I have been hearing about the Byword application on countless podcasts for months now. Until today, I had not tried it first-hand or understood how it could be a better distraction-free writing environment for me to draft blog posts.
Now that I am writing this via the application, I can honestly say that I do not anticipate using any other text entry application for drafting posts in the future. I have previously used several apps (including OmmWriter, TextMate and TextEdit), but none of them live up to the features of Byword. OmmWriter does have some nice features that Byword does not, but they don't make the writing experience more efficient in the same way. Below I'll call to attention my three favorite features that make Byword the best writing application I've used on my iMac.
Click on the feature heading to see an example screenshot.
I'm not even sure why Byword doesn't have Line Focus on by default. Had I not heard about the feature in one of the podcast reviews, I might not have immediately looked for it in the View menu. Line Focus allows you to have the current line of your writing highlighted by dimming the surrounding lines to a lighter shade. It doesn't seem like a big thing, until you use it. By having the other text fade to the background of what is already a distraction-free, full-screen, immersive experience, the current line of your writing flows in the same way that thoughts do from your brain. As your your thoughts progress, how you got to your current focus has faded. The feature makes writing less about going back and seeing how you got to where you are, and more about putting down the current thought in your mind and getting to the next in logical succession.
An alternative to Line Focus is Paragraph Focus, which applies the same idea to the entire current paragraph. This could be helpful if what you are writing is structured into very specific sections where the focus needs to be on properly classifying thoughts to the entire section.
Typewriter Mode takes me back. I remember learning to touch-type on an old-school electric typewriter at my grandfather's desk. My father and mother (who had desks in the same family-owned office) had upgraded to modern electric models, but my grandfather kept the model he had used for years. The keys were chunky and while they didn't require a great deal of force, the tactile feedback you received as you watched the magic the words being imprinted in the paper as the forged letter slugs swung to action, mounted on their long, thin arms was amazing. In a way it motivated me as a young writer. I wasn't writing anything of much value, but it created a thirst that is still quenched by putting words on a page (or screen) to this day. The biggest difference between writing in a current word processing application and the typewriter is that the current line is always in focus as far as position for the latter. The paper moves, the placement of where the writing is happening does not. I had never given this much thought before today. None of the other apps I've used offered this option (or perhaps I had just never discovered it), but it is nothing short of inspiring. It allows my eyes to remain fixed on the current line being written and they are not required to track down the page as I write more. Using it in combination with Line Focus is just awesome.
I'm very new to the wonderful world that is writing in Markdown. The thing that attracted me to it most is that it allows you to perform formatting, while still drafting in plain text. The best way to illustrate this idea is to show you two examples. This is what I see while I am drafting this post. The three hashes before the section title are used to create the HTML heading tag that will be applied when the Markdown text is rendered as HTML script. Here is how the same text will appear when published. Using Markdown Preview allows me to quickly and easily see how my post will look once published to the site. My blog platform (Squarespace) supports Markdown in draft-mode, so all I have to do is export my Byword writing and paste it in. I believe there are even more shortcuts that will save me even more time in the process of getting text out of Byword and into my blog, but I'll need to research that a bit more.
Word By Word
I am still fighting to build the habit of writing daily. Whether it be working on a blog post for this site, or simply putting down a few thoughts in an app like Day One. In order to become great at something, you have to do it until the process comes naturally. I can't say that I sit down at the keyboard and instantly have the thoughts flow into a cohesive and illustrative narrative, but I'm trying. What I can definitely assert is that using Byword, process is getting out of the way in a very natural fashion and the words are just flowing. Just like they did sitting at my grandfather's typewriter, they've never been more amazing to watch.