Byword: Writing in Isolation

Like many people, I need simplicity and focus to do things well. Despite the crowded appearance of this blog, I write most of my posts in isolation, in both senses of the term: without interruptions (usually behind a closed door, and often with earplugs) and without too much thinking about the other posts I’ve written. Most of them are responding to ideas I’m encountering elsewhere (readings, conversations), but to get into that mental space I need an isolated work environment.

That also means writing software with an interface that doesn’t have unnecessary extras: animated gifs dancing in the margins (I’m talking to you, Clippy), or distracting buttons lining the top. Sure, they’re helpful for the 1% of your time you need to underline or indent words, but I’ve always preferred a keyboard shortcut over reaching for my mouse.

So I need the simplicity of a writing application that excludes those bells and whistles – automatically, I mean, not just a setting or a full-screen option. That’s one thing I love about Scrivener, which (yes) I have written about somewhere around here; and it’s the reason I write in the Markdown syntax that lets me forget all the < h3 >s and hrefs that HTML markup involves. Sure, it takes a little time to learn: but writing HTML code is a pain. And how hard is it to insert an asterisk to make a bulleted list, really? Even links are easy: you just [bracket] your words and (parenthesize) your URLs. Try it for yourself.

So when I read this article about text editors, I was intrigued. Byword boasts a no-clutter, minimalist interface; it also lets you focus just on the line or the paragraph you’re writing. See here:Screen Shot 2014-11-14 at 15.42.59

And it’s working for me, pretty well. You be the judge: despite what I said at the beginning about working in isolation – as if I’m “beholding the bright countenance of truth,” as John Milton wrote, “in the quiet and still air of delightful study” – I’ll come clean: I wrote this post during a day-long meeting today. A writing platform like Byword is its own set of earplugs.

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