Writing

Text, Only Text, and Nothing But The Text—WriteRoom, Dark Room, and DarkCopy

WriteRoom

I have been playing around with two products, WriteRoom and Dark Room, which allow users the ability to edit text in a completely isolated environment. Essentially, these editors give users the ability to focus on the text, and only the text. For the professional blogger/writer, one of these text editors might become invaluable to your writing process.

Some of you will find either of these applications to be worthy as your new primary text editor, but the rest of you will think they are far to primitive, but if you are the former, like one of my followers on Twitter, you will absolutely love the concept of being able to write without distraction.

Another user on Twitter messaged me stating that text editing tools were the last things that distracted him while writing. I find that the text editor I utilize happens to have a dramatic impact on how productive I am when writing. For example, I have a difficult time using web-based text editors (like the built-in WordPress editor), but I absolutely enjoy using an application like Windows Live Writer and ecto to write my articles.

These applications will probably generate no interest for quite a few of you, but I have already decided to incorporate WriteRoom into my workflow. It is a throwback that I absolutely love, and I am usually the one that loves the fancy interfaces.

WriteRoom

WriteRoom is the first product that was created (as Dark Room is simply a clone of WriteRoom). Built for the Mac operating system (now supporting OS X 10.4 or later), WriteRoom was designed to eliminate the common distractions that are apparent with most text editing environments today. The application eliminates formatting, graphs, spacing, pictures, and more by focusing on only the most important aspect of a writing—the words.

A few features highlighted from the WriteRoom website:

  • Full-screen editing Get free from your computer and its distractions. WriteRoom’s full-screen mode hides it all away leaving just you and your text behind.
  • Document based auto-save Your documents are stored in standard text file formats and autosaved in the background to help protect your work in case the power goes out.
  • Distraction free features The menu bar, scroll bar, and word count appear when you move your mouse to the edge of the screen.
  • ‘Retro’-fit your cursor Prefer block cursors to bars? Hate blinking cursors? WriteRoom has every combination you’d want.
  • Standalone or Edit-In Use WriteRoom on its own for all your text editing needs, or let WriteRoom be your ticket to full-screen editing for text in any compatible program.

WriteRoom is not without a price—$25 might be out of bounds for some, but I would urge everyone with a recent Mac based computer to at least give WriteRoom a try. There is a free 30 day trial, and that should be plenty of time to try the application out. However, the price is warranted because WriteRoom is continually upgraded—unfortunately, its Windows counterpart, Dark Room, does not receive the same benefit.

Dark Room

Dark Room, as mentioned before, is simply a clone of WriteRoom for the Windows platform. It is very similar in functionality, and it delivers as promised. As a matter of fact, there is almost little point in having a section for Dark Room, but there are some critical differences outside of the application itself that I must point out.

Dark Room is free, but that is also as a result of there not being as many upgrades or support. Also, and unfortunately, there is no support for Vista (yet), and this might be a turn off if you happen to use Dark Room and wish to switch to Vista in the future. Perhaps everyone should e-mail the author and ask for an upgrade. Regardless, if you are on a Windows XP machine, I think you should give it a shot—after all, it is free!

Recap

Virginia Huffernan of The New York Times put it better than I ever could have:

But if, when it comes right down to it, full screen is your holy grail, and the ultimate antidote to the bric-a-brac of Word, then you must enter the WriteRoom, the ultimate spartan writing utopia. Where Scrivener calls itself a “writer’s shed,” which suggests implements like duct tape and hoes, WriteRoom pitches itself as the way to “distraction-free writing” for “people who enjoy the simplicity of a typewriter, but live in the digital world.” With WriteRoom, you don’t compose on anything so confining as paper or its facsimile. Instead, you rocket out into the unknown, into profound solitude, and every word of yours becomes the kind of outer-space skywriting that opens “Star Wars.” What I mean is this: Black screen. Green letters. Or another color combination of your discerning choice. But nothing else.

*Emphasis added in bold type.

Oh, and did I mention that there is actually a free web-based clone of WriteRoom as well? Try DarkCopy (select full screen mode) if you want to try it out without downloading anything. I actually wrote part of this post on DarkCopy, and I really enjoy it, but you would really want to download WriteRoom or Dark Room if you wanted to work in a production environment.

Does the minimalistic full-screen view make you happy or afraid? Do you think that we have become too focused on fancy markup and formatting, that the words themselves are sometimes an after-thought?

Give WriteRoom, Dark Room, and/or DarkCopy a try and let me know what you think. It is a twist on text editing for sure, but I have already begun to believe that my productivity has improved by simply becoming less distracted.

