7 Distraction-Free Writing Environments for Authors

by Joel Friedlander on July 4, 2011 · 27 comments

As someone who writes and publishes constantly, the tools that I use are pretty important to me. I’ve written before about how the distraction-free writing enviroments that are embodied in some recent writing software really help me to focus and get a lot done in the time I have available.

So far, my favorite is iAWriter for the iPad, a program I use just about every day for the bulk of all my drafts. On the Mac I’ve been using Omm Writer Dana, another brilliant implementation of this idea.

informationArchitects just came out with their version of iAWriter for the Mac, and it’s a brilliant app. They have re-thought what they did on the iPad, and made this application just as good for the Mac.

I thought this was a great time to have a look at other programs that also try to solve the problem of too much distraction to get any writing done. Here are 7 solutions, many free, that you can try whether you’re on Windows or Mac.

Click through and check these programs out. Some offer amazing levels of customization, others are bare-bones and fixed in their format. Some try to mimic monospaced character-mode screens, others provide backgrounds and ambient music. It’s only by trying them out that you can tell whether one will work for you.

If you’ve got others to add, let me know in the comments.

Windows

Darkroom
Free from They.mislead.us
“Dark Room is a full screen, distraction free, writing environment. Unlike standard word processors that focus on features, Dark Room is just about you and your text. Basically, Dark Room is a clone of the original WriteRoom that is an OS X (tiger) exclusive application.”

Darkroom for self-publishers

Q10
Free from Baara
Available in English, Portuguese, Dutch, German, Italian and Spanish
“Q10 is a simple but powerful text editor designed and built with writers in mind. Q10 is freeware. That’s right, you can download and use it at no cost.
Q10 is small, fast and keeps out of your way. Q10 will clean your kitchen, walk your dog and make excellent coffee. Well, not really. But it’s really good as a full-screen text editor.”

Q10 for writing

Writemonkey
Free from Iztok Stržinar in Slovenia
“Writemonkey is a Windows zenware* writing application with an extremely stripped down user interface, leaving you alone with your thoughts and your words. It is light, fast and free. With an array of innovative tools under the hood, it helps you write better. Editing is for another day … ”

Writemonkey

Creawriter
Free and Donation versions from SPL
“CreaWriter is a Windows program designed to boost your productivity and creativity. Its full screen, minimalistic interface provides a distraction-free environment. Indulge yourself in a relaxed and calm atmosphere and achieve a whole new level of concentration! Inspired by OmmWriter, a Mac OS X only application, CreaWriter allows you to customize both background image and ambient sound.”

Creawriter

Macintosh OS X

iAWriter
$17.99 from Information Architects
“iA Writer for Mac is a digital writing tool that makes sure that all your thoughts go into the text instead of the program. iA Writer has no preferences. It is how it is. It works like it works. Love it or hate it. It’s unique FocusMode allows me to think, spell and write at one sentence at a time. iA Writer is fast; it works without mouse. It automatically formats semantical entities such as headlines, lists, bold, strong, block quotes written in markdown.”

iAWriter for Macintosh

Writeroom
$24.99 from Hog Bay Software
30-day free trial
“WriteRoom’s full screen writing environment gets your computer out of the way so that you can focus on your work. The result is a subtle clearing of the mind that I think helps you write better.”

Writeroom

Multiple Platforms

FocusWriter
Free from Gott Code
“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.”

Focuswriter

If you’ve never tried this approach to boosting your writing productivity, you should give it a try. There’s no better way that I know of to stay focused and screen out the distractions that our crazy electronic life seems constantly to be interrupting us with. Good luck.

Be Sociable, Share!

    { 18 comments… read them below or add one }

    Keth July 10, 2014 at 3:24 am

    There’s also a nice service called typwrittr at http://www.typwrittr.com that I use a lot.

    Reply

    Kilo January 20, 2013 at 6:26 pm

    If you have somewhat modern computer, this might be interesting as well – http://bloomeditor.com/
    It has some very pretty themes, helps me concentrate, very distration-free when in fullscreen, but even for shorter texts I sometimes used it in normal mode.

    Reply

    bryan January 1, 2012 at 1:39 am

    I wrote a simple distraction free writer that works like writeroom.

    You can try it at http://www.ytbryan.com/writer. it’s free :)

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander January 9, 2012 at 3:06 pm

    Very nice and simple, bryan, although I admit I prefer dark type on a light background. Thanks for the link.

    Reply

    Nigel November 8, 2011 at 3:34 am

    Thanks for an interesting article, Joel, and great contributions from everyone else.

    This is a subject dear to me and I’ve tried many examples of software over the years on both Mac and PC to find that “Holy Grail” of distraction-free environment. Never fully seems to work for me though!

    I actually agree with Michael above in that I too enjoy being able to dot around doing research on the Internet (or simply the Thesaurus) rather than being in a locked-down environment.

    Scrivener has finally been released for Windows PC too and is available for testdrive from literatureandlatte’s website. I have a feeling it will make waves in the writing software community!

    Another title, for Mac-only, is StoryMill from Mariner Software. This is very similar to Scrivener but not quite so polished. It has the same full-screen option.

    You can purchase a full-screen add-on for the usually-free all-rounder Celtx (www.celtx.com) which covers script-writing and novels too, though the full-screen add-in annoyingly doesn’t work with the novel-writing part!

    Currently my favourite setup is Focus Writer for any full-screen work because it allows rich-text processing and the ability to create your own themes. It can also be used in windowed mode when you need access to other programs. For the organisation of Chapters, Notes and Research I use TreePad.

