I ran across an amazing software program while researching the best free text editors for writers. I usually do all my writing in MS Word or OpenOffice, so I wasn’t at all familiar with FocusWriter when I downloaded it. Some quick research as part of my writing process revealed it is a free text editor with the following features:
- Free and available for OS X, Linux, and Windows
- Full-screen text editor with the ability to customize themes
- More text formatting than Q10
- Find and replace feature included
- Built-in timer and progress tracking features
- Sessions feature lets you track statistics for specific projects
- Translatable to over 20 languages
- It’s portable for use on a flash drive. It even remembers the last file you worked on.
- It offers support for multiple documents
- The option to turn-on electric typewriter sound effects
I’ve always thought the best way to write a review article about a program I know nothing about was just to dive in and use it and then document the standout features. I don’t always have time for that, but for my FocusWriter review article, I decided the hands-on approach was best.
FocusWriter Review–First Impressions
First off, I must admit that one of the features that intrigued me in my initial research was the option to turn my keyboard into an old-fashioned typewriter. I didn’t even know that the technology existed to do this until this past week when it was mentioned as an option in another program.
I learned to type on one of those old-fashioned electric typewriters, but we won’t get into when that was exactly. Suffice it to say that the sound of an electric typewriter probably has a certain nostalgic appeal for anyone over forty.
FocusWriter is designed to be a distraction-free writing environment for writers. This kind of environment is something I’ve only experimented with this past week though I’ve been writing using the computer for more than thirty years. So, before I started to write my FocusWriter Review article, the first thing I did was to play around with the settings and here’s what I found:
Distraction-Free Full-Screen Mode
To provide a distraction-free writing environment, FocusWriter automatically opens to full-screen mode. For those of you not used to writing in full-screen mode, be forewarned. I admit it was a little disconcerting at first. I’m a long-time MS Word user, albeit reluctantly. I recently began using OpenOffice, but I still rely very heavily on my toolbar and menus. I was never a keyboard shortcut warrior. So, when that full screen popped up, I felt a momentary panic as not being able to “see” my menus.
Never fear, the menus you need are truly there, they are just hidden from view. It’s an out of sight, out of mind concept that I must admit worked surprisingly well even though I was learning as I went along. Simply slide your cursor to the top left corner of your screen to reveal your toolbar or hit CTRL+N on your keyboard to open a new document.
In the toolbar on the settings menu, click Minimize to shrink the FocusWriter window so you can access your desktop other programs on your computer. Keyboard warriors can use Ctrl-M to minimize and F11 to return to full screen.
Background & Theme
Okay, so the option you probably want to set right off the bat is the background for your full-screen mode. This is also under the Settings menu. Click on Themes and choose the background you like from the eight choices provided. I found several that were appealing and the paid version of FocusWriter has additional themes available.
Once you choose a theme, you can duplicate it and then edit the font size, colors, text background, and even the position of the text window on the screen. You can also set-up different themes for different sessions, which might be helpful for writers who want a fun background for fiction writing and a different theme for non-fiction writing. I suppose you could set up different themes that were character specific or scene specific if you were writing a novel and wanted to spend the time to set it all up.
Next, let’s dive into this FocusWriter Review by revealing more features of interest to writers. One of the things you’ll want to after choosing a theme is to set up your Preferences so the text editor can handle some of your writing statistics and housekeeping duties.
If you happen to be nostalgic like me when it comes to the sound of an electric typewriter, you’ll find the option to include typewriter sounds in the Editing section of the General Tab. You’ll also see the other settings for editing, for scene formatting, as well as some autosave and file format defaults, and user interface settings (scroll bar and toolbar settings).
Settings>Preferences>Daily Goals and Statistics Tabs
As a writer, I think the features on the Daily Goals and Statistics Tabs will be one of the main factors that make you fall in love with FocusWriter. On this tab, you can adjust settings to track your daily writing progress. Settings to track writing statistics by word, paragraph, or even session are here as well.
You can even adjust your page count to a specific number of words. This feature, in my opinion, is invaluable for writers. This means if you know the publishing software you use will count 500 words as one page, you can know where your published pages will start and end while you are writing. The rest of the tabs on the General Tab will let you fully customize your toolbar and shortcut menus.
I discovered first-hand that the ability to eliminate distractions from the page in front of me does help me to focus and get the words down on the page. I did have to fight the urge to edit while I was writing. If you’re a keyboard shortcut power user, it will be a piece of cake for you to edit as you move along. Those dependent on toolbar and menu options like myself may find that the write first and edit later strategy will save you time.
Saving Your Document with FocusWriter
I found during my FocusWriter review session that not only does FocusWriter include an Autosave feature but you can customize it, so Autosave happens after each paragraph, after a certain period, etc. In the bottom of the screen, you will find a hidden bar that indicates the name of the file you are working on.
If you see an “*” symbol beside the filename, your file is not saved. Simply use CTRL-S to save the file before you close or use the file save as option in the top toolbar. I simply saved my finished file in the default open document format and then opened it in MS Word to do my final editing and document formatting.
The transition from FocusWriter to MS Word was beyond smooth and is probably unnecessary once you conquer the slight learning curve. The outcome of my FocusWriter Review is that I highly recommend it to any writer considering a switch from a word processor.