Notes from a Floating Life Thoughts about productivity, digital living, and leading a simpler life

Keep Your (Writing) Software Simple

You might not know it, but I make my living stringing words together. Over the years, I’ve used a lot of different tools to do that — from typewriters to dedicated word processors to a variety of word processors on a number of operating systems.

But no matter how complex the tools became, I’ve always gone back to basics.

I’ve kept my writing software simple.

Say what you will, but writing involves putting words on to paper. Or, these days, on a screen. It’s not about formatting, it’s not about tables and bullets, it’s not about layout. It’s about words. As Edward Tufte once pointed out:

If your words aren’t truthful, the finest optically letter-spaced typography won’t help. And if your images aren’t on point, making them dance in color in three dimensions won’t help. If you look after truth and goodness, beauty looks after herself.

Tufte was talking about presentations, but what he said also applies to writing.

You don’t need much to put words on the screen. For a first draft, a word processor is overkill. Why? Because too many people seem to focus as much on features as on writing. It should be the other way around.

So, what do you need? Something simple, obviously. A blank canvas. A text editor. A plain text tool on the web. Something that enables you to get your words out of your brain as quickly and as efficiently as possible. Once you’re done, you can add all the formatting using something else.

It’s not a surprise that this approach — write first, format later — is often the opposite of how many people work. They worry about formatting, which slows down their actual writing. But few actually try this approach before gunning it down mercilessly.

I’m definitely not suggesting that you give up your favourite word processor. If you look back over the words that I’ve written (in this post and elsewhere), you won’t see me suggest that anywhere. And if that’s the vibe you’re getting then you’re reading between lines that aren’t there.

So, what do I suggest you use? Try the text editor that comes with your operating system. yes, even Windows Notepad. If you’re looking for an alternative, check out these suggestions for Linux, Mac OS, and Windows

On the web, my first choice is, followed closely by TextDrop. A couple of others you might want to try are DarkCopy and LightWrite.

The key word in that last sentence is try. While simple writing software might not be your cup of tea (or whatever your preferred beverage is), don’t dismiss them out of hand. You’ll never know what if they’re right for you until you try them.

Thoughts? Let's start a conversation on Twitter.

Did you enjoy this post or find it useful? Then please consider supporting this blog with a micropayment via PayPal. Thanks!