WriteRoom: Distraction Free Writing

The day to day use of a computer always involves some form of writing. Whilst this may often be a short, snappy task (drafting an email, blog comment or twitter post), there are often times when you find yourself writing a longer piece of work. Plenty of software exists for assisting with word processing, but often creates more distraction than simplicity in its approach.

WriteRoom is an application which takes a completely different approach to writing, stripping away all the distractions you commonly find yourself faced with when using a Mac. It achieves this goal in a bold and novel way – by removing everything else on your screen. When activated, WriteRoom creates a full screen “writing environment”, a concept which has proven to be very well received by many writers:

“Unlike practically everything else in our digital lives, WriteRoom’s minimalist interface implies a truly flattering proposition: It’s you, not the software, that matters.” — Jeffrey MacIntyre, Slate

This review will outline the features and functionality of WriteRoom, explain how it integrates with your Mac, and fill you in on the accompanying iPhone application.

Features & Functionality

By default, WriteRoom’s interface recreates that of classic word processing software – green text on a white background:

writeroom-main-screen

Personally, I prefer a setup which has a little more finesse and simplicity. I use WriteRoom with a completely white background and an 18pt Times font. It really does feel like a huge blank canvas on which to start typing away. With the rest of the page completely clear of distraction, it can make writing a great deal more enjoyable.

There are a few preferences which can customize and enhance the software further. An auto-save facility takes care of the need to regularly hit Command-S, automatically saving your document every 5 seconds (or another pre-defined interval).

writeroom-prefs

WriteRoom also keeps track of current word count in the lower left hand corner – great for ensuring you keep within a limit if necessary. This can obviously be turned off if not required, or expanded to show character count, line number and page number. A scroll bar becomes visible as needed, and moving your mouse to the top of the page will show the OS X menu bar.

By default WriteRoom documents are plain text, but choose the menu item Format > Make Rich Text and then you’ll be able to apply bold, italic, etc to parts of your text.

Integrating With Your Mac

One of the great selling points of WriteRoom is the ability to have it integrate with all other applications on your Mac. Whether writing an email, blog post or office document, you’re able to enter a distraction free space.

In the preferences window, turning on the “Edit in WriteRoom” plugin will add a menu option to all other applications. Clicking Edit > Edit in WriteRoom will open the current text, then pressing the key combinations of Command-S and Command-W will save the text and return it to the original application when you’re done editing.

What WriteRoom Isn’t

Whilst WriteRoom has a number of different benefits, it isn’t suitable for many tasks. Page layout and presentation options are generally non existent. It isn’t able to highlight code, support columns or display images. In fact, it probably takes the crown for the most expensive application with the simplest feature set available on OS X.

The appeal of WriteRoom lies in what it elects not to do – whether that is a selling point depends very much on personal opinion.

Related Plugins & Applications

The appeal of WriteRoom has spawned the development of numerous companion plugins and applications. A few of these include:

  • QuickCursor — An experimental plugin by WriteRoom’s developer to add a right-click connection to WriteRoom in every application.
  • DarkCopy — A WriteRoom inspired web application.
  • DarkRoom — WriteRoom inspired application for Windows.

WriteRoom for iPhone/iPod Touch

picture-21

Interestingly, an accompanying application has recently appeared on the App Store, aiming to offer a similar experience on your mobile device. Whilst not really creating the same distraction-free environment, it does provide a decent alternative to the default Notes application. It’s able to store and manage very long text documents, supports landscape mode, and can share files with your Mac via a built in web server.

Pricing & Requirements

WriteRoom requires Mac OS X 10.4 or later, and is priced at $24.95. A free trial is available which allows you to test drive the software for 30 days. The iPhone version costs $5.

We’ve managed to bag a copy of WriteRoom to give away to our loyal readers next week, so keep your eyes peeled for a Twitter competition!

Do you have any experience with WriteRoom? I’d be interested to hear your opinions on software that aims to “do less”, offering a simplified interface and the minimum functionality required to achieve a task.


  • http://www.rubiocommunications.com RUBIO_Janet

    I think that I would use this ALL the time – even for typing up an email. Pity that you can’t make a couple words bold though, I use that a lot…

    • http://www.hogbaysoftware.com Jesse Grosjean

      WriteRoom support rich text. By default WriteRoom documents are plain text, but choose the menu item Format > Make Rich Text and then you’ll be able to apply bold, italic, etc to parts of your text.

      • http://davidappleyard.net David Appleyard

        Thanks for pointing that out Jesse!

  • http://alishabdar.com Ali Shabdar

    I find Pages ’09 a better solution (although they might have taken the idea from WriteRoom).
    It has a full-screen mode plus all that word processing goodness on demand.

    • http://www.dvq.co.nz/blog DVQ

      My thinking as well. Why should a pay for a new program that is designed for one thing only when I could use a program I already have that does a lot of other things as well.

