Distraction Free Writing in 2009

While Dark Room has been mostly dormant, many things have changed. I originally got the idea for Dark Room from Jesse over at Hog Bay. WriteRoom was really the first in this modern era of retro text editors. Back then, WriteRoom was the only game in town, and it was, and still is, Mac only.

Unfortunately, around this time my powerbook passed into the after life. This meant that I had to switch to my windows laptop as my primary machine for a while. And, since I had gotten so used to WriteRoom, I needed something. After spending a couple of days searching, I was quite surprised not to find anything available for windows. This is when I decided to pick up the torch, and write Dark Room. However, it did not remain alone for long.

Now, there is a glut of this style of program. Here are just the few that I know of off my head:

Cross Platform:

  • Dark Room X
  • jDarkRoom

Windows:

  • Dark Room W
  • Q10
  • WriteMonkey

Mac:

  • WriteRoom

Linux:

  • PyRoom
  • RubyRoom

Web:

  • DarkCopy
  • Writer
  • MyTextFile

I would love to hear feedback on what you love or hate about these programs, as it will help me determine how best to shape future development of Dark Room.

An interesting factor here is that even though there are more programs, they are still pretty fragmented, as people are sort of just porting over functionality from applications exclusive on other OS’s.

jDarkRoom was the first cross platform implementation. However, I have not had much luck with it using an OS other than Windows. Which reminds me, I need to get with that developer to help him work out some kinks I experiences while using the app in OS X.

Dark Room X is my attempt to build an application that does everything you need, and nothing you don’t. I want users to be able to pick it up, love it, and be able to use it on anything. Be it their wife’s spyware loaded windows box, they’re sweet MacPro work station, or the linux box they keep as a guilty pleasure.Β It is just the first step in my ultimate goal: the ability to access, and work on your writing in the interface you love from anyplace at anytime.

Author: Jeff

Born a cantankerous old man, mellowed ever so slightly by age.

14 thoughts on “Distraction Free Writing in 2009”

  1. I would love a “post to wordpress” feature but that might be a little far fetched for an app like this. Or even an send to pop3 or imap for”send to recipient”.

    The main reasons I use Darkroom is for writing blog posts or writing emails.

    Regardless GG you are doing a great job and are creating quite the following with your application.

    Have a pleasant afternoon πŸ˜€

    1. I can say with absolute certainity that I will never implement anything having to do with email in any application I write. As you are well aware, vanlandw. :-p

  2. I still prefer the feel of Q10. The status bar (probably needs to be something you can toggle to satisfy everyone), is a must, especially being able to customize it (color, font, what info is available, etc.). I love being able to have multiple partial word counts that can be named. Also, its just quick and responsive and just feels “right”.

    Writemonkey is great because it just has so much functionality under the hood. You may never need it, but its there in case you get ambitious. It was also the app that showed me the whole, hold a key and use the scroll wheel to change the apparent font size (zoom level, I suppose) and/or side margins.

    And talking about margins, I would want them all to be individually changeable. I want to be able to go full screen, but push the column of text over to the left so I can run some other “always on top” apps in the space to the side. I know, not a purist user here, but that’s what I want because that’s how I like to work, and I’m sure other folk could find a way to parley that functionality to their best benefit, whatever that may be.

    Typewriter scrolling, where the caret is always centered vertically onscreen, would be fantastic. We all hate staring at the bottom of our awesome big flatscreens, or alternately, looking at the right height, but not being able to see below the caret.

    Oh, my favorite auto save method, implemented in Q10 as “save as x # of paragraphs”, when set to 1 paragraph, basically means it saves every time you hit enter. Also, need to have something, likely on that status bar I mentioned we’d need, that shows the current save status of the open file (Q10 just has an asterisk in front of the file name that goes away when the save status is up to date).

    Let’s see . . . oh, yeah, need at least one configurable bookmark string. Maybe don’t need the power of WriteMonkey’s filtering, but I like to hit .. to mark stuff, but everyone has their own preferred method. A good, stable and functional way of seeing the bookmarks and navigating among them will be necessary too. Maybe interrelated, I would love to see a method of being able to hide everything excepted marked lines so the lines could be used as a sort of outliner, and even more out there, some way of moving the marked lines, and all the unmarked lines between it and the next (or the end of the file) quickly and easily (like chapters in a book being rearranged), possibly using the bookmark navigator interface.

    Navigation within long documents will also need to be addressed. You might want to take a look at Sublime Text. Its meant primarily for coders, but it looks fantastic, and some very recent changes made has turned it into a decent option for fiction. Of primary interest would be the MiniMaps and the configurable panes and tabs that it offers, even in full screen mode. Also, it just looks good and responds well.

    Okay, writing a book here, so I’ll just quit. I’ll be back if I think of anything further.

    Kensai

    1. Thanks for the feedback, this is what I’m looking for. I am going to try to address your topics in the least confusing way possible:

      Status Bar: Right now it is toggleable, but I agree that there should be some custimization to it, it is fairly static.

      I am not sure what you mean by “multiple partial word counts that can be named” so I’ll have to dig into Q10 to figure out what that is about.

      Margins: I have played around with this, right now I have three margin options, and it would be pretty simple to allow for both the side margins, I just couldn’t think of a reason why someone wouldn’t want the text area centered. I did not take “cheaters” into consideration at that time πŸ˜‰

      Typewriter scrolling: I don’t like the traditional implementation of this, because I think it is very jarring to click lower on the page and have the page jump when you start typing. But, I do like the idea of having your writing centered on the page. So, as a middle ground I setup seperate margins for top and bottom. Basicaly, to emulate typewriter scrolling you can just set your bottom margin to around 50% of your page height.

