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Tools & Apps We Love: Writing

Lots of us have folders full of apps for working with photos — our Beyond Instagram post is a perennial…

Lots of us have folders full of apps for working with photos — our Beyond Instagram post is a perennial favorite, and we’ll revisit photo apps tomorrow. But when it comes to writing, most of us use far fewer tools. There’s WordPress.com. There’s your word processing program of choice. There’s… actually, that’s pretty much it.

Between us editors, there are a few WordPress.com features,  apps, and browser extensions we rely on for writing, editing, and keeping track of topics, ideas, and notes. Today, we’re focused on writing.

You probably find yourselves writing the same way we often do: right into the post editor box on WordPress.com. We know some of you also write in a word processor and paste your text into WordPress.com, which can lead to formatting snafus. For those who prefer to write first and then copy/paste, who like a cleaner writing environment, or who want a way to write offline, there are a few tools we dig.

WordPress.com Tools

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The distraction-free mode of WordPress.com.

There are two often-overlooked options baked into the post editor on WordPress.com: support for Markdown, and distraction-free writing.

Markdown is a way of adding formatting like links, headings, and bulleted lists right from the keyboard with simple additions like asterisks to *bold* text or underscores to create headings. (Get the details here.) If you like Markdown, enable your blog to use it under Settings >> Writing. Now, you can type Markdown right into the text editor and your hands don’t have to leave the keyboard while constructing a post.

In the visual editor, you can turn on distraction-free writing to strip the page down to only the publishing basics. When you start to type, everything other than your words fades out. To turn it on, click on the “Toggle Full Screen” button (it’s the one that looks like an oversized “X” — second from the right in the top row).

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Apps We Like

Sometimes, you don’t want to write in WordPress.com. That’s okay, there are times when we don’t, either — times when we want to write while offline, or make use of a feature in another app. Here are a few that tickle our editorial fancy:

  • OmmWriter. Sometimes writing is meditative, and this distraction-free writing app takes that to the next level. OmmWriter blocks out everything on your screen except your words and adds soft backgrounds to suit your moods, with audio tracks or keystroke sounds to focus your fingers. I’m loving it for playful free-writing time.  (Available for Macs, iPads, and PCs; pay what you want.)
  • aiWriter. aiWriter also offers distraction-free writing along with a few other bells and whistles, like support for Markdown. For a different writing experience that can help you work through a thorny post that’s challenging you, try its “focus mode:” it grays out everything but the sentence you’re currently writing. (Available for Mac, iPad, and iPhone, $4.99.)
  • Byword. For those who like writing in Markdown, Byword supports it and lets you push your finished pieces to your blog.  (Available for Macs and iPhones/iPads at $9.99 and $4.99, respectively. Publishing directly to a blog requires an additional in-app purchase.)
  • SimplyNoise and Coffitivity. If aural noise distracts you more than visual noise, SimplyNoise will play one of a few white noise options to help you get in the zone. It’s especially useful with headphones if you like the energy but not the soundtrack that comes with coffee shop-blogging. If you like the noise but not the crowds, Coffitivity pipes a café into your living room. (Both web-based, both free.)

(If you still want to write you posts in Microsoft Word, be our guest — just use the “paste from Word” button to avoid a majority of the maddening format issues that come with cut-and-paste.)

In future installments, we’ll look at our favorite features and apps for editing, collaboration, and organizing ideas and material, and tomorrow we’ll circle back to photo apps.

Are there tools that help you be the best blogger you can be? Share!

Featured image by Jonathan Kim (CC BY-NC 2.0).

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    1. Perhaps it’s personal preference, but I don’t understand what the big deal about “distractionless” editing is. For me, if you’re working within a GUI, you should be surrounded by the things that make it apparent you are in a GUI, such as borders, panels, menus, and toolbars. I understand that those features are available, even if you can’t see them, and that many of the more commonly used features are available through hot-key combinations, but that is beside the point. I have a GUI, and I want to see those things inside that GUI. For me, “distractionless” editing is more distracting because my eye keeps wandering off looking for all the things that should be there but aren’t.

    2. Not sure how I managed to hit the wrong “reply” link, but that was supposed to be a general comment about the article. Sorry.

