Friday, March 11, 2011

Keep Charlie Sheen from distracting you from your writing

Chances are, if there's a keyboard under your fingertips, the interwebs are throwing several pieces of distracting fecal matter at your corneas every second. Tweetdeck may be one of the biggest productivity killers since television or masturbation, while Facebook is a hypnotizing abyss staring back at you. "Oh! Look. Charlie Sheen is winning all over someone's face... again." It's hard to escape the deluge if you enjoy using a computer. Even harder if you're a writer.

Right now I am writing this post in JDarkRoom, a simple text editor that blacks out your entire screen, leaving you alone with your words/count. Mano y mano. No distractions. When I first heard about this fad of programs, I filed them under the "Things I might toy with" section of my brain, but have since come to rely on them heavily. I'm a man with vices, the internet being my first love since I was 11 (I'm 28 this week), with whiskey at a close second. While these virtual distraction free zones don't discourage the latter, they certainly help with the former. If I want to check what BS Wil Wheaton is hocking on Twitter or ogle Fleshbot's latest "Top 10 Amateur (insert obscure ilk of person here)(insert sex act here) Videos", I have to save and exit out of the program before I can do any of that.

There are quite a few of these programs available, most of them free or donation ware, while others range from $4.99 to $24.99. I have found two (one for Mac and one for PC, respectively) that are well balanced, simple, but powerful and free.

I first discovered Q10 during my NaNoWriMo stint back in November. I wrote the majority of my novel in Google Documents but learned halfway through there was a massive discrepency betweent gDocs' word count and the NaNoWriMo site. I found myself almost a full day behind. Someone recommend Q10 as having the same word count parameters as the NaNo website, so I downloaded it and became attached to it fairly quick.

Q10 has a number of differnt aesthetic options (fonts, colors and all that, I prefer the green Monotype default) and a few interesting quirks geared towards productivity. You can set a timer, so that during that time you must be writing or you can set a word count goal and your percentage towards completion will be displayed at the bottom of the screen.

It has spell check, is thumb drive portable just under 400kB and can make typewriter sounds as you type. The last option, I know, sounds aggrivating, but I found myself enjoying it when I gave it a whirl. You can all of a sudden hear the rythms in your writing a little better and you start noticing personal patterns. It's interesting.

Q10 remains my favorite out of the half dozen I've tried, but sadly, remains shackled to PC.

This was the first big one of these distraction free applications a while back, I remember Joe Rogan Tweeting about how awesome it was two years ago. WriteRoom is a lot like Q10, but it's for Mac. It was lucky to gain popularity and capitalized on it immediately. WriteRoom has most of the options that Q10 has, but costs $24.99, so I won't waste your time. Paying $25 for a text editor in the 21st century is like paying for music, books, movies, Word Pad or Text Edit. It has all the same abilities of those two editors but has a customizable background and fullscreen blockout capability.

Huzzah! A savvy programmer ported WriteRoom (which is a port of Windows' Darkroom) to a Java application. Since it's Java based, JDarkRoom can be used on any platform and is completely free. It has everything WriteRoom has except the sexy WR icon in your dock menu. Thus far, I have yet to tell the difference between the two and it works like a champ. The only option Q10 holds over JDarkRoom are the typewriter sounds, but I'm pretty sure I'm in the minority when it comes to championing that quality.

Considering I sunk myself into a little more debt for a brand new MacBook Pro, this is the current distraction free editor that I'm attached to.

This is a personal preference, but I'd avoid this one like the plague. First off, it costs money ($4.99). Secondly, there is some New Age BS working in the background that gives me the willies.

OmmWriter is unique in the respect that it has a number of serene and abstract backgrounds that you can write against. You define a text box against a snowy meadow or a Nine Inch Nails album cover, or whatever, and start writing... but then you start to notice shit. Weird shit. There's ambient music, the backgrounds become 'dynamic' and there are clicking noises when you type that are more aggravating than soothing. From the developers: "OmmWriter Dna pays special attention to audio and visual effects that contribute to the overall writing experience. We have spent a considerable amount of research time and effort in the audio-visual experience to promote and enhance creativity."

That's something I don't want to hear from my writing apps, that someone is trying to help shape my writing experience.

If you've watched the demo video above of OmmWriter, how the fuck can I write a gritty detective novel using that?

The overall effect of OmmWriter feels like you're writing on a virtual postcard and makes it difficult to take the writing process seriously. It definitely caters to that cutesy, "I'm artsy" crowd that sit in their breakfast nooks on snowy, Saturday mornings while banging out a few correspondences to Grandma.

There are a few caveats that come with these distraction free text editors, namely the formating options are limited. Like italicizing? Nope. Like the on-the-fly spell checks that we all have come to lean on? Nope. Like centering certain passages? Sorry. You're lucky the TAB button works.

But if you can deal with formatting at a later time, some of these applications are great.


BiancaFace said...

Well having said I was going to cue some M.J. music and start my word count goal for the night I happen upon your tweet...which in turn led me to look at your profile which in get the point. So thanks for distracting me! However I will take a look at Q10. Oh and we're using the EXACT same template for our blogs.(thewriter4hireblogdotcom) Go figure!

Dan Brian said...

@Biancaface Twitter distracted you? No... Almost ironic that Twitter led you to a post about combating distraction. Speaking of distraction, how can you possibly avoid busting a move in the middle of a sentence listening to "Off The Wall"?

Definitely check out Q10. I miss it and hope the developer ports it to Mac at some point. Minimalism is key in this business me thinks as the layout suggests.

Thanks for reading. Catch you on teh Twitterz.