Have you ever struggled to stay focused during a writing session?
There are few things more annoying than getting distracted in the middle of a productive writing spree.
One moment, words are coming thick and fast and the only thing that can stop you is the desire for another cup of coffee. Suddenly, a notification goes on your phone or you get distracted while searching for some info online. Before you know it, your creative spell is broken and you’re struggling to get back in the groove.
If you feel that writing in an environment with minimal amounts of distraction will improve your writing skills and your output as an author, read on! We’ve listed 13 tried and tested distraction-free writing apps to help you stay in the zone and make focused progress on your writing goals.
Some of the greatest creative minds of all-time swear by the power of minimalism. If you’ve ever seen the famous photo of Steve Jobs sitting in a sparse apartment, you know what we mean! FocusWriter is an app that fully embraces the power of minimalism to help you write better.
If you currently write in Google Docs, you know the endless distraction of the entire Internet is just a new tab away. However, with FocusWriter, you can compose your work in a stripped-back composition window that allows you to focus on the words you write and little else.
FocusWriter allows you to customize the backdrop, font, and colors it uses. This allows you to find the right combination for peak productivity. You can also set alarms within the app, as it otherwise blocks out your computer’s clock.
When you set and meet targets for either time spent writing or a defined word count, FocusWriter encourages you to keep going by recording your success as a streak. This discourages you from breaking a productive pattern. You can also blur everything except for the current line of text you are working on, preventing even the distraction of reading back over your work as you go.
FocusWriter is completely free, offered as Open Source, and compatible with Windows and Linux. Why not give it a go and see if it’s a good option for your next writing project?
If you want a writing app that combines the simplicity of Markdown with a distraction-free user interface, check out Calmly Writer.
You can work in Calmly Writer for free online, without any need to log in, or by downloading an app for Windows, Mac, or Linux. The main writing interface of Calmly Writer is a distraction-free blank screen with only a blinking cursor visible. However, you can customize the interface to display in dark mode, and can also adjust font sizes and colors.
ZenWriter is similar to a lot of other writing tools on this list in the sense that it offers a minimalist, full-screen environment that promises you the ability to power through productive sessions without the danger of distraction. However, unlike a lot of the other writing apps for focus, ZenWriter isn’t entirely free. It comes with a 15-day trial but has a small cost following that.
Although ZenWriter offers the simple and easy-to-use interface needed from a focus writing app, it doesn’t offer any obvious features to justify the price tag. If you try out ZenWriter and love it then you might feel fine about paying the price, but if you’re like most writers you will be able to find everything that ZenWriter offers and more, for free, elsewhere.
Different writing apps often follow one of two paths. On the one hand, you have the fully-featured powerhouse options like Scrivener that do everything you’ve ever dreamed of in a writing tool, and then some. On the other, you have ultra-minimalist options like FocusWriter. Ulysses is something of a bridge between the two extremes.
While the main writing environment of Ulysses is a very minimalist, distraction-free interface, the app also has powerful organizational features like folders for different projects and the ability to export your work in a variety of formats. Ulysses also incorporates a built-in proofreader and grammar tool, avoiding the need to stack apps with something like Grammarly.
If you want to use Ulysses, you need to use an Apple device as it's only available for Mac, iPhone, or iPad. You also need to be willing to pay the subscription cost which is currently $49.99 a year. Although some other tools in this guide are free, Ulysses combines a focused writing environment with powerful functionality that more than justifies the price tag for many writers.
iaWriter is one of the earliest and most-successful apps to lean into the concept of focused, distraction-free writing.
Its functionality is similar to a lot of other minimalist writing apps, but iaWriter has credibility due to being one of the longest-running apps of this type. It’s also won serious awards such as Apple’s App of the Year.
As well as being one of the original apps of its kind, iaWriter is compatible with a wide range of devices. You can run it on Mac, Windows, iOS, or Android. A free trial of iaWriter is offered for most platforms before a one-off cost of $29.99 to keep using it. The single payment will appeal to writers trying to avoid yet another subscription fee billed to their accounts every month.
ZenPen is arguably the most minimal of all the distraction-free writing apps on offer.
