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10 apps for distraction-free, productive writing

A brief look at ten of the best distraction-free programs for writers and non-writers alike to help with productive writing.

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Using technology for more productive writing sessions

If you are a writer or even just responsible for blogging on your company website, chances are that you use your computer. The downside to using a computer? Constant distractions. From blinking icons, to Facebook notifications, and everything in between, it can be hard to focus on the task at hand. Luckily, there are several distraction-free writing programs that can prove to be useful tools for the writing process.

Some of the most useful tools the programs provide are the ability to keep track of how much you are writing. This enables you to weigh how much time you are spending writing against how much you are actually getting done and in turn, increase your productivity. It can also help you achieve your writing goals.

If you set a goal to get a certain amount of pages done in a week, the tools in these programs will help you get there by alerting you to how many pages you have done and how many you have left to go. This should give you the motivation to continue writing towards your goals. Here are ten of the most effective (in this writer’s opinion) distraction-free programs for writers:

1. WriteApp

WriteApp boasts both a mobile app and a web app. The mobile app is currently available for iOS and Android. They offer both free and premium versions. You can write in fullscreen, distraction-free mode with theming, Markdown and live previews. You have the option to keep things completely private or share. You can even send a text message to the app and they will save it for you. Not bad for a free service.

2. FocusWriter

FocusWriter is a free tool for Windows, Mac, and Linux, that offers a writer a full-screen, distraction-free writing environment. The tools are hidden at the top of the screen, so that if you need them, you can easily access them, but if you prefer to just write without any fancy add-ons you can do that as well.

FocusWriter supports customization in the form of background images, fonts, and other tools. There is also a daily goal tracker which will keep track of the amount of time you spend writing as fell as spell-checking and how much you write. This is especially helpful if you are freelancing and want to keep track of how much writing you are producing in one day, without the distraction of actually stopping to count each piece.

3. WriteMonkey

WriteMonkey is a free program for Windows users that is so distraction-free you can write an entire document without ever using your mouse. Every function and command, should you need them, can be accessed with a keyboard command. This program also supports Markup language for easy formatting. It also has a great feature for editing called “Segment Focus,” which allows you to focus on just the portion you are working with; enabling quick and easy edits, tweaks, and writing.

4. Ommwriter

Ommwriter started out as a Mac-only program, but is now available on iPad and Windows. It is free, but there is a premium version available (the only visible difference being that the premium version has more background and audio options). It is the pinnacle of what I think of as a zen-like environment. It has the option to use many different minimalist backgrounds and soothing music while you write. You can customize the size of your writing area, as well as, font and color.

Also, with Ommwriter, you can save your file as a .txt or .pdf. All of these options are tiny bubbles near the top of the page. I do not find them to be distracting, because they disappear when you are not hovering on them, but some people may prefer an absolute minimalist environment.

5. Yarny

Yarny is my personal favorite and another free service. There is a place to put ideas; things that you have not yet fully developed in to a story. Things like people, places, things, dreams, random thoughts, whatever you want; you can store them in a separate place so they are readily accessible when you begin writing.

You can tag your own writing and use the search bar on the side to filter what you have saved. In snippet view, you can reorder, group, or arrange your writing to fit your needs. And when you are ready to go distraction-free, there is a fullscreen option to allow you to focus on your writing. Yarny works with Linux, Mac (Snow Leopard, Mountain Lion, and Lion), Windows (XP, Vista, 7, and 8).

6. WriteRoom

WriteRoom is just for Mac/iPad/iPhone users. It was created as an alternative to Microsoft Word. The reviews for this are really good, but I do not like the black ground with green print, but this is my personal preference and other people love it. And since the app is $4.99, you will definitely want to check out the screenshots and reviews to make sure it is something you think you will like before you purchase. However, it does have a lot of nice features.

It is a fullscreen writing environment so that you can get the distractions out of the way and just write. WriteRoom does not have all the functionality of Word, but it does offer a quick and easy way to get your writing on the page. It offers a word count feature and auto-save. You can also sync it with Dropbox, which is nice if you write on-the-go from your iPad and want to continue on your Mac when you get home.

7. WordPress.com

WordPress yes, you read that right. You can write distraction-free from WordPress. To enable this, click on the “Toggle Fullscreen” button in the toolbar (that’s the second button from the right, in the first row, or you can use the keyboard shortcut Alt+Shift+G). When you turn this feature on, you will see a minimalist version of the toolbar, your title and the post’s content. You can still use your features, but without the distractions. Once you start writing though, the toolbar and everything else will fade away, leaving nothing but your words. You can easily get your toolbar back to check word count by simply moving the mouse around. Very cool and very free.

