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One of the many problems trying to actually GET anything done online these days is the multitude of distractions that are available on the internet. Short of unplugging your network connection, there are a few things the undisciplined can do to minimize the sites calling your name.
Over the past few years a new breed of text editors have flourished – so called ‘minimalist’ text editors – which can be used to block out all other distractions and let you focus on the task at hand – crafting words into sentences. These “no-frills editors” don’t offer formatting or many of the other features you see in modern word processors, what they offer is the ability to concentrate solely on your writing.
For the purposes of this article, we are limiting our minimalist text editors to Windows programs, and also a constraint is that they must do full screen with no other programs present. If the second parameter does not bother you as much, please continue on to the bottom of this article to see some other recommended editors.
Darkroom is a clone of Writeroom for Mac. Nothing like Writeroom (for OSX) existed for the Windows platform, so the author wrote it using the .NET framework.
When you open Darkroom, you will see what we mean when we say “minimalist text editors”. The application presents you with a full black screen, a green cursor, and a few up/down arrows.
Features are pretty sparse, and I don’t mean this in a negative way. Ctrl-S gets you a save menu, and there are several other keyboard shortcuts. If you unmaximize the program, it allows you to see a menu with a few other options – such as statistics on the text you wrote (number of characters and words).
jDarkRoom is a java clone of Darkroom. However the similarity begins and ends with black screen and green text. jDarkRoom has many more features, and a full list of them is available from the Help menu (F3). Mark actually did a writeup on jDarkRoom already so you should look there for an in depth review.
The features I think are very handy: automatic saving of your file, ability to change the color and size of text and the ability to search text are all nice.
Also since jDarkRoom is written in Java it is a cross platform product that works great on many other operating systems.
Word 5.5 for DOS
Surprised to see this one on the list? So am I. What is old is new again!
Microsoft patched Word 5.5 for the Y2K bug and decided to release it for free instead of trying to sell it again (and really, who would buy it?) Well, what do you know, some writers still use this program to write their books. It has a simple layout and takes up the whole screen. All of the options are there to help you write. Although the formatting options may be a distraction, you can easily forgo them if you choose.
The kick ass thing about Word 5.5 is that it also includes a spell check and thesaurus. This can really help out those budding writers in a pinch. There are some fancier options for footnotes, head notes and the like, but I don’t believe most web writers will use these. For the intrepid, there are also macros – so if there is a process that you find yourself repeatedly doing you can really cut out some time.
The default blue, gray and teal color scheme is ugly (think DOS in 1990 or so) but this is totally customizable through the options. Also, in case you are wondering, your mouse does work to open the menus and place the cursor, so using it is not a keyboard-only affair.
If DarkRoom and WriteRoom would have a big brother, his name would be q10. q10 offers the same dark screen and minimalist functionality of the other writers, while adding handy features which do not distract from your task at hand.
The colors are totally adjustable and by default there is a bar at the bottom which uses very dark text to blend into the background. This bar displays the file name, a count of words, pages and characters, the file name and a clock. There is also audio feedback which I did find a bit annoying but it is possible to turn this off.
Using Ctrl-P brings up a menu with all of the available options. This menu is much more user-friendly than Darkroom or jDarkRoom and lets you tweak just about any setting in the program.
Some features I really like in q10:
- Auto saving based on time or paragraphs written,
- Built in spell checking, auto correction and ‘quick text’,
- Setting a word ‘target’,
- Setting an alarm for X minutes and
- A find/replace system.
Of all of the above programs, I found q10 to be the ‘most qualified’ to take over my writing tasks. In fact, I wrote this article using q10 and it really helped me reduce the time it took to write it. Depending on your needs, you might find any one of the above better suited for your task, so make sure to try them all.
Other Text Editors
There are some other popular text editors for writers. Of course, one of the most simple ones is Notepad, which comes with Windows. A step up from that is a Notepad replacement. There are a plethora of them, some of my favorites are PSPad and Textpad. See here for a pretty comprehensive list.
There is also the school of thought that favors vi or emacs. These programs, while not easy to pick up for a beginner, can also be very powerful especially if you learn the special keyboard shortcuts or are able to create regular expressions to manipulate the text. They aren’t for the timid but give it a shot if you are interested.
Do you have a favorite text editor that I have left out? Please let me know in the comments so our other readers might benefit from your knowledge!