Advertising
Advertising

Lifehack Presents: The WriteMonkey Mini User Guide

Lifehack Presents: The WriteMonkey Mini User Guide

    There is a lot of attention given to “distraction free” and Markdown writing environments now-a-days, but most of them being for the Mac. There seems to be a lack of these environments on the PC. In my quest to find a Markdown editor for Windows I came across WriteMonkey. WriteMonkey gives the user “an extremely stripped down user interface, leaving you alone with your thoughts and your words”.

    I would say that’s about right.

    Anyways, let’s dive into WriteMonkey for Windows and show you what you can do with it.

    Installing WriteMonkey

    Installing WriteMonkey is a little different than the normal “click, click, click” type of Windows installation. First download the WriteMonkey zip file from their site and then extract it to the Programs folder on your machine. Once that is done you will have a WriteMonkey executable there that you can run or create a shortcut for your desktop or quick launch.

    First run

    Remember how I said that WriteMonkey is a distraction free writing environment? Well, on the first run of the program, WriteMonkey will remind you of that by making itself full screen. Your start menu goes away, title bars, everything. You could just start writing this way, but if you want to get out of this mode simply hit the escape button to get back to a windowed screen.

    Advertising

    You will notice that your title bar of your window says “SCRATCH”. This is the default name for a new window, kind of like a scratchpad. You will also notice that there is no menu bar. To get to all of WM’s options simply right-click the screen.

    Options galore

    I sort of lied when I told you that WM was a distraction-free writing environment. At first glance it looks that way, but after you dig in, especially to the preferences, you will be distracted. But, the nice thing here is that there is some handy things that you can do in the settings of WM. Let’s walk through them now. First, to get to your preferences menu. You can right-click and choose “Preferences”, or simply hit F10.

    Adjust your colors, font, and display

      Adjust colors and fonts

      The “Screen Elements” tab will allow you to change your font and the colors of your screen. You can change the font to any font you have installed in Windows. My personal favorite is to have a Consolas font with a darkish gray background and off-white text. But that’s just me.

      There is also a nice feature called “Save to permanent slot”. After you have made your color changes, by clicking this you can save your color and font scheme to easily switch back and forth.

      Adjust your screen elements

      In screen elements you can enable the Info bar that shows at the bottom of your screen. You can see the name of your file, how many words you have committed, the current time, and even the status of your file.

      You will notice a check box called “Show visual progress bar”. This option will enable a bar along the bottom of your window that shows how far you are in the word count that you can limit to yourself under the “Progress” option (F12).

      Advertising

      To get a menu bar back in windowed mode, click “More” and choose “Show standard menu bar in windowed mode”.

      Open & Save

      The Open & Save tab give you options of what you’d like to see on startup, how you want the program to launch and shut down, and even gives you an option to make incremental backups to a certain directory. Also, if you want to keep WM running even when you “x-out” the program, you can enable a “soft-exit” that will minimize it to the system tray rather than closing it completely.

        Setup replacement text

        Replacements

        The replacements tab lets you setup special text “snippets” that expand to whatever you want them to. For instance, you can use the snippet “/sig” to insert your name, or “aaddr” to insert your address. Snippets are a very handy way to save some time while writing.

        Jumps

          Use Jumps to navigate

          Jumps allow you to include regular expressions to identify special headings and markdown syntax so you can use the Jumps menu to navigate your document. If you are using Markdown (which you should be, by the way), you can open the Jumps dialog by right clicking and selecting “Jumps” or simply using ALT+J. With Jumps you can simply click on the headings, bookmarks, and paragraphs that you want to go to. It makes navigating your document a breeze, especially if it is long-winded.

          Also, to bookmark something in your text (so the Jumps menu will see it), right-click and choose “Bookmark” or press ALT+M. There will be two ‘@’ symbols that are entered. After them, type the name of your bookmark without spaces. Then you will see it in your bookmarks menu.

            Lookup things from your document

            Lookups

            Lookups are pretty darn amazing. Basically, you can select some text out of your document, hit a key combination, and your browser will open to whatever search engine you would like and search for the highlighted text. Need a Brittany Spears picture for you 500 word masterpiece? No problem. Select “Brittany Spears” and press ALT+4. This will search for her in a Google Image search.

            Advertising

            You can also setup other search engines and use the [lookup] string to append the text to the search query. For instance, if you wanted to use DuckDuckGo as a search engine, you could create a new lookup and give it this URL:

            http://duckduckgo.com/?q=[lookup]

            Profiles

            If you have gone crazy tweaking and customizing the look, feel, and options for WM, you can go ahead and create a profile to save them. Press F10, click on the “Profile” button on the bottom left, type in the name you want to save the profile as in the “Profile name” box and press “Save”.

