decided to use some for personal purposes, but I’m in the sciences and use Word 2011 (in page layout view)for writing. Lately, I’ve been desiring something web-based, private, and has more of a page-layout view as opposed to a web layout view so I can format text and monitor the page space?

    • Taylor says:

      Sorry, but I meant to say I’ve been desiring such a platform and was wondering if anyone knew of one.

    • Trent M Kays says:

      You may want to give Google Docs a try. It’s web-based, private, and has a traditional page layout.

      Also, if you want to pay for some excellent writing software, I suggest you check out Scrivener. I’ve been using it lately, and it’s the best purchase I’ve made for my Mac ever.

  8. Hey, I just finished making a full page with screencast videos showing why Emacs Org Mode is the best distraction-free writing environment. Check it out here:

    http://www.cyborganize.org/productivity/videos/fast-start/emacs-org-mode-installation-configuration-and-tutorial/

  9. Not sure if this fits into the same category, here, but the Freedom app and AntiSocial are both really great productivity tools for those (like me) who have no self-control when it comes to the Internet.

  10. Terry Brock says:

    I’m a big fan of Scrivener, and they have a very good Full Screen writing mode.

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  16. Jenn says:

    I can sadly confirm that FocusWriter doesn’t have a built-in grammar checker. I always have to use http://www.grammarcheck.net/ in combination with it. I think they should improve on that.

    Jenn

  17. Dan Tran says:

    Another online tool worth to try is http://invisiblediary.herokuapp.com/
    Apart from distraction free writing, you can hide what you type if you don’t want anyone behind you seeing it.

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