I now have the attention span of a three-year-old.

It didn’t use to be that way; I could stay on point as long as anyone. But as I advanced in years, my mind increasingly had trouble focusing on any one thing for longer than a few minutes. For a writer/editor, that’s bad news.

When I work on my computer, there are dozens of things vying for my attention outside of the job at hand. A blinking notifier of new email, a particularly enticing new icon on the desktop just on the edge of my word processor’s window, it could be anything. Even the thought of new software recently installed that have yet to be explored, or a new game you haven’t yet tired of – these temptations intrude whenever there is a lull in my thoughts. Sometimes even staring at the desktop wallpaper makes me think of looking for a better replacement for the wallpaper and I end up wasting time looking for one. Don’t even get me started on what a fast, healthy, free wi-fi connection tempting me with generous bandwidth can do to my attention span.

That’s why I have such trouble getting work done. What I need is to cut down on distractions so I can focus on the writing.

Enter WriteRoom, from Hog Bay Software.

Heard about it from Merlin Mann’s 43Folders. It’s pretty simple.

It’s a word processor that takes all the frills out of your expensive, hi-res screened, expensive bells-and-whistles notebook computer, and blacks out everything but the words. It removes anything that can distract you. No menus, no icons, no command lines, no windows, no desktop. Just a pure black screen, and green glowing text like on the monochrome monitors of old, centered on your LCD screen and clunkily (and charmingly) scrolling down as you type. Even the cursor is a blinking block of green (or whatever you prefer, like white text on blue).


Now, I can accomplish so much more.

I forget Firefox, World of Warcraft, iTunes and Mail. I don’t care that my desktop is no longer the latest, coolest graphic of the hippest thing on the net and needs to be changed. I forget to check my friends’ blogs. I don’t get the urge to refresh Digg and Slashdot every five minutes. I even forget the gigs of downloaded media waiting to be watched. And who cares what’s new on YouTube?

It’s just me and the work. And surprisingly, it gets done.

Aside from the nostalgia factor (you young whippersnappers who have never used a green text monitor will never understand), the minimalist look distills the experience into a pure and liberating exercise with just you and your muse. The Mac becomes just a typewriter. Which is a good thing, in this case.

It’s shareware, a Mac Universal app (PPC/Intel), and it costs US$25 for a license. The Windows version is called Dark Room. Fully configurable, full-featured. You can choose your own fonts and colors, and adjust any setting you’ve been used to in other word crunchers. For my fellow writers out there who can’t seem to get it together, it’ll be the best P1K you’ll ever spend. It’s counterintuitive to pay for something that takes away all the good, rich stuff you’re used to, but in this case, less is certainly more.