Back to basics

I started working before the word processor as we know it today and the graphical desktop became mainstream. In fact, in my first few weeks on the job, I used a typewriter.

When I joined The Freeman, a Cebu City-based community newspaper, in 1996, its newsroom was using networked PCs running DOS. It took me a while to get used to writing using a “word processor.” I was scared at sitting in front of those green monitors and their menacing command prompts.

Back then, when reporters sat in front of the computers it was to write stories. The writing program occupied the entire screen and you could not multi-task. There were no games in our newsroom PCs and the Internet could only be accessed on one computer.

Writing under that minimal environment sharpened my purpose. There were no online distractions — it was just me, my notes and the words on the screen.

I later transferred to a newsroom running Windows 95 and started writing stories using Microsoft Word. The writing program became a word processor with its visual and myriad tools for formatting and presentation.

The computers I used increasingly became multi-tasking and multi-media machines and pretty soon I’d get into the habit of opening up various applications and working on different things at the same time.

Today, I could barely write a few paragraphs without finding myself ending up in a browser window checking one website or another. It all starts innocuously enough. I’d research on a point I’m writing for a blog post and pretty soon I’d be following one website link after another. It gets worse when my feed reader is open.

In the past weeks, I decided to stop multi-tasking. I signed out of Google Chat in my Gmail account–if I need to chat with anyone, I’d just use the stand-alone application.

I now close browser windows when I’m working on something. I schedule reading news feeds and checking mails. For so long, I kept my GMail inbox window open the entire time I’m in front of the computer. Now I close it after checking for messages when I wake up, upon arriving at work, after finishing my newsroom assignments and upon reaching home.

I also schedule browsing sessions to research on things that interest me, collect notes for possible blog articles and column pieces, and check sites that can help me improve my skills as a journalist and blogger.

I collect the notes for blog posts in a Wridea account and my researches on various topics in a ZiddlyWiki installation. After I finish researching on a blog topic, I then copy all these notes into a text file and then start writing the article in a word processor, saving the draft in my WordPress dashboard if I can’t finish the article yet. WestEdit

These past weeks, however, I’ve tried writing using text editors instead of a word processor. I never use any of the menu items of word processors and the only reason I’m using it is for it to help me check my spelling.

These past weeks, I’ve mainly been using NoteTab Light but I’ve been trying other software and services.

This was why Desktoptwo’s service got me excited because not only did it offer an online workspace, it had a text editor with the ability to save documents in your online workspace.

Two days back, however, I shifted to WestEdit, a Windows program that copies the WriteRoom software for Mac. Dark Room is another Windows version of the software but I haven’t tried it yet as I spotted WestEdit first.

The idea behind these pieces of software is to offer users a minimal and full-screen writing program, essentially covering all the other desktop elements to make you focus on your writing.

It doesn’t have menu items, formatting options, spell and grammar checks and dictionary or thesaurus. Not even the taskbar is displayed. You work with it using keyboard shortcuts: ctrl + o to open a file, ctrl + s to save it and ctrl + q to quit the application.

When I first tried writing with it, I found the interface refreshing. The full screen interface takes away the temptation of launching a browser window or an application. It also works blazingly fast. The interface also reminded me of the time I was still a beat reporter, trying to make sense of a bunch of notes and a taped interview working against time to write an article with (if I’m lucky) the managing editor watching over my shoulder, occasionally commenting on my report.

I will be using WestEdit or Dark Room for all my blog posts in the next few days. I want to see whether the full screen minimalist writing environment helps me finish blog posts faster and stops me from wasting time multi-tasking between writing, tweaking a site design and reading up on things that interest me. I seldom finish a blog post in one session in front of the computer. Let’s see if the change in writing environment as well as the scheduling of my online time helps me write more for this blog.

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3 responses

  1. Another great and helpful posts. My blog addiction extends to chasing links from one site to another. Completely distracting me from my work at hand.

    It’s similar to what influenced the design of the internal cockpit of the Apache Combat helicopter, to minimise information overload to the pilot.

    Quite clever really.

  2. Nice post. I often find myself switching from writing a post to searching for music and playing some video games. You got to stop and put those on queue and then come back to it again and again though. Review it a few times before you actully publish it. Half the time, I delete them because I figure out at a later time that they weren’t worth it. It might have been a spur on the moment thing. Thats just me though.

  3. Jhay, Luna,
    Thanks for the feedback. Sometimes tunnel vision can be helpful. I agree, constant rewriting and review are the best way to improve your prose, and as a result your blog.

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