Writing in the Dark

Do you ever wish, when you sit down to concentrate and try to write, that you were not confronted with an array of technology? Buttons and toolbars and menus, oh my. It can make it hard to focus on the words and sentences, can’t it? And the black letters on the bright white screen are hard on the eyes, don’t you think? 

Sure, you can take a program like Word or OpenOffice to full screen temporarily, and in Word you can change the appearance to blue with white text, to help your eyes. But those things make you jump through some hoops. This delays concentration, and it’s still not quite the same as being completely alone with one’s words and sentences.

Last night I read an article in the November/December issue of Poets & Writers magazine, called "Writers Rolling Back the Revolution." It begins:

“Firing up WriteRoom, a minimalist word processor developed by Hog Bay Software, is like turning the clock back thirty years. Gone are the toolbars, the menus, and the array of options that jostle for real estate on the modern screen. In their place, the program unfolds an empty black expanse, a void that can be filled only with the monochromatic glow of unadorned text.”

I will provide a link to the entire article below.*

It seems there is a trend among writers these days, to reclaim focus and concentration that have been hijacked by the unending swells and ripples of technology’s distractions. I’ve seen several interviews and columns by accomplished wordsmiths, saying they eschew full feature software for programs that just let them capture words.

The writer Corey Doctorow wrote a post in which he explains all the tools he uses for his writing, business, and life. He wrote:

Writing: I use a plain-jane text editor that comes with Ubuntu called Gedit. It doesn’t do anything except accept text and save it and let me search and replace it. … I like writing in simple environments that don’t do anything except remember what words I’ve thought up. It helps me resist the temptation to tinker with formatting.

And he has a point. When I’m writing in Word, I’m constantly tinkering with all the bells and whistles, and trying to keep the formatting right. As if the project is headed off to the publisher tomorrow, which it’s not.

So I checked out WriteRoom, and found that it’s for Mac. But there is a clone called Dark Room, for PC. I downloaded it – free gratis – and saw first that it’s so small and light weight, that it downloaded in a few seconds, and doesn’t even install in the system registry. It just arrived, ready to work.

Dark Room is designed for writers, people who need to concentrate for a while and drain the swamp. It’s not for someone who is concerned with formatting their document for presentation, at the same time that they’re composing the text. It simply opens a blank black writing surface which fills your screen without any menus or toolbars at all. In the center is a column for writing plain text. The default is green text on black. If you click Esc or F11, the full screen shifts to a normal Window, with a basic menu. File > Edit > View > Help. Hit F11, and you’re back in full screen.

While working, the right mouse button brings up a content menu with the basics, including some Preferences. You can change the colors and the font, the width of the center writing column, and a few other thoughtful things.

Dark Room saves your work in plain text, Windows txt, the same file type used by Notepad, which has come free and installed on every PC for at least 15 years. And txt is opened easily by Word or virtually any Windows word processor on the planet. No worries about compatibility.

By the way, there’s no speelchker. Spellchkre. Spellchecker. The idea, as I see it, is to open your plain text file in Word or OpenOffice when you’re ready to format it. Spellcheck will run then. And then you can deal with editing, page format, fonts and colors, indenting, page breaks, etc. Then you can print your work when it’s pretty and fancy, or make your PDF. (Yes, you can print from Dark Room. And if you’re a true geek like me, you can make a PDF straight from Dark Room, but I won’t bore you with that.)

So if the point is to get your new ideas – your fresh writing – into the computer without the tech in the way, why not just use Notepad? Sure, I love it. Notepad is the old school #2 pencil of computing. It’s great for keeping little notes. But it’s black text on a bright white screen. And the text runs the width of the window. So either there’s distraction around the window, or your text is filling the full width of your monitor. Dark Room has the adjustable column down the center. So in full screen mode, there’s nothing else visible at all.

Or maybe you want to see a little of your computer – the desktop perhaps – without leaving full screen? Right click > Preferences. There’s a slider to adjust the opacity of the program, so you can see through it.

I used Dark Room to write this post. And the lack of distractions probably contributed to its incredible length. Then I pasted the text into Windows Live Writer, make a few adjustments, corrected a couple of typos which the spelling checker caught, added a link or two, and clicked Publish. Done.

Links

You can find and download the program free at:

http://they.misled.us/dark-room

That Poets & Writers article is here:

http://www.pw.org/content/digital_digest_writers_rolling_back_the_revolution

Corey Doctorow’s article on his tools:

http://www.locusmag.com/Perspectives/2010/07/cory-doctorow-what-i-do/

*Footnote

You might have noticed I used no in-text hyperlinks in this post, although hyperlinks are the salt and pepper of blogging. That’s because I wanted you to keep reading, not click a link and go off somewhere else. You might not come back, and if you did, that’s still a distraction. Food for thought?

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