    Keep up the good work! :-)

    Reply

    Jeremy Gilbert September 1, 2011 at 5:01 am

    if you live alone this will be easier, but if you have a family in the house at least make sure there’s a door on the room and that you keep it closed to lock out the rest of the world. Close your e-mail, turn on your answer phone and try to shut the world out. Research suggests that it takes at least 15 minutes without distraction for you to become productive, breaks in that productivity means the 15 minutes starts all over again.

    Reply

    Pomke August 12, 2011 at 5:49 pm

    You might like to take a look at http://pangurpad.com, from a creative writing perspective it is a full screen, distraction free writing editor, but has many features essential to creative writing available ‘off screen’ for when you need them, character notes, plot timeline tools etc. It also keep working/saving if your internet drops out unlike other online editors.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander July 19, 2011 at 3:15 pm

    Just wanted to let readers know that Omm has introduced a new version of Ommwriter Dana for the iPad, and although I haven’t tried it yet, it looks lovely. Here’s a link:
    Ommwriter for the iPad

    Reply

    PJ Kaiser July 6, 2011 at 10:23 am

    This is a terrific list, Joel. I use Scrivener in full-screen mode also. Not so much for my rough drafts (I find it easier to concentrate when drafting) but I use it extensively for editing / revising / rewriting. I also use Simplenote on my iPad / iPhone & synch to scrivener.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander July 6, 2011 at 11:47 am

    I have to admit to having no experience with Scrivener at all, although I often hear Mac people talk about it. I wonder if someone would do a review of this software for my blog?

    Reply

    Austin Briggs July 6, 2011 at 11:52 am

    Hi Joel, if you’d like, I can do it in a couple of weeks. I truly love the program and can talk from the perspective of a user who essentially switched to Mac to use Scrivener (back in the day!).

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander July 19, 2011 at 1:16 pm

    Austin, thanks so much. I’d be very interested, why don’t you email me and we can discuss? jfbookman (at) gmail.com

    Reply

    Belinda Pollard July 5, 2011 at 6:59 pm

    Thanks for these Joel. I hadn’t heard of most of them! Quite a nice idea to have the technology “get out of the way” for a while.

    I’ve tried Scrivener, but found myself resistant to it, even though I liked the idea of being able to move scenes around so easily, etc. And because my main computer is Mac and my netbook is PC, I wanted something that would work on both platforms and synchronise and backup “in the cloud”.

    So what I’m using at the moment is Evernote for all my character outlines, research etc, and Word/Open Office for the actual writing. So the background material is backed up offsite by Evernote, and I email my ms to myself at the end of every day, so I’ve got an offsite backup on my gmail account.

    All of it was free, except of course Word for Mac, which I need for my business stuff anyway.

    It’s always interesting to find out how other people do these things. Thanks again for the topic.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander July 5, 2011 at 7:20 pm

    Sure Belinda, thanks for sharing your workflow, I love to hear how other writers organize themselves. I’m also a total Evernote junkie and use Dropbox for offsite backups of all my book files. When I really need to concentrate at my Mac, I use either Omm or the new iAWriter. Since Omm is free, you might give it a try.

    Reply

    Belinda Pollard July 6, 2011 at 1:30 am

    Thanks Joel. I downloaded OmmWriter and was trying to figure out if I could customise the background image. That would be helpful to me since I’m writing a novel set in the wilderness, and I have photos of that wilderness. But it may be that you can’t do that on the free version. Thanks again.

    Reply

    Austin Briggs July 4, 2011 at 11:39 am

    I agree – Scrivener all the way. I practically live inside it. Sometimes I feel that I’ve designed the program myself – it’s incredibly intuitive and complete.

    Thanks for the good review, Joel. I’ve been using iAWriter for iPad for a while, but I seem to be switching to Daedalus slowly (although I can’t use its parent program, Ulysses – go figure).

    Reply

    C.L. Phillips July 4, 2011 at 6:38 am

    My all time favorite is Scrivener in full screen mode. The combination of workflow control, outlining, notecards, and metadata is powerful. I’ve used it for two years – it’s never crashed. Now that’s an endorsement. :)

    Reply

    Michael N. Marcus July 4, 2011 at 12:38 am

    What is distraction for some may be stimulus for others — or may be easily ignored by others. I am more distracted by sounds from outside my physical window (I will hear the lawn sprinklers start up at 4:30 a.m.), than by what’s available in my computer’s Windows.

    I am quite happy working in MS Word for Windows. I like being able to jump from a book-in-progress to websites, blogs, emails or other books. And I definitely prefer to work in two-page spreads rather than in vertical text streams. I am building books, not just writing words. I want to see fonts, illustrations, chapter ends and starts, headers, etc. As a book grows, I may move paragraphs to different chapters, change the sequence of chapters, or even change the title, subtitle and, therefore, the title page.

    Fortunately, writers can choose from many writing environments. “De gustibus non est disputandum” (whatever floats your boat).

    Michael N. Marcus
    http://www.BookMakingBlog.blogspot.com
    http://www.BooksForAuthors.com (reviews)
    http://www.Self-Pub.info
    — Create Better Books, with the Silver Sands Publishing Series: http://www.silversandsbooks.com/booksaboutpublishing.html
    — “Stories I’d Tell My Children (but maybe not until they’re adults),” http://www.amazon.com/dp/0981661750

    Reply

    Leave a Comment


    + 9 = twelve

    { 9 trackbacks }