Perhaps it’s a side-effect of the age we’re living in, but I’m easily distracted. I have three screens during the day with which to do my digital work. I have two computers. I have virtual desktops that help me stay organized. Two main email accounts. Instant Messaging. Multiple Blogs to write for. About 50 RSS Feeds that I read regularly. Podcasts. Music.
That’s just the digital daily work environment. Couple that with working in a cubical and all the pop-ins that normally happen, and anyone with as many inputs as I have would be prone to distraction, too. I’ve gotten to the point where I can’t really shut off any input without mulling over the fact that it’s gone. But… I still need to tune things out once in a while. This probably sounds like it’s akin to leaving the TV on as background noise while you work, and to some extent that’s true. There are some tasks that require a greater level of concentration. Writing is up there.
As one of my development projects at work is winding down, I’m starting to pick up the organization’s learning standards revision work that I began back in November (funny how time flies). Unfortunately, unlike my email that I normally skim through, this requires me both to read what I’ve already written and make changes based on some feedback that I received — and now append new writing and some re-organization on the side. I can listen to music as I do this, but all the windows I have open on a regular basis make it very difficult to focus my attention. And, call me nitpick-y, even the various toolbars and formatting in all the different Word Processors and text editors I have available to me distract me as I worry about the presentation of the content rather than focus on the content itself.
A good programmer works on abstracting the “presentation” layer of things from everything else. That way, you can “skin” an application or a piece of content to look however you want it to look. I’m now writing with that in mind thanks to two different text editors for both Mac and PC.
On my PC, I’ve downloaded a very simple text editor called [DarkRoom](http://they.misled.us/dark-room), which is basically all the power of Textpad — only it’s fullscreen text on black (instead of black text on white). There’s no spellcheck. There’s no grammar checking. There’s no formatting of the text. It’s simply the text, much like in the days prior to Windows. It blocks everything else out and allows you to just write and save as a .txt file. You can open it or copy-and-paste it into Word when you’re done and do all the formatting there. The software is free, and stable ‘enough’ to use.
This software was inspired by software for the Mac called [WriteRoom](http://hogbaysoftware.com/products/writeroom), which does the same thing but is a bit more mature (and thus is an actual product you have to buy as shareware). WriteRoom allows you to modify a number of settings, including setting the background color. WriteRoom also has an auto-save function, which is always handy. WriteRoom is a joy to use on my Mac and now after trying both of these text editors, especially after reading so much about them on [43 Folders](http://www.43folders.com/), I get why people love this way of writing.
So if you need to write AND you need to focus on writing, I highly recommend whichever of these runs on your desktop or laptop.