            You can create a number of different profiles and switch back and forth with the profile’s screen. Nice.

            Markdown support

            The reason that I found WM was because I was looking for a Markdown editor for Windows. There are so many of them for Mac that it’s sort of hard making the decision. But for Windows, the choices are much more limited. WM does a decent job of handling Markdown and also exporting it as HTML to be used for web writing.

            We won’t go into how to write in Markdown (because we already have), but there are some niceties that WM affords a Markdown user like being able to highlight and bold something by pressing the standard Windows Ctrl+B, or italicizing by Ctrl+I.

            Advertising

            Export

            Here is where WM excels. If you know how to use Markdown and are anywhere close to being decent with CSS, then you can create some exporting options that can help you produce finished documents for web or even for PDF and printing.

              Markup export

              To export your writing right-click and choose “Markup export” or press Ctrl+Shift+E. From here you have some options. You can export to Print preview, export to your default web browser, or even export to Microsoft Word. When you are exporting you can choose a stylesheet that will format you text in a certain way, edit the stylesheet and use it, or even get some additional templates from the WM site (that is, when they become available).

              Usually my process is to export to my default web browser, right-click in the web browser window, select view source, and then copy my HTML output from there and use it. I do wish that there was an option to export to HTML so it got rid of the middle steps, but for now this is acceptable, especially because of all the other awesome stuff that WM can do.

              You can also choose to export the file that you are creating to a folder so you can use it or save it for later by clicking the “Export to folder” box.

              Conclusion

              If you are looking for a writing application / Markdown editor for Windows, the WriteMonkey is the choice. There may be a few others out there, but none that come close to what WM can do. With its fullscreen mode, Replacements feature, and markup export options, WM is hands-down the best Markdown editor for Windows.

              There is a lot to the program and this mini guide just touched the surface to the cool things that you can do with WM. Happy writing!

              More by this author

              CM Smith

              A technologist and writer who shares advice on personal productivity, creativity and how to use technology to get things done.

              5 Project Management Tools to Get Your Team on Track To Automate or not to Automate Your Personal Productivity System How to Beat Procrastination: 29 Simple Tweaks to Make Design Is Important: How To Fail At Blogging 7 Tools to Help Keep Track of Goals and Habits Effectively 6 Unexpected Ways Journaling Every Day Will Make Your Life Better

              Trending in Lifehack

              1 A Review of the Book “The Art of Learning” 2 The Lifehack Show: How Exercise Slows Aging with Judy Foreman 3 5 Steps To Move Out Of Stagnancy In Life 4 The Lifehack Show: Overcoming Anxiety Through Personal Agency with Dr. Paul Napper 5 The Lifehack Show: On Friendship and Belonging with Dr. Kyler Shumway

              Read Next

              Advertising
              Advertising
              Advertising

              Last Updated on March 17, 2020

              A Review of the Book “The Art of Learning”

              A Review of the Book “The Art of Learning”

              Josh Waitzkin has led a full life as a chess master and international martial arts champion, and as of this writing he isn’t yet 35. The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance chronicles his journey from chess prodigy (and the subject of the movie Searching for Bobby Fischer) to world championship Tai Chi Chuan with important lessons identified and explained along the way.

                Marketing expert Seth Godin has written and said that one should resolve to change three things as a result of reading a business book; the reader will find many lessons in Waitzkin’s volume.  Waitzkin has a list of principles that appear throughout the book, but it isn’t always clear exactly what the principles are and how they tie together.  This doesn’t really hurt the book’s readability, though, and it is at best a minor inconvenience.  There are many lessons for the educator or leader, and as one who teaches college, was president of the chess club in middle school, and who started studying martial arts about two years ago, I found the book engaging, edifying, and instructive.

                Waitzkin’s chess career began among the hustlers of New York’s Washington Square, and he learned how to concentrate among the noise and distractions this brings. This experience taught him the ins and outs of aggressive chess-playing as well as the importance of endurance from the cagey players with whom he interacted.  He was discovered in Washington Square by chess teacher Bruce Pandolfini, who became his first coach and developed him from a prodigious talent into one of the best young players in the world.

