Herr Bischoff

Distraction Free Writing Apps

There’s a niche of writing applications that claim to focus on the writing experience. They come in all shapes and sizes and opinions, just like humans do. I took the time to look through about a dozen of them. I put them through their paces and tried writing with them.

Instead of writing a long post about the pros and cons of each piece of software, I present you my conclusion. After all, most of us don’t have the time for endless musings on software and personal opinions on everything under the sun. Here’s my condensed opinion though.

All the distraction-free writing apps are crap.

They either

  • miss important core feature,
  • have too many features,
  • require a custom theme format just to change the typeface,
  • expect a recurring subscription,
  • insist on organising files in a proprietary database, or
  • just lack taste.

A surprising amount of them use Electron, which is essentially no different from running a website built with JavaScript in the Chrome browser. The result: consuming more resources than a full Microsoft Office installation — for editing plain text. A task that the original Macintosh performed in 1984, complete with a GUI, in 128 kB of RAM. Running Microsoft Word. The overhead is stunning.

Further observations:

  • iA Writer is the least crap of the bunch but expensive. There’s no way to test-drive the iOS version.
  • FOSS software manages to fail with GUI even when there’s practically none to begin with.
  • Commercial software appears to follow weird incentives.

In the end, I landed on Neovim. Despite all its issues and sometimes annoying configuration, flaky behaviour with large files and restriction to a terminal shell, it turned out to be the most capable writing environment. No one is more surprised than me.

I guess the upside of this is that I don’t have to wonder if my writing tool of choice is ever going to vanish. Integrations with command line tools like vale, proselint and languagetool are fantastic. This works for me.

Let me know if you’re interested in my configuration. I may write it up. For the time being, here’s a screenshot.