Distraction Free Writing

I have to be quick with this. I only have fifteen minutes.

Okay, for the last few days I’ve had a busy time of it. I’ve a friend who’s become ill at an inconvenient time for him. He has a job, you see: periodically he is asked by a local railway to help them by counting passengers. Since he’s unwell, I agreed to do it for him. It’s not the hardest job in the world. Easy, I thought. Not only easy, I can do it, and when I get home, carry on with my typing for the new book.

What could be easier?

The only problem is, that the first train is quite early. And I have to get to the station. So I have to get up at silly-o’clock (5.30 am) in order to get to the station in time for that train. And although I will be home soon after 2.00 pm, I’ll have done a reasonable day’s work. Standing on my legs all that while makes it quite tiring.

So when I get home and sit to type … guess what? There are emails, twitter messages, facebook messages and all the other social media interruptions you’d expect. How do I get around that?

I have an answer now. Not one I would have expected, either. But, bloody hell, does it ever work!

This review is being typed up by me on a ridiculously effective piece of software invented by the ingenious team at Astrohaus called “Sprinter”. It is a distraction-free piece of code that allows you to type – and type and type. There is a bar on the right, which you can set to a word count or to a timer (mine is a timer, as you can see), and there is a running commentary at the bottom which shows the words typed, characters typed, and how long it should take to “read” – I think. I don’t really care. Because this piece of software has allowed me, every day after counting people on the trains, to come home and type over 3,000 words quickly and without interruptions.

The idea of typing without distraction is not new. There are a number of apps which you can buy for Mac, Windows, Android and iOS. I personally use IA Writer quite often, as well as Nisus Writer Pro and Scrivener, which is, of course, superb and ideal for any novelist.

However, to be able to sit down and start typing with Sprinter, something else comes into play. I had expected to find that I was typing fairly quickly. I had expected to be able to put the words down and hurtle away with my story … but then I always do. I’m a fast touch-typist, and the sight of a keyboard doesn’t give me heart palpitations. Seeing an empty screen doesn’t worry me. So, generally, I am happy to write some 1,000 words an hour. I usually write 5,000 words a day when in first drafts.

But using Sprinter I have doubled my work throughput. Yes, I’m writing at up to 2,000 words an hour. And I think I know why.

Typing window

It is not only the “no distractions” policy of the software, it’s the fact that while typing, the author cannot go back. Yes, you can backspace, as you once would with a typewriter, but that is all. This is not a word processor. It is a drafting tool. There is a big difference.

Any word processor will have arrow keys: up, down, left right. These allow you to go to a specific chunk of text and change it. You can highlight, usually, and block out a word or a paragraph, You can insert or remove a comma. Not so with Sprinter.

No, with Sprinter, all you can do is use the backspace key to remove a few words but, for the most part, the whole concept of editing is anathema to this. The author just writes. Any editing is for the future.

Do I like that?

You bet! I am coming to wonder whether the two functions: writing and editing, are using different parts of the brain. If so, that would explain my increased productivity. Because it is massively increased.

There are many reports that suggest that a creative worker, when distracted, will take more than 15-20 minutes to get back into the mood and swing of that they were writing. If my wife walks in asking something about the bank’s balance or an invoice, it’ll knock me back fifteen or so. if the children come in asking to help get the tennis ball from the shed’s roof, even if I just bark at them and don’t go out, the thread of the narrative has gone and it’ll take an age to get back to it. I might just as well go and help them!

Perhaps it is the same with editing. If you are typing at speed, and suddenly see a typo, you will go back and correct it if you can. But I find that finding one leads to my discovering others. If I see a grammatical infelicity, or a string if text that could be improved, I’ll go back and change them; I am the world’s expert at personal distraction. But all I really want to do is move forward, setting out the basic story. If I can concentrate on that, and lose the concept of editing on the fly as I go, I can write a huge amount more and better.

And then, maybe it’ll be more efficient when I come to editing, too. It would not surprise me if, knowing that the story is mostly set out, my ability to edit will become more efficient too. Surely that makes sense?

So, I hear some of you say, how much time will it take to edit? Not too long. So far I have been working on documents about 1,000 words long, and I’ve found that they are going down on the screen at the rate of one every half hour to forty minutes. Then I copy and paste into my word processor of choice (books to Scrivener, articles, short stories and other items to Nisus) where I can edit. The edits seem to go faster, too. So I’m typing up complete scenes, several at a time, and then editing.

Is there any way to improve on this brilliant software?

One thing could make it still better. If only there was a machine that I could use to type on, with a typist’s keyboard that gave more feedback than this Apple (very pretty) flat bluetooth keyboard. Ideally it would have a fair bit of memory on it, but beyond that, not much else. A simple, small screen would be ideal.

Oh – Astrohaus do make one. They call it the Freewrite. With luck I will get one to review in the next month or so. If it’s as good as Sprinter, I can see myself buying one for my next book.

For now, though, the main thing is it’s making me much more effective, and that makes me feel very happy!



NOTE: I have no involvement with Astrohaus, no fees, no free machine or anything else. However, to write this entire piece and edit took about forty minutes including taking screenshots. I can heartily recommend it.

6 Responses to “Distraction Free Writing”
  1. What you say about creativity improving when you are not allowed to edit? That’s exactly why I’m so attracted to the idea of writing the first draft long-hand. (Which of course creates its own problems with taking so long to do.) So this is an interesting compromise. Thanks for the review!


    • I’m finding that the first draft longhand just isn’t working. It takes me too long! So irritating, because I was keen to get that done, but now I’m investigating alternatives. Seriously considering one of the Freewrite machines, because the chance of writing a novel or even scenes without distraction (and doing it on a really good keyboard) is very appealing. I can see how that would speed up my writing no end. Watch this space!


  2. Paul Barker says:

    Not long ago a friend sent me an old photograph of the two of us creating a small stapled “zine” we once sent out to a circle of friends. I was sitting at a typewriter typing straight to those old Gestetner/Roneo “skins” that were correctable using a special fluid, but you didn’t want to use it often. I rarely made mistakes

    Last week I was tidying boxes at the back of the garage. The treasure trove included some files of correspondence which was mostly from the 1980s and contained letters and carbon copies of my replies. Again, one could make corrections to a top copy, using Snopake or similar, but the carbon copies suggested that this was rare.

    There’s something about a typewriting background that allows the creativity to flow while the errors are minimised. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t any and I like the idea of using word processing software for editing. I’ll have a look at this software.


    • It’s a bizarre world, isn’t it? I still have my father’s old manual typewriter, his electronic typewriter, and a large, desk-sized manual. They are gorgeous machines and I love them (although I couldn’t justify typing books on them – it’s the re-keying). It seems weird to have gone from manual typewriters (and slide-rules, and punch-card computers) through electric, then electronic typewriters, on to word processors, office information systems, and now, because of distractions, I’m thinking of an electronic device mimicking a typewriter! At least it will give me time to concentrate!


  3. Lindsey Russell says:

    My problem is I’m such a lousy typist I can’t keep up with what I’m thinking. My handwriting is quicker but then I find myself writing a word that should be three along from the one I should be putting down.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: