Tuesday, July 31, 2007

A Shot in the Dark

Okay, you know the scenario: you've got work to do.  You've promised yourself you'd write 5,000 words in your manuscript, or that you'd crank out most of that article you need to write, or you'd generate that summary report you've been promising to get done, by the end of the day.  But every time you try to start that process, something comes up.  You've got emails to answer; you've got someone IM'ing you, and hey, you can't be rude to them.  You're just going to go see that one teensy little web site, just for one second, not too long.  Maybe a quick game of Spider Solitaire will help me focus.  You know the deal.

Problem is, that "one quick" thing ends up being a few hours of lost time, and before you know it, you're way behind and you've got a Frosty's chance in Puerto Rico of making that deadline you set for yourself, or worse yet, the one imposed on you by someone else (like, say, your boss or that literary agent you're paying).  What do you do?

Well, I can't help you with the current crisis, but I can help you with future ones.  How about a program that blocks out all the distractions you face, all the nagging little time-thieves, and lets you focus just on what you're trying to get done -- write?

I have just the tool for you: JDarkRoom. 

As usual, I'm a bit behind the times on this, but like I said, I'm a software junkie and I love to fool with new toys.  For me, this is a relatively new toy, and I thought I'd pass on what I've found, even if it is old news.

JDarkRoom is a full-screen, streamlined text editing program that doesn't do anything except keep you focused on what you're writing.  It's a nifty little program that has a lot of great features, and none of the distractions, of a full-blown word processor.

The first great thing about JDarkRoom is that it's full-screen; that means nothing -- and I mean nothing -- else is visible to your screen.  Not the task bar, not the system tray, not the clock ... nothing.  Only the editor is in your face.  There isn't even a scroll bar for you to move up and down the page; you have to do that with PgUp and PgDn (or Page Up and Page Down) keys.

There is no menu, no icon bar, no status bar and no title bar.  Just you and the screen.

The second great thing about it is, the editor is a monochrome background with a single type face.  That is to say, you can choose the font color and the background color, and to some degree you can choose the font, but that's it for formatting options.  There is no bold, italics or underline option.  There is no changing the color of a single word or paragraph.  You can't use blockquotes.  All you can do is write.

What's so great about that?  Well, I know that, as a writer, I have a tendency to work and re-work my work (how much work would a woodwork work if a woodwork could work work?) over and over again, and I kind of like playing with fonts and colors and layouts depending on my mood.  But that's a time-killer, and before long, I've spent more time working the font and layout than writing.  JDarkRoom eliminates that distraction for me by simply not allowing it.

Additionally, it forces me to think about what I'm saying, and forget about how I say it or what it looks like.  I can focus on the structure and word choice instead of whether this should be emphasized or if I should bold that.  I just write, say what I want to communicate, and if I still feel it needs work, I can do that with other tools.  It forces me to get the writing done and forget about the other fluff.  It's all meat, baby.

Next, the software starts as a black background with a putrid, hideous green font, like a dumb terminal from years ago.  While I like the black background, it's not for everyone.  My wife doesn't care for it, for instance.  And, I can control it if it ever gets on my nerves and choose something softer, more friendly.   But I like it for now.  The foreground (or font) color is customizable with a nice selection of colors (although not infinitely so as it is in some applications), so I can change it as my mood shifts.  I like using an amber colored font against my black screen.

The next thing that's really cool is the fact that there is just a single column of text on the screen.  No tables, no bullet points, no numbered lists (which means it's not really suitable for every job); just the single column of text.  Because the text isn't spread over your entire screen, you can read what you've written -- or ask someone else to do so -- without the ol' swivel-head syndrome.  If you're old enough to remember the original, DOS-based text editors, they put the text all over the screen, and your eyes were forced to wander far and wide to read it all.  With JDarkRoom, you can control the column width, and keep your sanity and your focus at the same time.  Nice.

Finally, JDarkRoom has the ability to present you with word/character/line counts with a single keystroke, so if your goal is to generate a certain number of words for your manuscript to keep you (or get you back) on track, you can mark your progress along the way.  I use that feature a lot, because as I write short stories, I don't want them to balloon too much.  If the word count is really high, I can go back and see where I can re-word and re-work the text to say the same thing and be less wordy.  (I bet, at this point, you wish Windows Live Writer had that functionality too, so that I'd put a lid on it already.)

If you've stuck with me this far, then you're probably interested in seeing JDarkRoom for yourself.  I would recommend that.  If you're a writer, or if you do writing on a computer on a regular basis, JDarkRoom is a tool you should at least have tried.  It's amazing how well you can concentrate and get the job at hand accomplished without all the bells, whistles and distractions of a full-blown word processor.  It's like sitting in a dark room and telling a tale, and hence the name.

A couple of caveats, however, and a bit of history:

JDarkRoom is the by-product of a program called DarkRoom, which is a Windows-based attempt to copy a program for Mac called WriteRoom.   They all share a lot of commonality, and are essentially the same thing.  I'm recommending JDarkRoom because all of my readers (all three or four of you) may not be using the same platform.  If you're a Windows user (Linux and Mac people, please keep your comments and snide remarks to yourself), then you may want to try DarkRoom instead.  You'll need the Windows .NET framework installed if it's not already on your PC for another program, and it's available for free from Microsoft.  Do a search for it on Microsoft's web site and you'll find it.  I do not, however, know whether framework 2.0 or 3.0 will create problems for the app.  Use that one at your own risk, because I can't speak to it.  Mac users, if you're not using WriteRoom, try it or JDarkRoom; your computers already came loaded with the necessary components for it.

Okay, back to Windows users: to run JDarkRoom, you'll need Java installed.  This is the "J" in JDarkRoom.  Being Java-based, that makes sense.  It also makes the utility cross-platform, and I run it portably on a USB flash drive so it goes with me wherever I go.  If I'm someplace where only a Mac is available, I can run it, as well as on a Linux distro, provided that distro has Java installed.  Java, however, is not small.  It takes up a chunk of space on the PC's drive, so be aware of that.  Once it's installed, though, it runs quickly and smoothly, and I have no issues with using it at all.  Some folks were talking, at least last year, about DarkRoom's bugs, but I haven't found any in JDarkRoom through my limited use of it.

If you like what I've said so far, and want to try this out (come on, you know you do), you can download the application, and get more information about it's features and requirements, here.

Happy focused, concentrated, undistracted writing, y'all.  Can't wait to see what you produce.


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Anonymous said...

"With JDarkRoom, you can control the column width, and keep your sanity and your focus at the same time. Nice."

I have to ask. How?

I've been trying to figure out how to do that and my inability to do that has been the only thing wrong with JDarkRoom so far.

If it's really possible to control the width then I'm in heaven.


DarcKnyt said...

Okay, sorry -- I think I misspoke. I coulda sworn I saw this feature somewhere, but apparently, I was mistaken. I've looked over the website, see nothing about it, and my only excuse is that I must've had it confused with DarkRoom (which DOES allow that, along with other things JDR doesn't).

My apologies, I hope this wasn't a problem for you. Thanks too for pointing out the problem, I'll correct the post when I have a chance.