Or you could buy a pencil and notepad
You sit down to write. A blank Word document is opened. Your work is going to be the next Harry Potter. Well, after you deal with this email. And you might as well see what those Facebook and Twitter notifications were all about. All right, back to your masterpiece. Ignore that Skype call.
Technology can make it easier for anyone to write and get their work out there, but it also creates more distractions than ever. This isn’t an issue for some people but for others it can cripple productivity. One answer is to put the tech away and bring out the paper and pencils. That’s all well and good unless you’re faster and more productive when typing. Unless you want to pay £393 for a wireless typewriter, you’ll probably stick to writing apps on the computer. We’ve tried and tested lots of apps that promise to make your writing distraction-free and these are our top picks.
Ommwriter is one of the best distraction-free writing tools available for Windows, OSX and the iPad. The word processor takes up your entire screen and fills it with an ambient background of your choosing. There are gentle, ambient audio tracks in the background. You can mute them but a little noise is supposed to help productivity. It’s a beautiful app and will appeal to anyone who wants their writing app to emulate a “private writing room.” The creators let you choose how much to pay for the app as long as it’s more than £3.64.
Writer is a web app accessed as a Chrome extension. This means it’s available on nearly any computer including Chromebooks. It’s a minimalist experience that would look at home on Android with its Material Design aesthetic. The menu lets you turn on word count and night mode but beyond that it’s just a space to be productive. The extension costs £0.59.
Write stands out from the other options on the list because it contains loads of advanced features, especially relating to formatting, spell-checking, and navigation. Functionally it’s like a better version of Notepad but with an emphasis on hiding the advanced features unless you need them. The full-screen experience gets rid of the clutter and lets you focus on your word. It’s great for people want a distraction-free writing environment but without giving up the features we’ve come to expect from word processors. It’s free but a Pro version provides some of the more advanced features. It used to be Windows-only but there’s now a beta version available for OSX.
iA Writer is a stripped-down writing app with great passive features including a word count and an excellent estimated reading time for your text. If a feature doesn’t help you single-task, they don’t include it. The app is available for OSX (£14.99), iOS (£3.99), and Android (£0.77).
Those writing apps should help keep your mind on the text and away from your Instagram account, but danger is always an Alt-Tab away. These apps help you stay focused on the task at hand.
This app allows you to schedule time that will block those pesky social networks that keep pulling you from website. Select an amount of time to write, customise the sites you’re allowed to visit, and let it run. The app is deliberately difficult to deactivate, to rid you of the temptation to dive back into your Twitter stream. It’s available for Windows and OSX for £10.70.
SelfControl offers the same functionality as Anti-Social but with one dreadful twist: you can’t stop the block even if you turn off the computer or delete the application. Once you’ve allowed it to start cutting off access to your favourite websites and email servers, you aren’t getting back on until the time is up. Get writing! SelfControl is free and available for OSX.
StayFocusd is a free alternative to the last two apps and available on almost any platform as a Chrome extension. Choose your schedule and say goodbye to those time-sink websites. It’s easier to deactivate that the alternatives but it’s free and works on all your computers with Chrome.
The creators of the Coffitivity website have listened to research that suggests we’re more focused when there’s a little noise in the room. While some of the writing apps above have included ambient music to assist in writing, Coffitivity simulates being in a busy coffee shop. You can choose from a number of different situations, stick in your headphones, and feel transported to a virtual Starbucks. Anyone can access Coffitivity from the website but there are free iOS and Android versions available too.
A special mention goes to the most demanding writing experience ever. Write or Die 2 is a punishing word processor that won’t accept anything but constant writing. On Gentle Mode a box pops up to remind you to keep writing if you pause for too long. On Normal Mode you hear an awful, disturbing noise that doesn’t stop until you start writing again. On Kamikaze Mode you have to keep writing constantly or the application starts deleting what you’ve written! Hopefully the other apps can help you focus but if punishment is your motivator then maybe it’s worth a try! You can try out a basic web version online. The app is available for Windows, OSX and Linux for £14.81.
Good luck in your single-tasking adventures!
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