      Saving: The save on number of paragraphs idea is interesting, and it wouldn’t be too difficult to implement. I’ll have to ask around and see if anyone else would like to see that feature. Also, as far as visual notification, I did add an asterisk in front of the file name, because I was encountering the issue myself (wasn’t sure if I was actually saving when I hit save).

      Bookmarks: This is something I have been going back and forth on. I really like the idea behind it, but I am not sure how useful it would be in DarkRoomX based on technical limitations. For example, if you turn all the live stats on, working on a document (i.e. Alice in Wonderland) and the program slows to a crawl. So, adding something like bookmarks might proof to be more bother than they’re worth, unless you were using them withing relatively short documents. I think before I add bookmarks, I am going to make some kind of “lite” project file that users can use to manage multiple files into a “book” which would change the focus from writing your entire novel in one file, to breaking it up into one chapter per file. This is the way I write, but I am not sure if everyone would be comfortable with it. More advanced features like code folding probably won’t be implemented anytime soon, as they are beyond the scope of this application in this form.

      1. The concept of multiple files for chapters is commonly implemented in mainstream office and DTP apps as what are called master documents, with the master document itself being a dynamically built link container (ie you add a ToC or Index and build it off headings from the linked files), I use this myself in OpenOffice still and previously in Adobe PageMaker (I haven’t touched InDesign yet heck when I did this regularly it was still Aldus PageMaker as I recall [I feel old now]). Most recently I did a several hundred page recipe book in this manner, with each recipe being a separate document, I probably saved myself 20 hours in layout work and editing compared to a single document.

        Master Documents are very commonly used by the authors I maintain friendly relationships with as we all discover the same issues with bookmarking and spellchecking on large documents. Done simply and well handled MDs are a life saver for writers.

  3. Well, you gotta do what works best for the app. If its slogging, its not useful. I find that if you’re not going to go all out with bookmarking/navigation, there’s not much point in slowing the program’s response.

    If you can figure out how to make your project manager concept to work well for us, it could be a much better solution. Like you mentioned before, I’m a total cheater if it’ll get me what I need to work (I have a hard time working if I get distracted by my tools), so I’m cool with a separate window that would let us sort and annotate separate files as a coherent project. Be even better if said project manager could let you compile the files into a single output file when you’re ready.

    Anyway, the multiple partial word counts I’m talking about are basically just labeled counters that you manually reset when you want them to zero back out. For example, during NaNo, when I’m working on something I started prior, I’ve got 3 word counts on my bar, the default, whole document word count, one marked “NaNo” that I zeroed out on Nov 1, and one marked “Today” that I zeroed out each morning before getting to work. Q10 allows for the standard word count and up to 4 partials. That may be a bit of overkill, but I can easily find use for 2 partials if given access to them.

    I often do something like you suggested to simulate the typewriter scrolling, but I hate not being able to see further down in the document. Definitely need to be something you can toggle since its pretty obvious that its not universally seen as a good thing.

    Good stuff.

    Kensai

  4. Hi, I enjoyed writing in the Darkroom.
    Indeed it is distraction free writing where only you are your thoughts exist, but if it has the Bold, Italics and Underline along with the number of words displayed like in Word it would be easy to monitor and tuly cool.

    Sincerely,

    Ritu Saxena

  5. Hi,

    I really like your software — especially the ability to shift the background transparency. Anyway, I used to use Q10 (I like the typewriter sound), but I stopped using it because I found out that with Q10, if you change the font colour and then cut and paste into MS Word etc, the font colour is also pasted. WriteMonkey and DarkRoom don’t have this problem — the font is pasted at the default colour setting in whichever app. you paste it into. Thanks for creating it. πŸ™‚

  6. Jeff, have you seen this: OMMWRITER???
    http://www.ommwriter.com/en/

    i just found that program, and by sending it to friends, i was then told about WriteRoom, which led me here to DarkRoom, Q10, WestEdit (also a WR clone, http://home.online.no/~westerma/WestEdit/).

    i wish I had found all of these in 2006!!

    because up until now, I had been using Editpad as my primary text editor. I really needed a multi-tab editor because thoughts become tangent and often unrelated. I admire the uncluttered interface of WR/DR/Q10 though, and in trying these out now, i will see about whether I can live without multi-tabs (i fear not).

    but yes, i wanted to tip you onto OMMWriter,

    and suggest somehow including the ability to view multiple tabs/text files into DarkRoom. Perhaps this can be done visually by using the filename ONLY (and not the actual visual of the rounded tab, to keep the minimalism), on top of a separator line, above the main editor “window”/frame.

    much respect for your work. DR seems like the standard for windows, thanks of course, to WriteRoom.

  7. I would suggest that you provide an option to allow the written text to scroll upwards when the cursor reaches middle of the screeen/page rather than only when the cursor reaches the bottom of the screen. This would allow an easier location for ones eyes to follow what is typed and provide a more typewritter like experience.

  8. I love the concept and it is exactly what I needed to write.

    I miss only one feature : the cloud πŸ™‚ I need to save my files somewhere on the internet to be able to write from anywhere. FTP, Google Documents, whatever.

    It would be awesome.

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