Writing Like It's 1994

Funny how what comes around, comes around.

There’s been a lot of buzz lately about Distraction-Free Writing. This is the idea that you’re more productive when there’s fewer things to… uh…. distract you. This means no menus to explore, no buttons to press and no shiny toolbar to entice you to check Facebook just one more time. If all you have is a clean screen just waiting to be filled with words, then that’s what you do. Fewer distractions mean it’s easier to focus on what you’re supposed to be doing.

That’s pretty obvious really, and is a kick in the teeth to Microsoft Word for starters. Back in the pre-Windows era we used to call such an environment Wordstar, and we loved it. This gave us a great writing environment with no chance at all of being able to waste an hour just trying out new fonts or messing with the line spacing.

Over in Linux land there’s emacs and vi. I’d argue that vi is the most distractionless (is that a word?) of the two; emacs is very, very fiddlable to the point where it’s possible to just learn emacs, but not actually use it. Different people, different mileage though. Either one is 10,000 times more productive-friendly than Word, that’s for sure.

Folks are coming around to the idea that maybe we had something back in 1994. Perhaps, just perhaps, we didn’t need all those toolbars, fonts and distractions. The first return to retro was spearheaded by Writeroom for the Mac. It gave us a black screen, a simple font, wide margins and…. well, that’s pretty much all. It’s implementation is so good that it’s been copied many times over, with Darkroom being the most widely accepted Windows version. I’ve even written about HowToMakeAWriteRoomForVim should you choose.

So far though, the problem has been one of dependencies when it comes to a Windows implementation. Darkroom needs the .NET framework to play nicely, and jDarkRoom requires java. Both are huge monolithic slabs of code that eat your free memory like nothing else – not good for something that’s just supposed to let you edit text. I want something small, neat, low memory so I can have all the apps running in the background, but when I’m in the editor, they’re forgotten. I don’t want to have to close Poser just to type a text file, thank you very much.

Enter Q10.

This is the single best implementation for Writeroom for Windows, bar none. It’s freeware, is just 400k in size (1Mb with spell checker), has no mammoth dependencies and… just works.

Start it up and you’re in black-screen full-screen heaven with a flashing cursor waiting for your thoughts. There’s a live wordcount and clock in the faded grey bar at the bottom of the screen, but that’s the only concession to your real estate. The rest is yours, baby. All yours.

As this is still a Real Windows App ™, the usual CUA standard applies – ctrl-X, C and V are cut/copy/paste, ctrl-S is save and F1 brings up help, so there’s no learning curve involved either – Wordperfect, this ain’t. Should you need to switch windows all your other apps are an alt-tab away, and your /windows/ key still brings up the START menu. This isn’t about restricting what you can use, but helping you focus on what you want to do.

Yes, it’s psychological, but it’s clever, and it works. I’m writing this post in Q10 now. No distractions. Perfect.

Folks, even if all you do is write blogposts in WordPress, I recommend Q10. Write in that and paste your words into the edit box when you’re done.

Your writing will be better for it.

I promise!

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