True fact: The more I write the less interested I am in a fancy word processing program. Microsoft Word is just dandy for creating reports and presentations, and I freely admit that I am using it to edit my novels (although that has as much to do with how much I love Skydrive as it does with the program itself — well played, Microsoft, well played…) but when it comes to sitting down and actually writing the prose itself, I find there is an aesthetic quality that Word lacks.
This often left me searching for something else, a kind of ‘I’ll know it when I see it’ blind quest that continues unabated through an author’s lifetime (or at least this author’s lifetime.) I used Z-Write for a while, but the fact that it’s Mac-only and no longer seems to be supported (or half-heartedly supported) encouraged me to keep looking (I use both PC and Mac, write on both, and like the freedom of being able to switch back and forth.) Eventually I chanced upon a review of OmmWriter Dana over at The Book Designer’s blog.
Basically, the program is quite simple. It fills the computer screen with a simple, non-distracting graphic (I like the onion-skin paper myself) and blocks out all distractions: you will receive no pings from e-mails, no Facebook updates, no messenger chimes. This is not the program to use if you want to tab between programs the whole evening. Simple music plays (probably not the thing if you’re trying to stay up and write when you’re tired) and there are sound effects for key strokes that mimic a typewriter. You have a choice of four fonts: serif, sans-serif, monotype and cursive (I can’t imagine anyone writing anything of length in that cursive font, but to each their own.) The type window itself is a small adjustable ant trail in the middle of the screen, with a short menu of contextual symbols down the sides used to control these short variable and save the document (either to Omm’s own format or to a .txt file.)
And that’s it. That’s the whole program. It’s fast, elegant and removes virtually all distractions from the writing experience. You are left with yourself, the keyboard, and the words you create on the page, a blissful sense of simplicity that allows you to concentrate on what matters — writing.
Twenty years ago, a writer was encouraged to have a quiet private place where they could be alone with their thoughts. But today? The tool that most writers use to write is the distraction, as a thousand things conspire to pull you out of the writer’s mood: computer games, wikipedia, youtube, facebook, endless social games, hulu. Even with the best intentions, it’s not difficult to stop writing for a short while in order to research some bit of trivia for a scene and find that you’ve let four hours pass. This program very neatly cuts down on those distractions. It’s a thing of beauty.
Did I mention it’s free?
Of course, there is a paid version of the program. You receive a few more backgrounds, different music (including one that isn’t music at all, but the white noise of sitting at a coffee shop or a library and which is surprisingly soothing and good for helping focus) and some more typing sounds. They let you set your own price but recommend that it end with an 11 and the price starts at $4.11. That’s a price point that is hard to argue with, especially since the free version has full functionality for you to be sure it’s a program you’ll use. I personally find myself writing each scene in OmmWriter, saving them as text files, then opening them in word to add to each chapter as appropriate. It’s a process I’m enjoying a great deal and highly recommend.