8. PenZen

PenZen is about as simplistic as they come. Once you click the link, you are taken to a blank web page. You simply click in the web page and begin typing. To fully enjoy the distraction-free feeling though, you will have to maximize your web page and minimize anything else (like toolbars). When you are done typing you can save to a .pdf file or download your writing. The only down side of this is that there are no features, but in a pinch, you can get your thoughts down and save them.

9. QuietWrite

QuietWrite is another app for windows that is simplistic, but effective. It is full screen, but minimalistic. It has an auto-save feature and word count, but there are not many options for customization. You just have to take it as it is.

10. Q10

Q10 is the Windows likeness of OmmWriter (before Omm adapted for Windows). You can enjoy the fullscreen and a multitude of features (just like OmmWriter) along with timed writing sessions and built-in spellcheck. When you open Q10, all you see is a black screen with a goldish-yellow type of text. But you can customize the view according to your personal liking. And there is a writing timer as well.

Nothing beats the easy of having a distraction-free environment readily available when the urge to write strikes and now you have ten great options to choose from and enjoy.

Jennifer Walpole is a Senior Staff Writer at The American Genius and holds a Master's degree in English from the University of Oklahoma. She is a science fiction fanatic and enjoys writing way more than she should. She dreams of being a screenwriter and seeing her work on the big screen in Hollywood one day.

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7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Charity Kountz

    June 16, 2013 at 10:46 am

    This is fantastic! I love the tip about WordPress, had never thought of doing that. I will definitely be trying some of these! Great post Jennifer!

  2. Darry Ross

    August 5, 2013 at 3:53 am

    On Android I would recommend dType — this is a very minimalist distraction-free writing app.

  3. Pingback: Toolkit Tuesday: Content Creation Tips and Tools for Busy Marketers • Belle Communications

  4. Pingback: 5 Tips To Blog Quicker In WordPress

  5. Jenifer

    October 16, 2015 at 5:24 am

    I know this is an old article, but with NaNoWriMo on the horizon I thought I’ve put in a word for Creawriter, which requires only a small donation to unlock full functionality and is very great for distraction free writing. 🙂

  6. Tim

    December 7, 2015 at 9:09 am

    thanks for sharing

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How to spot if your SEO, PPC, social media marketing service provider is a con-artist

(BUSINESS) When hiring a professional, did you know there are actual questions you can ask to spot a con-artist? Too often, we trust our guts and go with the gregarious person, but too much is on the line to keep doing that with your business.

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In this day and age the cult of positive thinking and “the law of attraction” are still very much alive and well in the business services industry. Here are a few simple questions that you can ask prospective business service providers to help you gauge if they are the real deal or just caught up in the fad of “say yes to everything,” or “outsource everything” being populated online by countless “thought leaders” and cult gurus.

Lots of people will ask, “What’s the harm of people trying to make something of themselves?”

Well, I’m here to tell you there is a huge harm in taking risks with a client’s money and manipulating people into trusting their “expertise” when they have none.

Business owners: Due diligence is more important than ever these days.

There are whole communities of people helping to prop each-other up as experts in fields they know nothing about while outsourcing their tasks with little or no oversight into the actual work being done on your behalf.

It is nearly impossible for you to tell if this is even going on. Don’t worry. I am here to help you avoid a con-artist.

How? By showing you how to weed out the bad actors by asking really simple questions.

This set of questions is perfect for people who need to distinguish if the expert they are talking is really just an expert in bullshit with a likeable personality.

Why do these questions work? Because people who are into this kind of stuff are rarely hesitant to talk about it when you ask them direct questions. They believe that what they are doing is a good thing and so they are more open to sharing this information with you because they think by you by asking that you are also into similar things.

It is a fun little trick I picked up while learning to do consumer polling and political surveying.