[Image Credit: WriteRoom Main ScreenHogBaySoftware]

Author: jamesm

12 thoughts on “Text, Only Text, and Nothing But The Text—WriteRoom, Dark Room, and DarkCopy

  1. I do the same (with the exception that I take the finished product into ecto or right to my CMS) with Write Room. Great stuff! Thanks for commenting!

  2. I started using DarkRoom after reading about it on LifeHacker. I like how it makes free writing simple. I don’t have to turn off my Twitter, IM, Calendar and annoying pop ups that I need but are distractions at time. I use it for my blog post. I start with a bullet outline usually on paper. Copy that into DarkRoom start filling out my key points and ideas. Then into Word to edit and stage for post. I did use Word for everything and it works OK but I had to close all my reminders to get anything done and its a pain to disable and enable all the spellchecker and grammar stuff in Word to use when I switch from free writing to editing.

  3. I saw WriteRoom mentioned last year over at LifeHacker, and I still don’t get why people are so excited about it. I’m a romance novelist, so I write all day long, every day–with MS Word in Full Screen mode. Apart from a black background, what do these products offer a writer that Word in Full Screen doesn’t?

  4. To find some alternatives to Scrivener for the Windows guys I did some research (but no tests yet). Sorry for my German notes but I am too lazy to translate them.

    Fullscreen editor Q10
    (Software) Ein kostenloses Windows Schreibprogramm für Schreiber, die sich auf den puren Text konzentrieren wollen: “Q10 is a simple but powerful text editor designed and built with writers in mind.”

    PageFour – Software for writers – novel outliner and tabbed word processor
    (Software) Kommerzielles Schreibprogramm für Kreative: “PageFour is NOT feature heavy. The software was designed for creative writers, not corporate drones.”

    celtx – Integrated Media Pre-Production
    (Software) Eine weitere Schreibmaschine für den Kreativen als spezialisierte Alternative zu den Standardprogrammen: “Celtx is the world’s first fully integrated solution for media pre-production and collaboration.”

    yWriter4 – word processor for authors
    (Software) Die Roman-Schreibmaschine als Alternative zu den Büroboliden Word und OpenOffice. Windows alternative zur Mac-Software Scrivener. Bis jetzt ungetestet: “Free novel-writing software”

    Find the links here: http://feeds.delicious.com/rss/merz1/editor

  5. As a web publisher I do need color highlightning of source code.
    I use a couple of editors to finalize the source code.

    My actual working horses are ScribeFire and PSPad.

  6. For Windows users I recommend Q10:

    http://baara.com/q10/

    free and mall, fast and stable: Less than 360Kb in size, you don’t need huge frameworks or runtimes to use this beauty.

  7. The simple screen is appealing, but the complete lack of decent writer’s tools is not. Frankly: these apps look too much like WordStar with two broken legs. They remedy Microsoft’s idea of a word processor (MS Word 2007 eats up one-quarter of a 15″ screen with its ribbons and status bar). But it retains the crippled CUA user interface. Golly, don’t the programmers know that Bill Gates deliberately scrapped WordStar’s wonderful cursor-control and block tools purely and simply because he didn’t want to copy anything that MicroPro was doing? The world DOES need a real word-processing program – there hasn’t been one since WordStar. But it needs word worker’s tools: real-time spell check, keyboard-only operation, etc.

  8. It doesn’t really what software you use as long as you use it to write. If it makes you write more then use it. If you want to try out something like WriteRoom for free then check out

    After finishing this article, I also noticed Scrivener yesterday.

    I believe the company that makes it has an association with WriteRoom? I will have to look into it; perhaps try it out.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment!

    Edit: This is the link to Scrivener.

    Edit 2: I just played with Scrivener for a bit, and I must say it is very powerful. It would come in great use if I was writing a magazine article, or a several thousand word article for sure. Perhaps, in the future, I will be able to use it if I ever get my stuff published in magazines. It is, unfortunately, far too overkill for just the typical blog posts, but as you and I know it is intended for much more complex works or print media.

  9. As someone who slaves away with copy most days, I can’t recommend Scrivener enough. Like WriteRoom it’s got a retro “writing” mode, but it’s got so much more: the ability to outline, store pictures, clips, you name it.

    I tend to collect the material I need for a project, do a bit of planning and then write in the retro full-screen editing mode which is destraction free.

  10. I must state that if you are a user that is constantly switching between windows or multitasks like crazy, these applications are less than ideal. They are intended to be used in full-screen mode. I love the idea, and I have been using WriteRoom for around a week.

    I create my outline and content in WriteRoom, and then I simply copy and paste the finished text to ecto where I add links, pictures, and markup. It all works brilliantly in my opinion.

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