People think writing is easy, but it’s not. It’s work, just the same as any other profession. And what’s more, it requires an immense amount of focus. If you’re like me and are easily distracted (I never could get the hang of meditation), writing can feel frustrating.
So, what do you do when you can’t focus on your writing? And furthermore, how do you minimize distractions from the get-go?
An obvious answer is to choose the right environment to work in. If you’re writing in a crowded park or coffee cafe, you’re bound to get distracted. Similarly, if your phone keeps going “ping!” every few minutes or your dog keeps trying to clamber onto your lap, you will be distracted. Those are points covered by most articles – you know them by heart by now. So I won’t repeat them.
What I want to talk about here is how to minimize distractions at a more fundamental level. That is, on your word processing software or app. You can control your environment and noise levels, but people don’t usually think about how much their word processor affects their writing process.
So let’s get started – how to minimize distractions when writing on a word processor.
Microsoft Word is an awesome piece of software, and my go-to word processor 99% of the time. However, its toolbar is awfully distracting. When you’re staring at the screen trying to make a dialogue sound natural, the toolbar doesn’t help much. Luckily this problem, at least, is easily solved. MS Word has a button in the bottom-right of the toolbar that allows you to collapse it in one click.
When the bar’s collapsed, you’ll end up with a screen that looks something like this.
Another issue I have with MS Word is that the space between pages looks strange, and feels like a bit of a block. You reach the last line of a page, and the next line’s are couple of centimeters away, feeling like it’s in a different section. There’s a mental block of a sort. Probably not distracting, but it does affect my focus. For that too, MS Word has a solution. Just double-click the space between the pages (where you see the background), and the pages will be connected without any extra space. I’m a fan of this one.
Yet another potential issue is that the page – i.e., the area in which you type – in Word is rather narrow, being as little as 50% of the total screen. As a result, you have to scroll more, and scrolling can distract some or cause them to lose their place in the document.
To solve this, you can set the page’s margins so less space is left on the top, bottom and sides. You’ll find the option to do this under the ‘Layout’ tab. Click on ‘Margins’, and select ‘Narrow’. Personally, I don’t like narrow margins and am not particularly bugged by scrolling. If you are, there’s your solution.
So that’s how you minimize distractions when writing on MS Word.
Distraction-free word processing software
Now, for some people, MS Word doesn’t do the trick. It could be that they dislike the design, prefer something simpler, or maybe they don’t use Windows. No problem, dear reader! Here are a couple of word processors (software, apps, websites) that are distraction-free to begin with, and some of these work for non-Microsoft users as well.
Notepad is great for those who want a simple, easy-to-use interface. It’s not the most visually-appealing word processor, but it certainly does the job – and it’s offline, so you don’t have to worry about downloading or syncing. Just hit Save, and you’re good to go. However, there are some ways you can further optimize your experience on Notepad – distraction-free though it is.
When figuring out how to prevent distractions when writing on a computer, always remember the cursor. It blinks all the time (although it does pause if you’re inactive and using Win 10), and that’s distracting as hell. One easy fix is to select a letter or word – just click and drag for a letter. It’s not very noticeable, and you’ll be left in peace.
If you start to find the highlighted letter distracting (which you will on Notepad – the highlight color’s dark), you can select a word/letter on a different page, and then scroll up to the page you’re working on. You’ll have to do this every time you click on the page to write/edit, but it’s less work than you’d think. If you use a mouse instead of a trackpad, it’s easier still.
Another way to get rid of the cursor is by clicking on the taskbar. I find that when writing I usually look at my keyboard so this isn’t necessary, and while editing or proofreading it’s necessary and comes in handy.
Blank Slate is a website – blankslate.io [hyperlink: http://blankslate.io]. It’s super minimalistic, with few options on the screen, and it allows formatting with Markdown so you can format your text if you want to. Personally, I prefer to leave out all formatting because I like a clean, uniform look.
For saving your work, you can either paste the entire text to a document (click on a word, then Ctrl+A, Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V), or save the file as PDF. I do the former because I like to stay offline and saving the file as PDF requires connectivity. Plus, PDF isn’t the best format for reading or editing.
Blank Slate is ideal for creating lists, preparing outlines or typing email replies (do you type straight in the reply box?), but it can definitely be used as a word processor as well. If you accidentally close the tab you can click Restore (Ctrl+Shift+T in Chrome) and the tab should be restored with all its text, but try it for yourself before you trust it with a big chunk of your work.
A possible downside could be that if your system or browser crashes, you risk losing your progress. You don’t have the option to hit Save every couple of minutes, so you may lose some work. Weigh the pros and cons and see if it’ll work for you. I think it’s another great tool that’ll help you minimize distractions when writing.
The Writer+ app
The app’s free, a couple of MBs in size, and wonderfully distraction-free. I haven’t been able to figure out a way to get rid of the blinking cursor problem on a phone, but for those of you who like to take notes or write for a couple of minutes at a time, it should work beautifully.
The Writer+ app is similar to Blank Slate in many respects, although it doesn’t need the internet. It supports Markdown, is pleasing to the eye, and is super minimalistic. When you start typing, all you see is an empty page, the keyboard, and what you’ve typed. There’s no extra baggage on the note-taking screen. No fancy options.
I’ve tried a bunch of note-taking apps so far, and the Writer+ is my favorite. It’s based on the Writer app which is largely similar (although by a different creator), but has a few extra options like folder creation. I appreciate its simplistic look, and the fact that it hasn’t changed much over the years.
So what do you think of these tips? My life’s been a lot easier since I discovered those tips about MS Word – especially since I used to work on a laptop without a mouse. I hope these were helpful!