Distraction-free writing on the Linux desktop

Distractions. They’re everywhere. Believe it or not, one of the biggest sources of distractions is your computer desktop. Email notifications. IM windows. Your Web browser. Even that nifty rotating wallpaper you have.

For a writer, distractions are not only annoying they also put a huge dent in your productivity. More distractions mean less time writing which equals less written and (for the pro) less money earned. Neither is a good situation to be in.

When I want to focus on writing and not have my attention pulled away by email, RSS feeds, or anything else I fire up a distraction-free editor (also called a full-screen editor). This kind of app literally blanks your screen, giving you an empty canvas on which to type. The goal is, obviously, to fill that canvas with words.

In the following paragraphs, I look at a few of my favourite Open Source distraction-free editors.

Note: You’ll notice the word room in the names of most of the editors that I discuss in this post. That comes from the original distraction-free editor, WriteRoom.

TextRoom

My favourite distraction-free editor is TextRoom. I’ve written about TextRoom elsewhere, and it has several features that I really like. The ones that have grown on me are timed writing and the live word count that appears at the bottom of the screen.

While I like TextRoom, it’s starting to become a bit more than the simple editor that I grew to like. The developers have added features like the ability to bold, italic, underline, and change font, font size and color; background images; typewriter sound effects when you type; and a spelling checker. Not that those are bad things, but I’m more interested in writing. I have utilities to, for example, check spelling when I’m done.

That said, I still think TextRoom is a great app. If it wasn’t, I wouldn’t be using it …

PyRoom

PyRoom is what I think a distraction-free editor should be. Simple, lightweight, and with a minimum of features.

How simple is it? It’s just me and my text. No spelling checker, no formatting. I can open and work on multiple files (though I rarely do), and it comes with a number of themes. The themes simply change the background and font colours, and the size of the text editing area. I like the default theme, although I sometimes play around with others.

As its name suggests, PyRoom is written in Python. You’ll need Python and a couple of bindings installed, but most Linux distros either pack them or make them easy to install.

RubyRoom

RubyRoom is very similar to PyRoom. It’s written in the Ruby programming language, and is bare bones in the extreme.

It packs running word and character counts, which appear at the bottom of the screen, and you can change foreground/background colours and the editor’s font. Other than that, it’s just You, Your text, and Yourself (as the RubyRoom Web site says).

To use RubyRoom, you’ll need Ruby installed on your computer. You’ll also need the Ruby-GNOME2 bindings.

Gedit

You’re probably thinking Hold on, isn’t Gedit the default text editor for GNOME? It is. But recent versions of Gedit also allow you to turn it into a distraction-free editor.

How? Just press F11. You get your text, and nothing else. Well, not quite. If you move your mouse cursor to the top of the screen, a basic toolbar appears.

If you’re a regular user of Gedit, you’ve probably remembered keyboard shortcuts for various functions of the editor. You get the best of both worlds: the flexibility of Gedit and the usefulness of a distraction-free editor. And you don’t have to install any new software!

Final thoughts

I know that distraction-free editors aren’t for everyone. In fact, there are a few people whose feelings about them border on hatred. But I find distraction-free editors extremely useful. There have been times when they’ve helped me get work done during deadline crunches.

Photo credit: kuhar from Photoxpress

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