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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.

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    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).

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      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.

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            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.

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            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!

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              The Ultimate Way to get to Inbox Zero

              The Ultimate Way to get to Inbox Zero

              Ah, Inbox Zero. An achievement that so many of us long for. It’s elusive. It’s a productivity benchmark. It’s an ongoing battle.

              It’s also unnecessary.

              Don’t get me wrong, the way Inbox Zero was initially termed is incredibly valuable. Merlin Mann coined the phrase years ago and what he has defined it as goes well beyond the term itself.

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              Yet people have created their own definition of Inbox Zero. They’re not using it with the intent that Mann suggested. Instead, it’s become about having nothing left in immediate view. It’s become about getting your email inbox to zero messages or having an empty inbox on your desk that was once filled with papers. It’s become about removing visual clutter.

              But it’s not about that. Not at all.

              Here’s what it actually is, as defined by Mann:

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              “It’s about how to reclaim your email, your atten­tion, and your life. That “zero?” It’s not how many mes­sages are in your inbox–it’s how much of your own brain is in that inbox. Especially when you don’t want it to be. That’s it.” – Merlin Mann

              The Fake Inbox Zero

              The sense of fulfillment one gets from clearing out everything in your inbox is temporary at best, disappointing at worst. Often we find that we’re shooting for Inbox Zero just so that we can say that we’ve got “everything done that needed to be done”. That’s simply not the case.

              Certainly by removing all of your things that sit in your inbox means that they are either taken care of or are well on their way to being taken care of. The old saying “out of sight, out of mind” is often applied to clearing out your inbox. But unless you’ve actually done something with the stuff, it’s either not worth having in your inbox in the first place or is still sitting in your “mental inbox”. You have to do something with the stuff, and for many people that is a hard thing to do. That’s why Inbox Zero – as defined by Mann – is not achieved as often as many people would like to believe. It’s this “watered down” concept of Inbox Zero that is completed instead. You’ve got no email in your inbox and you’ve got no paper on your desk’s inbox. So that must mean you’re at Inbox Zero.

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              Until the next email arrives or the next document comes your way. Then you work to get rid of those as quickly as possible so that you can get back to Inbox Zero: The Lesser again. If it’s something that can be dealt with quickly, then you get there. But if they require more time, then soon you’ve got more stuff in your inboxes. So you switch up tasks to get to the things that don’t require as much time or attention so that you can get closer to this stripped down variation of Inbox Zero. However, until you deal with the bigger items, you don’t quite get there. Some people feel as if they’ve let themselves (or others) down if they don’t get there. And that, quite frankly, is silly. That’s why this particular version of Inbox Zero doesn’t work.

              So what’s the ultimate way to get to Inbox Zero? Have zero inboxes.

              The inbox is meant to be a stop along the way to your final destination. It’s the place where stuff sits until you’re ready to put it in the place where it sits until you’re ready to deal with it. So why not skip the inbox altogether? Why not put it in the place where it sits until you’re ready to deal with it? Because that requires immediate action. It means you need to give the item some thought and attention. You need to step back and look at it rather than file it. that’s why we have a catch-all inbox, both for email and for analog items. It’s allows us to only look at these things when we’re ready to do so.

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              The funny thing is that we can decide when we’re ready to without actually looking at the inbox beforehand. We can look at things on our own watch rather than when we are alerted to or feel the need to. There is no reason why you need an inbox at all to store things for longer than it sits there before you see it. None. It’s a choice. And the choice you should be making is how to deal with things when you first see them rather than when to deal with things you haven’t looked at yet.

              Stop Faking It

              Seeing things in your inboxes is simply using your sight. Looking at things in your inbox when you first see them is using insight.

              Stop checking email more than twice per day. Turn off your alerts. Put your desk’s inbox somewhere that it can be accessed by others and accessed by you when you’re ready to deal with what’s in it. Don’t put it on your desk – that’s productivity poison.

              If you want to get to Inbox Zero — the real Inbox Zero — then get rid of those stops along the way. You’ll find that by doing that you’ll be getting more of the stuff you really want done finished much faster, rather than see them moving along at the speed of not much more than zero.

              Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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