Principles of Distraction Free Writing Apps

Recently, distraction free writing and apps which promise a distraction free writing environment are more and more preferred over traditional word processors.

At MonsterWriter we spend a considerable amount of time thinking about distraction in a writing process and what features a writing application should have in order to provide the very best productivity. This article gives you an overview of what we think causes distraction and how distraction free writing applications - especially MonsterWriter - mitigate sources of distraction.

Table of Contents

  1. 1. Don't Think About Page Layout While Writing
  2. 2. Don't Think About Formatting While Writing
  3. 3. Don't Read Cryptical Markups Within the Text
  4. 4. Writing without the need to grab the mouse all the Time
  5. 5. An Uncluttered User Interface
  6. 6. Showing You the Word Count All the Time 
  7. 7. Don't spend time creating complicated things manually

Don't Think About Page Layout While Writing

Traditional word processor applications force you to think about the layout of your text all the time. Meaning, they make you think how your text looks like when it is printed. This is because they displays the text in a page layout while you are writing it. So, you see where a page ends and where a page starts. This results in the constant effort trying to fix the layout of the text while composing it.

This gets really frustrating when you have to insert new content at the beginning or in the middle of your writing. Once something has been inserted somewhere in the middle of the document the layout of the following pages is usually broken. Images are on different pages now, headings are placed as the last element of a page. Widow and orphan text lines are placed all over the document.

This disaster not only happens when you insert or change content somewhere in the middle but also when you decide to change the page settings. Another page size, other page margins, other font sizes, and so on.

Writing applications try to solve this problem since a long time. The common trend is to move away from the WYSIWYG (What you see is what you get) idea and use concepts like MarkdownLaTeX or WYSIWYM (What you see is what you mean). You can read more why we think WYSIWYM is the right way to go in section [section: Don't Think About Formatting While Writing] or about the trade-of of Markup, LaTeX in section [section: Don't Read Cryptical Markups Within the Text].

Don't Think About Formatting While Writing

When you write content it is not only the layout which is unimportant in this moment but also in which font-size and color the content is formatted in. At some point you have to care about such things but definitely not while you are writing.

A big distraction source we observed is the fact that people are using spaces and newlines to format/layout their document. For example, they insert newlines between headings and paragraphs because they want a certain visual distance between them. Another pitfall is the usage of spaces to indent the first line of a paragraph. Once you have started formatting your document like this, you will be doomed to fix all those paddings over and over.

Modern text processors provide features for solving those kind of things but they are hidden and the majority of users just does not know about them.

What you see is what you mean applications just do not allow you to insert newlines and spaces randomly (you are invited to try it out in MonsterWriter). Just because it does not make sense from a semantic perspective.

This seems like a hard restriction at the first glance but it takes away the temptation to bother with unimportant thinks. And the best part, without those manual layout workarounds automatic typesetting applications can take care of bringing your content into a page format.

Don't Read Cryptical Markups Within the Text

LaTeX and especially Markdown has a huge fanbase. Anyway we think it is unintuitive to work on content which looks like the source code of a computer program. We admit, markdown isn't complicated to learn but when I read my parts of my content over and over again, I do not want to see cryptical markups in it.

Writing without the need to grab the mouse all the Time

One of the benefits why Markdown is so successful is the fact that can do all necessary formatting with the keyboard. There is no need to move your hand to the mouse all the time.

We think you can have the best of both worlds, using markups and not seeing them. This way they become just a short cut. For example in MonsterWriter you can use the mouse to transform a paragraph section into a heading one, two, .. section or you can simply insert "", "## ", "### " as the first characters in the paragraph. Try it out, it provides an incredible workflow.

An Uncluttered User Interface

This is what most of the existing tools are about when it comes to distraction free writing. Showing as less controls as possible. Indeed, we think it's a good idea.

Showing You the Word Count All the Time 

Really? What is the main goal of your text? Hitting a word count or transporting a message to the reader? Focus on the second and spend your energy to phrase the message. Do not spend time blowing up a text artificial in order to hit a word count.

Don't spend time creating complicated things manually

Especially when it comes to writing more complex documents like a bachelor thesis you need a table of content, captions for tables, images, .. cross references, references to other sources, a bibliography, footnotes, heading numbering, formulas, code listings, and so on. Check it out how easy this is using our tool.