Distraction-Free Writing with FocusWriter

screenshot of FocusWriter

I was never a huge believer in the so-called distraction-free writing environment. These are text editors or word processors that only show text, with limited formatting and configuration options. The idea behind these tools is that you should focus on your writing and not on tweaking kerning or changing fonts. That’s not a huge issue for me, especially since I try and write in gedit or MarkdownPad as much as possible. However, a few weeks ago I was working from a library on my Asus. I needed an actual word processor and the Asus had AbiWord installed but not LibreOffice. The WiFi wasn’t super strong and I knew LibreOffice could wind up taking weeks to download, so on a whim (and trying to avoid writing), I Googled around for distraction-free text editors for Linux.

At this point, I should probably mention that the moment you start looking for these kinds of programs, you’re already distracted. I acknowledged the irony of the situation and quickly installed FocusWriter.

I fell in love with it pretty much immediately. It’s tweakable, so I could fuss with the fonts (I’m a Courier Prime man), but for the most part, it doesn’t have too many options. My main considerations for writing are a visible word count and spell check. FocusWriter has both, with the word count visible when you mouse over the bottom of your screen. You can also set a word count goal, either in words or minutes, which is pretty awesome, since when I’m working on a big project, I tend to chunk it into a word count. Obviously, I can do the math myself, but it is rewarding to see I’m 90% toward my goal when I check to see how I’m doing (I’m typing this after working on my project so I’m actually well over 100% of my goal for the day which is an even better feeling—even if it’s an unearned one.

FocusWriter doesn’t support Markdown per se, but as I work with Markdown more, I can see why a simple editor wouldn’t want to handle it—Markdown needs some kind of preview/rendering option and once you have that, you’re a bit off of the initial distraction-free, minimalist goal (although UberWriter handles this challenge very well). Instead, FocusWriter is just about text files, RTFs, and basic ODTs, which is perfect for me. And you can just write your Markdown, save as Markdown, and then either trust your syntax is correct or open it up in a Markdown editor later.

FocusWriter also runs well on Windows, which means I can also use it at work. Even more conveniently, it has a portable version, which allows it to run off of USB drives, which also comes in handy for me at work.

I’m not a huge believer in software changing people. If you want to write more, you should write more. No program is going to squeeze more work out of you. But FocusWriter is great for me, because it allows me to work quickly and to easily see my progress. It does nothing more and nothing less, but it’s perfect for when I’m writing to a word count and I don’t need a very formatted document.

I know lots of programs have a full-screen mode and the ability to count words, but FocusWriter just presents those features in a way that makes sense to me. I hate to encourage anyone to explore these kinds of tools, since often the exploration can replace actual work, but if you are looking for a very minimal word processor to keep you focused on hitting writing goals, FocusWriter is a nice option.