                The book presents Waitzkin’s life as a study in contrasts; perhaps this is intentional given Waitzkin’s admitted fascination with eastern philosophy.  Among the most useful lessons concern the aggression of the park chess players and young prodigies who brought their queens into the action early or who set elaborate traps and then pounced on opponents’ mistakes.  These are excellent ways to rapidly dispatch weaker players, but it does not build endurance or skill.  He contrasts these approaches with the attention to detail that leads to genuine mastery over the long run.

                Advertising

                According to Waitzkin, an unfortunate reality in chess and martial arts—and perhaps by extension in education—is that people learn many superficial and sometimes impressive tricks and techniques without developing a subtle, nuanced command of the fundamental principles.  Tricks and traps can impress (or vanquish) the credulous, but they are of limited usefulness against someone who really knows what he or she is doing. Strategies that rely on quick checkmates are likely to falter against players who can deflect attacks and get one into a long middle-game.  Smashing inferior players with four-move checkmates is superficially satisfying, but it does little to better one’s game.

                He offers one child as an anecdote who won many games against inferior opposition but who refused to embrace real challenges, settling for a long string of victories over clearly inferior players (pp. 36-37).  This reminds me of advice I got from a friend recently: always try to make sure you’re the dumbest person in the room so that you’re always learning.  Many of us, though, draw our self-worth from being big fish in small ponds.

                Waitzkin’s discussions cast chess as an intellectual boxing match, and they are particularly apt given his discussion of martial arts later in the book.  Those familiar with boxing will remember Muhammad Ali’s strategy against George Foreman in the 1970s: Foreman was a heavy hitter, but he had never been in a long bout before.  Ali won with his “rope-a-dope” strategy, patiently absorbing Foreman’s blows and waiting for Foreman to exhaust himself.  His lesson from chess is apt (p. 34-36) as he discusses promising young players who focused more intensely on winning fast rather than developing their games.

                Waitzkin builds on these stories and contributes to our understanding of learning in chapter two by discussing the “entity” and “incremental” approaches to learning. Entity theorists believe things are innate; thus, one can play chess or do karate or be an economist because he or she was born to do so.  Therefore, failure is deeply personal.  By contrast, “incremental theorists” view losses as opportunities: “step by step, incrementally, the novice can become the master” (p. 30).  They rise to the occasion when presented with difficult material because their approach is oriented toward mastering something over time.  Entity theorists collapse under pressure.  Waitzkin contrasts his approach, in which he spent a lot of time dealing with end-game strategies
                where both players had very few pieces.  By contrast, he said that many young students begin by learning a wide array of opening variations.  This damaged their games over the long run: “(m)any very talented kids expected to win without much resistance.  When the game was a struggle, they were emotionally unprepared.”  For some of us, pressure becomes a source of paralysis and mistakes are the beginning of a downward spiral (pp. 60, 62).  As Waitzkin argues, however, a different approach is necessary if we are to reach our full potential.

                A fatal flaw of the shock-and-awe, blitzkrieg approach to chess, martial arts, and ultimately anything that has to be learned is that everything can be learned by rote.  Waitzkin derides martial arts practitioners who become “form collectors with fancy kicks and twirls that have absolutely no martial value” (p. 117).  One might say the same thing about problem sets.  This is not to gainsay fundamentals—Waitzkin’s focus in Tai Chi was “to refine certain fundamental principles” (p. 117)—but there is a profound difference between technical proficiency and true understanding.  Knowing the moves is one thing, but knowing how to determine what to do next is quite another.  Waitzkin’s intense focus on refined fundamentals and processes meant that he remained strong in later round while his opponents withered.  His approach to martial arts is summarized in this passage (p. 123):

                Advertising

                “I had condensed my body mechanics into a potent state, while most of my opponents had large, elegant, and relatively impractical repertoires.  The fact is that when there is intense competition, those who succeed have slightly more honed skills than the rest.  It is rarely a mysterious technique that drives us to the top, but rather a profound mastery of what may well be a basic skill set.  Depth beats breadth any day of the week, because it opens a channel for the intangible, unconscious, creative components of our hidden potential.”

                This is about much more than smelling blood in the water.  In chapter 14, he discusses “the illusion of the mystical,” whereby something is so clearly internalized that almost imperceptibly small movements are incredibly powerful as embodied in this quote from Wu Yu-hsiang, writing in the nineteenth century: “If the opponent does not move, then I do not move.  At the opponent’s slightest move, I move first.”  A learning-centered view of intelligence means associating effort with success through a process of instruction and encouragement (p. 32).  In other words, genetics and raw talent can only get you so far before hard work has to pick up the slack (p. 37).