To use ZenPen, you have to have a browser open. There are no downloadable software files or app store versions. The tool itself offers nothing but a distraction-free space to write as well as a few simple functions, such as dark mode, the ability to set a word count target, and a way to export your work.
ZenPen is completely free but allows for donations if you want to support its creator.
myNoise takes a very different approach to help you focus on your writing than the other apps we’ve featured so far.
While most apps aim to provide a minimalist version of a conventional word processor tool, myNoise is focused entirely on the sounds you hear as you work and the effect they have on your writing. You can choose from sounds from nature, such as rain falling on a tarp, or even have the app create some automatic music from a limited selection of sounds, that will never fully repeat or sound the same again.
You can use myNoise online either through a desktop or mobile web browser. There are also dedicated apps available for Apple and Android devices alike. myNoise is entirely free but allows readers to donate in exchange for access to some more sounds.
Write or Die approaches the concept of focused writing in a very different way than almost everything else out there.
While most writing apps aim to boost your productivity by encouraging calm and focused crafting, Write or Die takes the opposite approach and pressures you into frantically overcoming any urge to slow your writing down.
So how does Write or Die work? At the start of a session, you can specify if you want to be rewarded for meeting your goals or punished for failing them. If you hit your intended word count target in the proper time, Write or Die will give you a pleasant image and sound, such as a picture of a cute kitten accompanied by a purring. If you fail to meet your target, expect punishment such as a screen full of spiders. You also have the choice of Write or Die physically deleting your words if you don’t keep up to pace. Yikes!
You can either try Write or Die online or download an app version. Write or Die further boosts your output by giving you detailed stats and allowing you to enjoy competing with other writers to see who can keep going the longest.
So far, most of the apps we’ve looked at aim to encourage you to write in a focused way, but don’t force you to. Freedom is the exception to that rule. Rather than create an immersive, minimalist environment for you to write in, Freedom simply blocks out everything you tell it to for a defined time.
Freedom is available on every major platform, including Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, and even Linux. In addition to the main Freedom tool, offered as a free trial, there are also entirely free browser extensions that offer more limited aspects of what Freedom does.
You have the choice to purchase the premium edition of Freedom monthly, pay for a year upfront at a discounted rate, or simply pay a single, larger payment and enjoy Freedom for the rest of your life without ever paying again.
If you struggle to stay focused in your writing app of choice, Freedom may be exactly what you need to force yourself and take your willpower out of the equation.
Typora is another tool for distraction-free writing based around using Markdown as opposed to various formatting menus. If you are familiar with Markdown, or willing to put in the relatively small amount of time needed to learn it, Typora is worth taking a look at.
You can download Typora for Windows, Mac, and Linux. The app is available for free for 15 days before requiring a one-off payment of $14.99 to continue use.
Ghostwriter is another minimalist writing app based around using Markdown to avoid any clunky interfaces or distracting layouts. Unlike some similar tools, Markdown is entirely free and offered as Open Source.
While Ghostwriter is still almost entirely minimalist, it has some cool features on the backend that give it a little more power than some alternatives. For example, you can track writing stats and export your work in a couple of different formats.
Ghostwriter is a great free solution if you want a useful Markdown writing app for Windows, Mac, or Linux.
Left is a super-minimalist writing and editing tool created by an aspiring novelist to help them focus on getting their book written. Over time, Left has kept its emphasis on plain text but is now available for Windows, Linux, and Mac.
Like Ghostwriter, Left is entirely free and open source.
Although Laverna is described as a notetaking app, there’s no reason you couldn’t for other types of writing as well. Just like a lot of other tools found here, Laverna uses Markdown to keep things simple.
Laverna is also totally free and open source. So what sets it apart? One of the guiding principles behind Laverna is privacy. There’s no way for your writing to be stolen or leaked through Laverna and it's entirely anonymous as there is no registration or account creation process for Laverna.
Why not download Laverna for Windows, Mac, or Linux and see if its privacy-first approach to simple markdown writing is a good fit for your needs?
Now that you have the best options on the table to choose from, make the choice that fits your needs.
And, once you've completed the “writing” part of writing your book, be sure to check out some of the best book formatting software options to ensure a professional finish for your book!