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Focus on Art, Not on Features: Simple Online Tools for Writers

Focus on Art, Not on Features: Simple Online Tools for Writers
    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.

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    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.

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    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:

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    • 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.

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    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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    Last Updated on August 16, 2018

    16 Productivity Secrets of Highly Successful People Revealed

    16 Productivity Secrets of Highly Successful People Revealed

    The same old motivational secrets don’t really motivate you after you’ve read them for the tenth time, do they?

    How about a unique spin on things?

    These 16 productivity secrets of successful people will make you reevaluate your approach to your home, work, and creative lives. Learn from these highly successful people, turn these little things they do into your daily habits and you’ll get closer to success.

    1. Empty your mind.

    It sounds counterproductive, doesn’t it?

    Emptying your mind when you have so much to remember seems like you’re just begging to forget something. Instead, this gives you a clean slate so you’re not still thinking about last week’s tasks.

    Clear your mind and then start thinking only about what you need to do immediately, and then today. Tasks that need to be accomplished later in the week can wait.

    Here’s a guide to help you empty your mind and think sharper:

    How to Declutter Your Mind to Sharpen Your Brain and Fall Asleep Faster

    2. Keep certain days clear.

    Some companies are scheduling “No Meeting Wednesdays,” which means, funnily enough, that no one can hold a meeting on a Wednesday. This gives workers a full day to work on their own tasks, without getting sidetracked by other duties or pointless meetings.

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    This can work in your personal life too, for example if you need to restrict Facebook access or limit phone calls.

    3. Prioritize your work.

    Don’t think every task is created equal! Some tasks aren’t as important as others, or might take less time.

    Try to sort your tasks every day and see what can be done quickly and efficiently. Get these out of the way so you have more free time and brain power to focus on what is more important.

    Lifehack’s CEO has a unique way to prioritize works, take a look at it here:

    How to Prioritize Right in 10 Minutes and Work 10X Faster

    4. Chop up your time.

    Many successful business leaders chop their time up into fifteen-minute intervals. This means they work on tasks for a quarter of an hour at a time, or schedule meetings for only fifteen minutes. It makes each hour seem four times as long, which leads to more productivity!

    5. Have a thinking position.

    Truman Capote claimed he couldn’t think unless he was laying down. Proust did this as well, while Stravinsky would stand on his head!

    What works for others may not work for you. Try to find a spot and position that is perfect for you to brainstorm or come up with ideas.

    6. Pick three to five things you must do that day.

    To Do lists can get overwhelming very quickly. Instead of making a never-ending list of everything you can think of that needs to be done, make daily lists that include just three to five things.

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    Make sure they’re things that need to be done that day, so you don’t keep putting them off.

    7. Don’t try to do too much.

    OK, so I just told you to work every day, and now I’m telling you to not do too much? It might sound like conflicting advice, but not doing too much means not biting off more than you can chew. Don’t say yes to every work project or social engagement and find yourself in way over your head.

    8. Have a daily action plan.

    Don’t limit yourself to a to-do list! Take ten minutes every morning to map out a daily action plan. It’s a place to not only write what needs to be done that day, but also to prioritize what will bring the biggest reward, what will take the longest, and what goals will be accomplished.

    Leave room for a “brain dump,” where you can scribble down anything else that’s on your mind.

    9. Do your most dreaded project first.

    Getting your most dreaded task over with first means you’ll have the rest of the day free for anything and everything else. This also means that you won’t be constantly putting off the worst of your projects, making it even harder to start on it later.

    10. Follow the “Two-Minute Rule.”

    The “Two-Minute Rule” was made famous by David Allen. It’s simple – if a new task comes in and it can be done in two minutes or less, do it right then. Putting it off just adds to your to-do list and will make the task seem more monumental later.

    11. Have a place devoted to work.

    If you work in an office, it’s no problem to say that your cubicle desk is where you work every day.

    But if you work from home, make sure you have a certain area specifically for work. You don’t want files spread out all over the dinner table, and you don’t want to feel like you’re not working just because you’re relaxing on the couch.

    Agatha Christie never wrote at her desk, she wrote wherever she could sit down. Ernest Hemingway wrote standing up. Thomas Wolfe, at 6’6″ tall, used the top of his refrigerator as a desk. Richard Wright wrote on a park bench, rain or shine.

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    Have a space where, when you go there, you know you’re going to work. Maybe it’s a cafe downstairs, the library, or a meeting room. Whenever and wherever works for you, do your works there.

    12. Find your golden hour.

    You don’t have to stick to a “typical” 9–5 schedule!

    Novelist Anne Rice slept during the day and wrote at night to avoid distractions. Writer Jerzy Kosinski slept eight hours a day, but never all at once. He’d wake in the morning, work, sleep four hours in the afternoon, then work more that evening.

    Your golden hour is the time when you’re at your peak. You’re alert, ready to be productive, and intent on crossing things off your to-do list.

    Once you find your best time, protect it with all your might. Make sure you’re always free to do your best uninterrupted work at this time.

    13. Pretend you’re on an airplane.

    It might not be possible to lock everyone out of your office to get some peace and quiet, but you can eliminate some distractions.

    By pretending you’re on an airplane, you can act like your internet access is limited, you’re not able to get something from your bookcase, and you can’t make countless phone calls.

    Eliminating these distractions will help you focus on your most important tasks and get them done without interruption.

    14. Never stop.

    Writers Anthony Trollope and Henry James started writing their next books as soon as they finished their current work in progress.

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    Stephen King writes every day of the year, and holds himself accountable for 2,000 words a day! Mark Twain wrote every day, and then read his day’s work aloud to his family to get their feedback.

    There’s something to be said about working nonstop, and putting out continuous work instead of taking a break. It’s just a momentum that will push you go further./

    15. Be in tune with your body.

    Your mind and body will get tired of a task after ninety minutes to two hours focused on it. Keep this in mind as you assign projects to yourself throughout the day, and take breaks to ensure that you won’t get burned out.

    16. Try different methods.

    Vladimir Nabokov wrote the first drafts of his novels on index cards. This made it easy to rearrange sentences, paragraphs, and chapters by shuffling the cards around.

    It does sound easier, and more fun, than copying and pasting in Word! Once Nabokov liked the arrangement, his wife typed them into a single manuscript.

    Same for you, don’t give up and think that it’s impossible for you to be productive when one method fails. Try different methods until you find what works perfectly for you.

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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