I’m a writer. I make a living typing words on a screen, and I do so using Linux.
Specifically, I use the GNOME desktop, and there are quite a few apps that make my job easier. Many of these apps will feel right at home in other desktop environments, too!
The first thing I look for when writing at my computer is a simple text editor. GNOME has one, and it’s called gedit. It’s a great way to take notes. When you enable spell-checking, it’s not a bad way to write longer documents either. Alternatives include Kate (for KDE) and Leafpad (for XFCE).
Gedit is a great way to begin, but make no mistake — this is one of the most feature-rich plain text editors around. Yet even when it comes to writing, one size doesn’t fit all. Let’s go through what you may want to write and see which apps can help.
Writing a Paper?
Throughout grade school and college, you have to write papers. That’s a task for which a basic text editor doesn’t make the cut. Instead you need a full-blown word processor.
The most complete option is LibreOffice. This free office suite is so good for that job that there are increasingly few reasons to choose Microsoft Office, even on Windows. If you’re running one of the most popular Linux distros, LibreOffice likely came installed.
A more lightweight option is AbiWord. This word processor is perfectly able to handle basic formatting and add a bibliography, the kind of things you will need to do before getting your degree. It loads faster than LibreOffice and requires fewer system resources. You can collaborate on a document with someone else who has AbiWord installed, as you can with Google Docs. AbiWord is one of many GNOME apps that come together to form a quazi-office suite.
KDE users may want to check out Calligra Words. It’s a younger project, born as a rewrite of KWord several years ago. It’s not as mature as either of the other two word processors here, but it does integrate better with the Plasma desktop environment.
If you want more options, Linux has them. Keep these tools in mind if you get a job producing reports or white papers.
Writing for the Web
If you’ve never heard of Markdown, it’s a great way to write for the web. Instead of typing HTML, you mark your writing in a way that’s faster and easier. The document remains easy to read, and afterward, you can convert to HTML.
Gedit used to have a plugin that let you edit Markdown and export to an HTML file. That no longer works with newer versions, but you can still edit. To do so, save your document as a Markdown file by ending with .markdown or .mkd. Then go to View > Highlight Mode…
To convert that Markdown to HTML we switch from gedit to the command line. I use the markdown_py command. Open the terminal and type:
markdown_py '/home/.../file.mkd' -f '/home/.../file.html'
In the above command, the first file is the source. -f tells markdown_py to output the conversion to the second file.
To avoid using the command line on GNOME, you can download Atom. This text editor is based on Chromium and is extensible. Add markdown-preview to view a live preview as you type. You can then copy and paste HTML from the app.
These are the methods I’ve used, but there are other Markdown editors for Linux you can try.
Apps for Writing an eBook
Writing an eBook isn’t easy. After you get your words together and make edits, you have to deal with formatting. That isn’t as simple as opening up LibreOffice and clicking the tool bar. EBooks come in special formats, the most common of which is ePub.
An ePub book is a .zip folder filled with HTML files. You can see this for yourself by renaming .epub to .zip and looking around.
You can try making one from scratch, but you may have an easier time with a dedicated program or plugin. There are a few options, but on Linux, Sigil is the easiest tool for the job. This app not only creates ePubs, it lets you edit them. That isn’t a feature all alternatives can boast.
Writing Your Journal
There are many reasons to keep a journal. One is to record your private personal musings. Another is to keep a record of your actions from day to day. Plus creating entries makes for great writing practice.
And when it comes to writing a novel, a journal can be a good way to keep up with ideas.
Lifeograph is a great app that adheres to GNOME’s modern design language. You can create entries, organize them with tags, and view your logs via a graph.
Digital journaling is a commitment. Need help getting started? Try creating the habit by taking a 30-day challenge.
Getting Rid of Distractions
No matter what you’re writing, distractions don’t help. Anything can ruin your concentration. It could be a notification or merely the numbers of your clock ticking away. Hiding the notification area may help you hunker down.
You can open gedit, Atom, LibreOffice, and AbiWord fullscreen. That might be enough. Pressing F11 usually does the job.
To take things up a notch, try FocusWriter. Unlike other apps, this one defaults to fullscreen. There are themes that can help get you in the mood, such as a piece of paper on a desk.
For long projects, FocusWriter can set daily writing goals, track your word count, and provide other statistics. This may be the motivation you need to finally write the next great novel.
Ready to Write?
Linux may not have as many options as other platforms, but writing isn’t a complex task. With the software above, the essentials are covered. And when you consider that these apps are all free, Linux is perfect for the beginner writer’s income.
What operating system do you do your writing from? What applications would be hard to do without? Let’s talk, writer to writer, in the comments below.
Image Credits:penguin writing on page by Asfia via Shutterstock