07 January 2008

WriteRoom experiment

Last week I started to experiment with a word processing program from my Mac OSX called WriteRoom. Over the weekend, I decided to pay out the credits for the registered version (supporting Shareware!) and start using it regularly. I didn't come to the decision easily, but after weight the various pros and cons of the program, I decided to give it a long-term test.

WriteRoom's site describes it as a "full screen writing environment," not strictly a word-processor, "for people who enjoy the simplicity of a typewriter, but live in the digital world." I myself do not 'enjoy' the simplicity of a typewriter; I like typewriters strictly for their nostalgia value, and acknowledge that with computers I can get much more done much more efficiently, especially in the realm of revisions. However, what WriteRoom tries to achieve is a 'no-frills' writing experience where it is only the writer and the words on the page. As the site describes it:

Walk into WriteRoom, and watch your distractions fade away. Now it's just you and your text. WriteRoom is a place where your mind clears and your work gets done. When your writing is complete, exit WriteRoom and re-enter the busy world with your work in hand.
No menus, no pop-ups, no extraenous features. Just you, blank page, and words you put on it. Just prisoners and the worlds they have made. The whole screen fills with the writing environment, rendered in colors that lovingly recall a green monochrome Apple II:

You can manipulate the appearance, of course. I've set mine to appear larger, and made Courier New 12-point the default font (this is the standard fonts for manuscripts, and although it isn't elegant, I've found it reads the easiest on the computer screen: clear, unambigious, uncrowded). You can even change the screen colors, but I wouldn't recommend an orange screen with lavendar letters; the soothing green-on-black is miraculously easy to work with. Documents either save as text or rich-text, and therefore any other word processor can open them.

At first I wasn't sold on WriteRoom because I knew I would have to switch back and forth between it and Microsoft Word, which has essential features I need like page numbers, style types, formatting, etc. Microsoft Word is much easier for doing revisions as well; WriteRoom doesn't skip around documents that well and text manipulation isn't as smooth as Microsoft Word.

However, I did notice a distinct difference when I used WriteRoom to produce first draft work, the part of writing where I'm just hammering down new words. It really is distraction-free, and I found I much more easily entering an ‘author trance’ in the black screen/green words mode. It does have a way of focusing you on nothing other than the words.

So I decided to implement WriteRoom and divide my writing between it and Microsoft Word. For first drafts it's WriteRoom, but then I'll transfer those documents into Word where they will be formatted for printing and revisions. Over the next year I'll see if WriteRoom turns into a benefit or just an interesting idea.

Update: A deeper look at WriteRoom over at Black Gate.