When Software Hinders Your Writing, Try This Easy Trick

Screenshot of a document in word-processing software; there are just a few words on an otherwise blank page: "It was a dark and stormy night, and uh."
C’mon, you can do better.

A keystroke or mouse click opens up a window that accesses the Internet so you can find and play a distracting video… And the next thing you know, it’s 20 minutes later.

There are three words of a sentence on the screen in front of you, and you can’t even begin to remember where you were going with it.

Sound familiar? Are you futzing with fonts and messing with margins—when the truth is that it doesn’t even make a difference? You may need to slim down your word processing functionality and steer it back to doing not much more than… processing words!

One easy trick, then, is to simply get rid of the bells and whistles. Allow me to explain.

Minimalist Software

Here are three suggestions on how you can go minimal with your writing programs.

  • Text Editors: It doesn’t matter if you are a Mac or Windows user. Both operating systems feature a basic program that just saves the words you write without offering you options for formatting and layout.
  • Just Hide the Toolbars: If using your computer operating system’s no-frills text editor doesn’t appeal to you, opt for hiding the toolbars. In both the Mac and Windows versions of Microsoft Word, use the “Full screen reading” mode (select “Allow typing” under “View options” to use this view for writing). You’ll remove the toolbar ribbon and hide access to most other functions, allowing you to focus on writing. If you use Apple’s Pages word processing software, you also have a “Full Screen” mode (look for it in the View pull-down menu) that gets rid of everything except the words you’ve written.
  • Use a Specialized Program: If the “option of options” is keeping you from writing, try using a distraction-free writing program such as WriteRoom (Mac only) or q10 (PC only). There are even free online apps such as Writer. Look for a program that offers the full-screen feature because that truly removes the majority of a writer’s distractions.

Minimalist Hardware

There are times when working at your computer is just going to generate more distractions than a pared-down word processing program might resolve. This is when it may be best to leave your computer behind and use a different device altogether.

  • Use Your Tablet: Writings for iPad is one way to get away from it all. This iPad app has a simple interface. When you start writing, all the controls fade out, leaving you with nothing but your text. A simple tap outside the keyboard will reveal all the controls you need.
  • Go Analog: Pen and paper are the ultimate choice when you need to focus. Much is gained when you have the tactile sensation of pen moving on paper—and many writers say it keeps their creative juices flowing and their mind focused. No way, you say, because it’s not digital and you’ll have to get it that way? Consider this solution by Moleskine, which has teamed up with Evernote to offer you a way to bring your analog writing over to the digital world.

Formatting can wait. Get the important stuff committed and saved.

Dave Baker

View posts by Dave Baker
Hi, I'm Dave Baker, founder and copy chief of Super Copy Editors. I have more than two decades of professional proofreading and copy editing experience, including work for The Nation magazine, The New York Times, and The Times-Picayune of New Orleans, where I shared two staff Pulitzer Prizes after Hurricane Katrina. Today, I have put together a hand-picked team of copy editors, and we especially love working with ad agencies, marketing departments, and education companies to make their text as polished as possible. Learn more here.

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