Writing is difficult enough as it is. Stop making it more so by wrestling with an unfriendly writing application.
Given that we live in the Digital Age, it’s very likely that you do all of your writing on a computer or some other digital device. It can be a little more complex than simply using a pen and a notebook, because of the wide variety of options available to you.
From word counters to idea generators, from fancy timers to writing metrics, there’s plenty to draw your attention away from your writing. Even the choice of distraction-free writing tools is so mind-boggling that choosing one becomes a distraction in itself.
What you need is a writing app that is ideal for you, an app that will stay out of your way and put your focus back where it belongs–on your writing. Choosing such an app requires some serious experimentation.
My own search for the perfect editor was long drawn and haphazard, but in the end, I was able to see where I had gone wrong. To make your search easier and shorter, I have reworked and distilled my whole process as it follows here.
List Your Preferences
As a writer or blogger, you’re sure to have a writing process that is all your own. Your definition of the perfect writing environment is also different from that of others. Naturally, when you’re looking for the ideal tool for writing, you must take factors like these into consideration, because even the most highly praised apps can’t help you if they don’t go well with your workflow.
Make a list of your preferences by asking yourself a few questions about them. Here are some you can begin with:
- Do you prefer a standalone application for writing or one that is web-based?
- Which format do you like to write in? Plain text? Markdown?
- Do you like to have music playing in the background when you write?
- Does a minimalist option like Quabel appeal to you more or do you want an editor that is loaded with features?
- Do you need a feature for generating or saving ideas?
- Do you also require special features for timing, collaboration, writing analytics, etc?
Identify The Must-Haves
Once you have the list of desirable features ready, highlight the must-haves. If you prefer a desktop app, maybe you’d consider a cloud sync feature important. If you’re looking to write collaboratively, you’ll need easy access to highlighting and commenting options.
For example, I’m not comfortable writing on dark backgrounds or using “code editor” fonts, which is why I consider a skin customization feature a must-have. On the other hand, cloud sync and dictionary features are not as important for me, because I’m partial toward web-based editors and already have a browser plugin for the dictionary.
Explore. Extract. Experiment.
Now that you know what you’re looking for in a writing application, it’s time to scout for a few candidates that fit the bill. Do a web search for reviews of online writing tools. MakeUseOf has many of them right here. Saikat’s post on distraction-free editors is a good place to start.
See which of the apps you come across provide features for most, if not all, of the preferences in your list. Linux users can check out these four great writing tools. If you’re a novelist, Scrivener is good writing program to have. We have even released a guide to Scrivener. Yarny, OmmWriter, Writer, Byword for Mac, and iA Writer for the iPad are some other options worth checking out.
Narrow down your choices to 3-5 of the best ones. Ensure that the editors you have picked come with the features you listed as must-haves.
Now experiment with these apps for a week. Test every single feature and setting available in each of them. Try writing short snippets, creating lists, changing themes, exporting files, asking for feedback, etc. In short, figure out everything each app lets you accomplish. See how comfortable you are using it and ask yourself whether it feels like something you’d like to stick to in future.
At the end of the week, it will be clear to you that among all the editors you chose, one or two stand out as being well-suited to your writing process. Decide on the one that you think is optimal for you and tweak that one to perfection.
After I decided that Writer was the best solution for me, I registered for an online account with them. Then I changed the font type, size, color, background color, and line spacing. I also turned off the typewriting sounds, enabled keyboard shortcuts, created a document to use as a scratch pad, and pinned the application’s tab to the browser. With all that out of the way, now when I have to write something, I just hit New, switch to full screen mode, and start typing. No fiddling with this feature and that anymore!
As a writer, there are bound to be several important things on your mind such as improving your creativity and overcoming writer’s block. Worrying about your writing instrument should not be one of them. Find a reliable one that you can use in the long term and pair it with these Zen habits for writers to keep those words flowing.
Which editor do you use for writing? Let us know in the comments.