The Questions:

  • Who influences you professionally?
  • Do you follow any “thought leaders” “gurus” or coaches? If so, who?
  • What “school” of thought do you ascribe to in your profession, and where do you learn what you know?
  • Are there any industry standards you do not agree with?
  • How do you apply the services you offer to your own company?
  • Can you please tell me the background of your support staff and can I see their CV’s?
  • Do you outsource or white label any of the work your company does?
  • May we audit your process before buying your services?
  • May we discuss your proposed strategies with others in your industry to ensure quality?
  • Would you be open to speaking with an independent consultant that is knowledgeable about your industry about your proposals?
  • Can you show me examples of your past successful jobs?
  • Do you have any industry accepted certifications and how many hours of study do you do in a year to keep your knowledge up-to-date and current?
  • How many clients have you had in the past?
  • How many clients do you have currently?
  • How many clients are you able to handle at one time?
  • How many other clients do you have that are in the same industry as my company?
  • How long is your onboarding process before we start getting down to actually making changes to help solve the issues my company is facing?
  • Can you explain to me the steps you will take to identify my company’s needs?
  • Have you ever taken a course in NLP or any other similar course of study?
  • Have you ever been a part of a Multi-Level Marketing company?
  • Fun. Right? Well, we aren’t done.

    It is not just enough to ask these questions… you have to pay attention to the answers, as well as the WAY they are answering questions.

    And you also have to RESEARCH the company after you get your answers to make sure they ring true.

    You cannot keep accepting people at face value, not when the risk is to your business, employees, and clients. There is little to no risk for a person who is being dishonest about their capabilities and skill sets. They will walk away with your money, ready to go find another target for a chance meeting that seems amazingly perfect.

    Do not leave your business decisions to chance encounters at networking events. Research before saying yes.

    No matter how likeable or appealing the person you are speaking with is.

    How do you research? Easy. THE INTERNET. Look at the website of the company you are considering working with.

    • Does it look professional? (do not use your website as a standard for professional unless you have had it done by a professional)
    • Can you see a list of their past clients?
    • Do they effectively tell their story as a company or are they just selling?
    • What do their social media profiles look like? Do they have many followers? Are they updated regularly?
    • Do they have any positive reviews on social sites? (Yelp, Facebook, Linkedin, etc)

    You can also do some simple things like running SEO Website Checkers on their websites. There are tons of these online for free and they will give you a pretty good indicator of if they are using best practices on their websites – you can even do this research on their clients’ websites.

    Also, if you know anything about SpyFu, you can run their website through that to see how they are doing their own online marketing (the same can be said for their clients if they are selling this service).

    Facebook also has a cool section that shows you ads that a Page is running. You can find this info connected to their business Page as well as the Pages they manage for their clients as well. None of these things automatically disqualify a potential service provider, but their answers the question of “why” things are the way there are might be very illuminating to you as a business owner.

    This may seem like a lot of work, and it can be if you do not do these things regularly and have them down to a system, but the cost of not doing these things is way too high. A con-artist is born every day, thanks to the internet.

    You have a right as a business owner considering services from a vendor to ask these questions.

    They also have the responsibility as a service provider to answer these questions in a professional manner. Sometimes the way in which they answer the questions is far more important than the actual answer.

    If all of this seems too overwhelming for you to handle, that is okay.

    • You can ask one of your staff in your company to take on this role and responsibility.
    • You can hire someone to come in and help you with these decisions (and you can ask them all the same questions as above before taking their services).
    • You can reach out to other business owners in your network to see if they have recommendations for someone who could help you with things.
    • Heck, you can even call up companies that look like they are doing as well as you want to be doing online and ask them who they are using for their services. Try successful companies in other industries as your competitor won’t likely be interested in sharing their secrets with you…

    What is important is that you are asking questions, researching, and ultimately making sure that you are doing as much as possible to ensure making the best decision for your company.

    Final thoughts:

    “But, Jay, what’s wrong with taking a risk on an up-and-comer?”

    The answer to that is NOTHING. There is nothing wrong with taking a chance on someone. Someone being green doesn’t make them a con-artist.

    The issue I am raising is in the honest portrayal of businesses and their capabilities. It is about honesty.

    I am a huge fan of working with people who are new and passionate about an industry. But I only work with people who are honest with me about who they are, what they can do, and how their processes work.

    I have worked with tons of people who are still learning on the job. It can be quite educational for a business owner as well.

    Just make sure they are being honest about everything up front. You are no obligated to give anyone a chance when it comes to your businesses success, and it’s not right that someone might manipulate you into doing so.

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TikTok is proof that regulating social media will be complicated

(SOCIAL MEDIA) The complexities surrounding social media regulation are getting even more intense, and TikTok’s drama reveals what could be in store for other networks.

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There’s no denying the meteor-like impact that TikTok has inflicted on the social media landscape. However, the video platform’s lack of compliance with some governments’ child privacy laws is creating all sorts of sticky situations—and foreshadowing potential drama for social media platforms to come.