      If it was free I could see using it, having less features than pages it probably launches/works faster (would have been nice if you had addressed this).

      Nice review though.

  • http://woodennickels.posterous.com Mr. Wilson

    If all you are looking for is simple full screen editing you can get that for free from a couple of other apps also. I know Google Docs has full screen editing, also the GUI based vim editor MacVim has a full screen mode (Although if you have never used Vim you are in for a world of hurt). And I know somewhere I saw an extension for Open Office that will do the same thing. WriteRoom isn’t bad software at all, just a little pricey to write simple text documents.

  • http://www.jashsayani.com Jash Sayani

    I would prefer MacJournal.

  • Jon

    I’ve been a fan of WriteRoom for quite awhile now. I use it for all of my writing that requires more than a blog posting. Simple and easy.

  • http://envato.com Collis Ta’eed

    Go WriteRoom, I wrote a lot of How To Be a Rockstar Freelancer in WriteRoom :-)

  • AtOurGates

    WriteRoom is the first mac app I paid good money for. It’s priced right, and it works well. I would like to see some extensions – things like code processing, etc… But those are wishes, not requirements.

  • http://www.tutorialsfornoobs.com David Turnbull

    I love the concept of the program, but dropping down $24.95 for it has been something I’ve never been able to swallow. Textmate generally works for me if I want to write an article.

  • http://www.nikdo.org Vitezslav Valka

    Guys, and there is a Bean application, that does more than TextEdit and have the fullscreen editing as well. And its free here: http://www.bean-osx.com/

  • http://www.mykl.nl Maykel Loomans

    I got WriteRoom via a MacHeist and it’s one of the few I use on a almost daily basis. Web Concepts, Game Concepts, Blog Posts etc.

    Especially the Typewriter scrolling mode is just awesome.

  • http://kairichardkoenig.de Kai Richard Koenig

    more, more, more ….

  • http://simon.vansintjan.org Simon

    This sounds like potentially an excellent idea.

    Especially paired with something like latex. Writing in one and then formatting by just copy pasting in the other.

  • http://www.tutorialwow.com/ Ben Lind

    I thought I had found a free version of this type of software, but now that I look for it, I can’t seem to recover it. Does anyone know of a free version of this? (or something very similar)

  • http://pixelgraphics.us Douglas Neiner

    I agree with @Ali Shabdar. I think Pages 09 is a better solution.

    Also, I have never understood the hype around WriteRoom… it has none of the refinements and eye candy I like in Mac applications. Of course, I am not a writer either, so it doesn’t matter.

    Now if TextMate had full screen editing… hmmm….

  • http://passionsound.com PHz

    as a writer, this is simply best.

  • http://nordahl.me Kenneth Nordahl

    JDarkRoom is a free alternative to writeroom with more or less the exact functionality. I guess with the introduction of Pages 09 I guess that will be my future writing tool of choice.

    You can find JDarkRoom at http://www.codealchemists.com/jdarkroom/

  • http://www.inkoherence.com Inkoherence

    Check Scrivener:
    http://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener.html

    I think it’s the best writting software. It’s like a full version of Writeroom. And it has a full screen mode too.

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  • http://meinstudi.de/basti Bastian Bechtold

    I truly love Writeroom. Every time I really want to *write* something (instead of say, “code”, “jot down” or “note”) I am positively delighted by its pureness and unobtrusiveness. Scrivener comes close, though and has a host of other useful features.

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  • Nad N.

    What these postings reveal is the widely divergent ways that people write. For those of us who need to concentrate and write for long periods of time (e.g., faculty/researchers) — and who get easily distracted, WriteRoom provides a welcome, simple alternative to MS Word. It reminds me of writing on my first Mac (in the 1980s) — before the internet, multiple applications, widgets turned the machine from a fancy digital typewriter to a noisy, shiny, colorful media appliance.
    When I first booted up WriteRoom, it not only gave me a sense of nostalgia, but also provides a wonderfully quiet, clean space to write — and a welcome middle ground between MS Word and writing by hand. Just text — and that’s the main thing with writing anyway.
    Yes, it’s not free. But if it can help you write without distractions, and if that is what you do for a living, then it’s worth it.

  • Ben Dang

    I downloaded the trial version and have used it in the past three days. It enables me to focus on the nitty gritty of the subject I have in mind. It’s much better and much more than just a basic word processor.
    The spelling checker automatically adapts to whatever language I’m writing in. With command + I can enlarge the font on screen. Nice basic font by the way.
    With Word I’m much inclined to be distracted by subconsciousness standards for embellishment. Changing languages for spelling just is a pain. Must be me, but on a Mac I expect things to be straightforward. Must be Microsoft.
    I just love writeroom and will definitely pay the £24.95 for the real version. I love it for its pure sense of ergonomics and the nostalgic interface.

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