Permanent Tourist

The personal website of Mark Howells-Mead

Cutting out the chaff

I wrote a while back about retaining focus on things I’m working on. It’s working out quite well – as far as working in a busy team with several projects on the go at the same time allows — and I’ve already been able to start completing work more quickly and stop my attention drifting off onto other projects.

In order to help me retain focus on project work, documentation and online authoring, I have found iA Writer, a text editor by Information Architects, really useful. As creator Oliver Reichenstein said in a recent article, authors – especially those writing for online publication – often spend far too much time formatting their text instead of just writing.

The visual appearance of a programme is important to me and so the attractive, monospaced font face and the lack of unnecessary tools is a real selling point. The really plain full-screen mode in the programme removes all distractions from the screen and presents an improved, modern-day equivalent of the typewriter. Only the text, a simple blue cursor and the ubiquitous red dotted line to indicate a spelling mistake are on the screen; even the regular toolbar at the top of the Mac screen, containing the clock, is banished to provide a pure writing environment. The red line is also mercifully absent in the majority of cases; the automatic spelling corrector – once confined to the iOS mobile operating system – is now not only built in to the iPad and iPhone versions of the programme, but also into the desktop version. And it even works well; responding automatically to spelling in a variety of languages.

Focus mode is an additional, optional feature which allows the author to concentrate even further. Only the current sentence is highlighted, leaving the remaining text on the screen but in a less prominent colour. This may seem to be overkill and for some authors, this may be the case. But when you’re working on a longer piece of text yet looking to write concisely, this focus mode helps the author to ensure that the sentences don’t go on and on. (A crime to which I’m ashamed to plead guilty.)

In summary, I’d recommend the programme to anyone who spends any amount of time writing documentation, or prose, or poetry. Or, indeed, any kind of text which could be improved by a lack of unnecessary formatting. I’d recommend the programme to any blog author, or anyone who has to write concept documentation. Anyone who has trouble writing concisely, who is regularly distracted by the Twitter app or by incoming emails, or who simply wants to hark back to a less cluttered time, before the piece of paper beneath the ribbon was surrounded by flashing lights and electronic distractions. It’ll be the best five dollars you spend on computer software in the foreseeable future.

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