11 August 2014


I think I have found the perfect software for writers – for this writer, at least.

My ideal features are:

1. Distraction-free mode.

2. Choice of any installed display font, colours and spacing, plus automatic indentation of first line of paragraph.

3. Ability to load and save plain text, with normal access to the filing system. This is most important to me, since plain text can easily be loaded into a tablet or e-reader, or converted (for example with jEdit) into html; or simply edited with another app.

4. Find-and-replace (with regular expressions if possible).

5. Word-count.

FocusWriter by Graeme Gott provides all this and much more. It has the following extra advantages for me:

1. Cross-platform. It runs under Linux, Windows and Apple’s OS X. I have a Linux desktop and a Mac laptop.

2. You can define any number of “themes” (i.e. customizations of the display) and easily switch between them.

3. If you move the mouse pointer to the right of the screen, a scroll-bar appears.

4. If you move the mouse pointer to the left of the screen, you can access a navigation bar which shows the first line or two of every “scene” in your text, the start of a scene being definable by any string you choose. The current scene is highlighted. Keystrokes allow you to move a scene up or down in the navigator and hence in the text.

5. A single keystroke will select a whole scene: useful when counting words.

6. The line currently being edited can be highlighted; or rather, the other lines can be dimmed. You can also highlight the three current lines, or the entire current paragraph. These settings are switchable using keystrokes, so you can quickly turn highlighting off when you move from editing to reviewing.

7. FocusWriter supports smart quotes (including global replace of straight with curly quotes) and allows for easy insertion of special characters.

8. FocusWriter is Open Source software. It is free to download and use, though I strongly recommend “tipping” Mr Gott because he has put a great deal of thought and effort into this program over the last six years and is still developing it.

There are other features which for me are not so important but you might value:

1. A decent spelling checker with the option to check as you write.

2. A motivation tool that lets you set a daily work-target (time spent or words written).

3. Besides plain text, FocusWriter will load and save in rich text (.rtf) and Open Document (.odt) formats, so you can preserve italics, bold, superscript, etc.

4. You can have multiple files open at once, selectable via a tab-bar that appears when you move the mouse pointer to the bottom of the screen. A status bar also becomes visible then, showing you statistics. These are configurable and can display word-count, number of pages, number of paragraphs, and/or number of characters. The way the program counts words and the nominal number of words to a page are also configurable.

Until recently I used PyRoom as a distraction-free editor (see here), but bemoaned the lack of a search function and devised a clunky workaround. FocusWriter is infinitely better.

On a sidenote, I also use AutoKey (Linux) and Keyboard Maestro (Mac). These allow one to define, among other things, customized keystrokes. Thus if I press Alt-S (Linux) or Ctrl-S (Mac), the word “said” appears at the cursor; keys Z, X and C are reserved for the names of the three principal characters in any story, etc. Pretty much anything you can do with the keyboard or mouse can be assigned to a hot-key. AutoHotkey does the same for Windows users.

To keep track of character-names, locations, chronology and whatnot I use a LibreOffice Calc spreadsheet running in another workspace. Combined with FocusWriter, this gives me all the features I shall probably ever need.

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