Thursday, July 03, 2008

Distraction Free Writing for Authors on Linux

There is much talk on the internet about distraction free writing on the computer. The argument mostly given in this context is that the myriad tools and options offered by any modern word processor are distracting to an author. The author is constantly tempted to try out the various features of the word processor and his attention is diverted away from the real work that he set out to do – that is, writing.

To some extent I agree with the argument and can see merit in various creative writing oriented software that I encountered on the net. WriteRoom and DarkRoom are two of these. Unfortunately, when I set out to locate some such software for Linux, I turned up a blank.

Most people suggest using any standard text editor on linux. However, all text editors on Linux are made for programmers and none for creative writers. It was surprising that the Linux community has not catered to such a simple demand.

However, worry not because most things on Linux are so configurable that it's very easy to modify existing software to your needs. I will hereby outline two methods by which you can achieve distration free writing on Linux.

1. Use nano on a console – Yes, this is the most simple and basic solution. I tried out vim and emacs on the console but what I finally liked was nano. When nano is run, it presents a blank screen for you to type. The bottom toolbar lists shortcuts for saving files, running spell check and closing the program etc. The reason I prefer nano over vim or emacs is because nano's keyboard shortcuts are very simple. Vim and emacs are much more difficult to operate. Plus, if you're computer savvy then you'll actually find vim and emacs to be distracting too. While they don't have a gui (I'm talking about console versions here) they do offer so many choices using command line that it's tempting to try them out. Use nano, it has nothing to offer and there's nothing to try out. :) Use it on fullscreen mode in konsole or better still use it on a CTR+ALT+F3 terminal. :D

The problem with nano, however, is this. You can't italicise words for emphasis. And there is no on the fly spell check. True, there is a spell check available which will highlight wrongly spelled words once it is run but it will not highlight the wrong spellings as you type like MS Word or does.

This, in fact, can be seen as a boon by many authors. I personally find it very irritating to be bothered by spelling in my first draft. I good proposed workflow is this. Write out your first draft in nano. Then copy paste the text in a modern word processor for subsequent revisions. Here you can correct spellings and make other second draft changes.

2. Use Writer in fullscreen mode – Yes, in fullscreen mode, Writer offers only one button (to exit the fullscreen), a scrollbar, an empty page and a blinking cursor. The fullscreen mode can be accessed from the View menu. You can even turn off the spelling underlining before you enter the fullscreen mode to reduce distraction. All the standard shortcuts (ctrl i,b,x,c,v etc) work. The commonest feature are accessible by right click.

Personally this is the method I prefer. I like to see my text in italics and my paragraphs justified. And I usually turn spell cheking off. We can always do that on second draft. :)

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