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Writer's tools: WriteRoom wreally wrocks

As you've probably gathered by now, I'm on a search for the perfect writing tool. I did a short blurb about Ulysses 2.0 a few weeks ago, I read Megan Lavey's Friday Favorite review of Scrivener with interest, and I'll have a detailed review of Storyist v2 soon -- if I can get over the writer's block I seem to have picked up with regards to that post.

There are two main schools of thought when it comes to writing tools. The first type is the do-everything tool, complete with project management and storyboarding, bulletin boards to pin notes on, even places to write up biographies of your characters. Storyist is a perfect example of one of these tools. The second genre, of which Ulysses and WriteRoom are members, is the minimalist school. These type of writing tools pare the user interface down to a minimum and are designed to give authors an environment in which to concentrate on putting words on paper. The analogy is sitting in front of a typewriter and writing.

WriteRoom [US$24.95] was last covered by TUAW back in 2007, and it is has been interesting to see the evolution of this product and its siblings over the past two years. It's currently in version 2.3.7, and there's a free trial download available on the website.
WriteRoom is the brainchild of Jesse Grosjean, the man behind Hog Bay Software. He's also created a free online facsimile of the application (writeroom.ws), as well as an iPhone app called WriteRoom for iPhone [App Store, US$4.99]. You probably won't want to tap out your Great American Novel on an iPhone, although it does have a new sync functionality that automatically saves your work to the online application.

As writing tools go, WriteRoom is about as basic as they get. By default, you get green letters on a black background (see below). I mean a black background -- the entire screen goes black, with just a green flashing cursor awaiting your typing. As you type, the words scroll down until you're about halfway down the screen, at which time the text you've already entered starts scrolling up the screen like the aforementioned typewriter text.

There are no Twitter, Mail, or iChat windows to distract you, you won't be tempted to consider changing a font just to see what it does to the look of your writing, and you don't even have a menu bar. Some readers might suggest using TextEdit to do the same thing, but even in TextEdit there's too much going on in the background unless you shut all other applications down. Ulysses also provides a full-screen, text-only mode. [Reader Joris Heuberger gave a couple of good suggestions on Twitter for full-screen editing alternatives: try any text editor with the vintage but still functional Megazoomer SIMBL plugin; or give the free Bean editor a spin. -Ed.]

WriteRoom does give you a setting to make your screen background semi-transparent so you can at least see what's going on in the background, but I found I prefer to have it like my coffee -- black and opaque. There are also settings to change the colors if the green text on a black background gives you flashbacks to using a DOS-powered PC in 1983. One of the four preference panes that allow you to obsessively fine-tune WriteRoom to your exact specifications is seen below.

If you want to find out how many words you have written so far, you move your cursor to the bottom of the screen, and an updated word count appears. This would be perfect for National Novel Writing Month, where you're trying to write about 1,667 words per day and some writers can get a bit obsessive about watching the word count. With WriteRoom, you're not going to be tempted to look more than every five minutes or so.

WriteRoom even takes care of saving your content, with the default auto-save setting being every 5 seconds. I would personally like to see WriteRoom integrate with Hog Bay's free web app (writeroom.ws) for collaborative work on documents. I'm very glad that Grosjean understands just how hard it is to write on an iPhone, since he suggests using WriteRoom for iPhone only for the purpose of taking notes. If you purchase the iPhone app, you'll receive a $5 coupon off of the price of the Mac application.

Be sure to check out our previous posts about writing tools, most of which are linked to earlier in this article. My friend John Martellaro writes for a competing Mac website, The Mac Observer, and he's been writing an excellent series about writing tools as well. Remember, you can't be a writer until you put words onto (digital) paper, so whatever tool you choose to help you in your writing, just write as often as you can.

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Software Reviews

As you've probably gathered by now, I'm on a search for the perfect writing tool. I did a short blurb about Ulysses 2.0 a few weeks ago, I...