Since TikTok’s location of origin—China — and the United States often end up at odds with each other, it’s no surprise that the video app found itself in trouble on this side of the world. The first sign of trouble arrived early this year when the app came under fire for allowing children under the age of 13 to use TikTok to its fullest extent — a decision that exposed them to potentially inappropriate content.

Ultimately, TikTok was fined $5.7M for violating the United States’ children privacy laws.

The lawsuit did bear a positive update for TikTok: an age verification step. As of the update, children under the age of 13 can’t use the app, and anyone looking to create a profile needs to verify their age before joining. While it’s a step in the right direction, one can’t help but wonder why age verification wasn’t included in the first place.

It’s this ridiculous level of oversight that makes TikTok’s influence so dangerous. On one hand, you could feasibly argue that the app’s freedom—however brief—allowed it to proliferate far beyond its technical and geographical limitations, thus turning it into one of the hottest video apps to come about since Vine’s untimely demise.

That said, the exploitation of children—whether willingly or otherwise—is no legacy on which to build a social media platform (or anything else, if that’s not a clear line in the sand for you).

Unfortunately, future app developers may look only at TikTok’s success without questioning its methodology.

It’s worth noting that the United States isn’t the only country attempting to combat TikTok’s rampant, unregulated growth. India has also called for TikTok to increase moderation of their content in order to cut down on fake news as well as the “risky and criminal content” that gave TikTok its controversial reputation.

Hopefully, these regulations will serve as a reminder to future social media start-up endeavors that no wildfire can burn forever, but only time will tell the full extent of TikTok’s impact on the landscape.

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How to quickly make your LinkedIn profile stand out from the masses

(SOCIAL MEDIA) Most of us have a love/hate relationship with LinkedIn, but no matter your feelings, you should be the one who stands out in a crowd – here’s how.

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Your LinkedIn is your brand. That’s it. Whether you are job hunting (or people are hunting you), or are showing off your business, insight, acumen, or simply networking; your profile on LinkedIn needs to stay appealing and not drive potential headhunters, bosses, clients, or networking groups bananas.

Let’s start with a three part list of what you MUST do, what you SHOULD do, and what you COULD do.

Here’s what you MUST DO (as in, do it now).

  1. Get a #GREAT LinkedIn photo. Nothing sells you like the right profile picture. No selfies. No mountain biking. Get a professional headshot. Don’t lie about your age. Wear what you wear when you’re on the job. Smile. People are visual.
  2. Simplify your profile. Cut the buzzwords. Cut out excess skills that don’t add to your vision or that don’t represent the kind of job you want. (i.e. most of us can use Outlook but few of us need to mention that skill because we don’t support Outlook). Focus on the skills that are important.
  3. Keep it current. Your LinkedIn should reflect your career and current responsibilities. Update the description. Add new projects. Change your groups as you change in your career and move towards new levels. Indicate when you receive a promotion.
  4. Extra, Extra! Headlines. Don’t use something lame for your headline. How would you want to catch a headhunter to look at you if you could only say 10 words? Make it standout. There are thousands of managers – but only one you.
  5. Custom URL. Just do it. Pick your own URL. It’s FREEEEEEE.
  6. Get the app. Make LinkedIn a part of your mobile life and check it more often than you do Snapchat.

Here’s what you SHOULD DO (Set aside some time at Starbucks and go do this in the next month).

  1. Tell your story. Your summary should bring to live the content of your career. Don’t leave that section blank. Spend some time crafting a cool story. Run it by your professional mentor. Send it to your English major friends.
  2. Connect. Add colleagues. Add partners from other organizations. Use connections to broaden your network. Synch your profile with your address book. Add people after a conference.
  3. Endorse your connections. Identify people you’ve worked with and give them the endorsements – which can get them to come endorse you!
  4. Ask for recommendations. Ask a colleague, partner, or manager to write you a recommendation to help advertise your skills.
  5. Add a nice cover photo. Again, visual people. Some more on that here.

Here’s what you COULD DO (If you’re feeling dedicated, what you can do to give yourself an extra edge.)

  1. Share your media. Upload presentations, videos, speeches, or projects that you can share. (Don’t violate company policy though!).
  2. Publish original content. LinkedIn has a vibrant publishing feature and sharing your original work (or content you’ve published elsewhere) is a great way to share your voice.
  3. Post status updates. Share your reactions. Share articles. Repost from influencers. Be active and keep your feed vibrant.

That’s a quick list to get started. So go start your LinkedIn makeover (and I’ll go do the same). Let’s get connected!

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