                Another useful lesson concerns the use of adversity (cf. pp. 132-33).  Waitzkin suggests using a problem in one area to adapt and strengthen other areas.  I have a personal example to back this up.  I will always regret quitting basketball in high school.  I remember my sophomore year—my last year playing—I broke my thumb and, instead of focusing on cardiovascular conditioning and other aspects of my game (such as working with my left hand), I waited to recover before I got back to work.

                Waitzkin offers another useful chapter entitled “slowing down time” in which he discusses ways to sharpen and harness intuition.  He discusses the process of “chunking,” which is compartmentalizing problems into progressively larger problems until one does a complex set of calculations tacitly, without having to think about it.  His technical example from chess is particularly instructive in the footnote on page 143.  A chess grandmaster has internalized much about pieces and scenarios; the grandmaster can process a much greater amount of information with less effort than an expert.  Mastery is the process of turning the articulated into the intuitive.

                There is much that will be familiar to people who read books like this, such as the need to pace oneself, to set clearly defined goals, the need to relax, techniques for “getting in the zone,” and so forth.  The anecdotes illustrate his points beautifully.  Over the course of the book, he lays out his methodology for “getting in the zone,” another concept that people in performance-based occupations will find useful.  He calls it “the soft zone” (chapter three), and it consists of being flexible, malleable, and able to adapt to circumstances.  Martial artists and devotees of David Allen’s Getting Things Done might recognize this as having a “mind like water.”  He contrasts this to “the hard zone,” which “demands a cooperative world for you to function.  Like a dry twig, you are brittle, ready to snap under pressure” (p. 54).  “The Soft Zone is resilient, like a flexible blade of grass that can move with and survive hurricane-force winds” (p. 54).

                Advertising

                Another illustration refers to “making sandals” if one is confronted with a journeyacross a field of thorns (p. 55).  Neither bases “success on a submissive world or overpowering force, but on intelligent preparation and cultivated resilience” (p. 55). Much here will be familiar to creative people:  you’re trying to think, but that one song by that one band keeps blasting away in your head.  Waitzkin’s “only option was to become at peace with the noise” (p. 56).  In the language of economics, the constraints are given; we don’t get to choose them.

                This is explored in greater detail in chapter 16.  He discusses the top performers, Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, and others who do not obsess over the last failure and who know how to relax when they need to (p. 179).  The experience of NFL quarterback Jim Harbaugh is also useful as “the more he could let things go” while the defense was on the field, “the sharper he was in the next drive” (p. 179).  Waitzkin discusses further things he learned while experimenting in human performance, particularly with respect to “cardiovascular interval training,” which “can have a profound effect on your ability to quickly release tension and recover from mental exhaustion” (p. 181).  It is that last concept—to “recover from mental exhaustion”—that is likely what most academics need help with.

                There is much here about pushing boundaries; however, one must earn the right to do so: as Waitzkin writes, “Jackson Pollock could draw like a camera, but instead he chose to splatter paint in a wild manner that pulsed with emotion”  (p. 85).  This is another good lesson for academics, managers, and educators.  Waitzken emphasizes close attention to detail when receiving instruction, particularly from his Tai Chi instructor William C.C. Chen.  Tai Chi is not about offering resistance or force, but about the ability “to blend with (an opponent’s) energy, yield to it, and overcome with softness” (p. 103).

                The book is littered with stories of people who didn’t reach their potential because they didn’t seize opportunities to improve or because they refused to adapt to conditions.  This lesson is emphasized in chapter 17, where he discusses “making sandals” when confronted with a thorny path, such as an underhanded competitor.  The book offers several principles by which we can become better educators, scholars, and managers.

                Celebrating outcomes should be secondary to celebrating the processes that produced those outcomes (pp. 45-47).  There is also a study in contrasts beginning on page 185, and it is something I have struggled to learn.  Waitzkin points to himself at tournaments being able to relax between matches while some of his opponents were pressured to analyze their games in between.  This leads to extreme mental fatigue: “this tendency of competitors to exhaust themselves between rounds of tournaments is surprisingly widespread and very self-destructive” (p. 186).

                Advertising

                The Art of Learning has much to teach us regardless of our field.  I found it particularly relevant given my chosen profession and my decision to start studying martial arts when I started teaching.  The insights are numerous and applicable, and the fact that Waitzkin has used the principles he now teaches to become a world-class competitor in two very demanding competitive enterprises makes it that much easier to read.

                I recommend this book to anyone in a position of leadership or in a position that requires extensive learning and adaptation.  That is to say, I recommend this book to everyone.

                More About Learning

                Featured photo credit: Jazmin Quaynor via unsplash.com

                Read Next