  1. My personal favourite is Windows Live Writer. It allows me to work off-line. There’s a plugin to allow me to import my photographs correctly sized from Flickr. Another plugin to let me use Zemanta for Related Posts from other bloggers or around the web, far better than the WordPress offering. Best of all it’s free and I can save all the drafts on my PC before sending to WordPress

  2. It depends on what I’m writing and why as to the tool that I decide to use for the job. If I’m writing a paper, then I prefer to use either Microsoft Word or LibreOffice, (and yes, despite my typical love of open source software, I have to admit that I prefer MS Office to LibreOffice). NotePad++ is my go to for text files. NotePad++ and NetBeans share coding duties. When it comes to writing blog posts, however, I use the post editor in WordPress. I use text mode so that I can edit the HTML and add in-line CSS style attributes as necessary.

  3. As an essay blogger, I use a combination of Scrivener on Mac and WordPress’s distraction-free writing to shape my posts. With Scrivener, I have access to everything I need in terms of research and images in one place (I think I have two years of material in a single file!). With distraction-free writing, I can see how things look before they go live on my blog. It’s great for editing and tweaks. My only suggestion for improvement is that the spellcheck button should be accessible from the menu. Right now, I have toggle out of the mode to access it. Otherwise it’s great!

  4. I type my story in Microsoft Word, copy and paste without a problem. It used to be glitchy and I couldn’t control the spacing, but that seems to have been addressed. Thanks Michelle!

  5. Nice – perhaps. I don’t use Apple or apps. I write in word to stop glitches whilst being in WP (such as the screen burp when the reader refreshes), whilst I work on various posts. Then there’s the “session timeout” snafu. So at present Word seems my only answer. Once finished its upload and insert the photos I want. If you have any suggestions to make it more streamlines – apart from going Apple. 😊

    1. FYI, WordPress.com now autosaves locally in your browser as your draft — that means that if your internet connect cuts out of there’s a hiccup, the latest version is saved on your computer. You can look at your revisions to see the latest and greatest.

  6. Thanks for this, Michelle: it seems that a blogger can keep picking up new stuff forever (I’d never tried the big X!).
    My blogging life is made indescribably much easier by two softwares: (1) Print-Key Pro. and (2) FastStone Image Viewer. With the former I can get into my clipboard any size/section of a screen that I want, then copy it or save it as a file of many kinds. With the latter I can do many, many image editing things to that or anything in my files: resize, crop, adjust (everything) … too many to list. Doubt that I’d be blogging at all without those two.

  7. Notepad for distraction free writing on a desktop or laptop without going back every other minute to edit.
    Evernote which integrates brilliantly with everything, syncs up a dream with my account, regularly saves and it gas a windows app that gets updates and is quick to open on mobile.
    I am still looking for a free basic notepad app doesn’t irritate me for my windows phone.

    1. Have you tried handrite? It’s super basic, but it worked on my last windows phone (it was the only note pad that did at the time lol) and works well on my htc and tablet. Hope I’ve helped, have a great day! :-)

  8. The only issue I have when writing from my phone is all the codes and HTML that pops up when I’m making something bold or italicized or adding a picture.

    And I never can feature a post from my phone, I always need my computer for that. It’s not very convenient when I’m on the go.

  9. Google Keep is good, like a free and lightweight Evernote, which is brilliant. I like the better dictionary apps too, the premium ones for iOS or Android are life savers when I’m on the road and can’t reach my short Oxford.

  10. Distraction free writing is, just like, writing in space. I love that. Recently, I used MediaMonkey and I really loved that. On the top, my browser Google Chrome has provided me several other writing tools as offline apps.

  11. Distraction free writing doesn’t exist :/
    All you can do is take away extra distractions, hope for the best, & pray your mind agrees with you as you put them words on paper.

  12. I only have a tablet, so I don’t have all the features. When I have something I want to write offline, I just use Handrite, you can hand write in the things you want with a stylus, or type it all in. It has different paper back grounds; which you don’t think of until you’re fed up with looking at flat white, or need lines, which it provides. I guess I’ve just always seen writing as simple; why muck it up with too many extras? Then, by the time you figure out said extras, you’re frustrated with the software and lose the whole great idea you began with. Again though, that’s just me. If someone wants all those bells and whistles, they can have them. :-)