Photo credit: Wouter Verhelst (CC BY-SA 2.0)

As computer applications mature and its base of users grow, companies tend to continually tweak their functions and add features so that the programs can meet everyone’s needs. Sometimes, the changes are universally accepted, but other times it marginalizes users looking for a specialized and lightweight program.

Some writers believe that modern word processors have so many features and options that it interrupts their focus and actually hinders their creative efforts. Because of this hindrance, some writers have forsaken the computer and instead use typewriters or pen and paper.

That said, using those tools may also hinder the ability to create prolifically, but that’s the tradeoff. So what simple tools are available for writers who want to focus on their art and not be distracted by features?

Basic Writing

Even if you were to customize a word processor like Microsoft Word, hiding all of the menus and maximizing the writing space, you are still paying hundreds of dollars for features that you will never use. Instead, there are many free web and desktop applications that offer features you need — and nothing else. Below are some of my favourite free applications in this category.

Focus Writer

Focus Writer is ingenious in its simplicity and developed around the idea that writers want to create writing environments that meets their specific needs. Except for a small toolbar on the top, the rest of the screen is open for writing space.

You can adjust the settings of your font size, screen color, and text color. It is not about creating a visually appealing document, but instead, it is about using screen colors that are conducive to writing.

The features that really stand out include:

  • Goals and progress bar
  • Writing timers
  • Portable edition available

Internet Writer: The Internet Typewriter

The one thing I really enjoy about Internet Writer: The Internet Typewriter is the way it emulates a chromatic display. The retro green on black display takes you back to the early 80s. Once you set your web browser to full screen, there is nothing to distract you from your work.

Key features:

  • No signup required
  • Automatic backup during your session
  • Word count
  • PDF export

750words.com

I have recommended this site to many people who are struggling with writer’s block or constant procrastination.

750words.com revolves around the concept that writers should write at least three paper pages or the equivalent of 750 words per day. The writing environment is extremely sparse and the program’s formatting options are hiding on a hard to find options page.

Key features:

  • Email reminders to complete your 750 words for the day
  • Community support and achievement badges that are used to inspire and reward you for maintaining a writing streak
  • Many export options

Basic Mind Mapping

Mind mapping applications can suffer from the same feature overload that you see in word processors. The purpose of mind mapping is to guide your thought process in a logical manner and give you a clear path or overview of your work.

While applications like Mindjet’s MindManager are incredible tools, the advanced features of these programs tend to entice users to muck around with a process that should be simple and straightforward. Advanced formatting and presentation features are great for sophisticated users, but these extended options tend to frustrate new mind map users.

If you’re looking for a simple mind mapping app, here’s one that’s worth a look:

Blumind

Blumind is an open source program that is lightweight and distinct because of its simple interface. Because there are no pull down menus to browse or large command buttons to distract your attention, your eyes automatically focus on the map workspace. There are also two optional and unassuming window panels on the right side of the screen that offer some formatting options, a navigation pane, and a bullet list representation of your mind map.

If you are new to mind mapping or a seasoned user, Blumind offers everything you need to develop your map in a clean no-frills format.

Key features:

  • Each node can have its own progress bar to judge the progress of an activity
  • Multiple Layout Types
  • Timer
  • You can export to a graphical format, text documents (bullet form), or the *.mm function that allows you to import your map into an open source program like Freemind.
  • Portable edition is under 1 MB is size

Conclusion

These applications are just a few of the free tools available online to help you focus your attention and maximize your writing time. And that’s what we’re all looking for  – or should be looking for — so that we can create really great work.

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