I'm a nerd, and proud of it. Yep, I said it. I've been tinkering and toiling away since high school with my 286 with its whopping 256kb ram and a 40mb hard drive. I had a vga monitor (there is a large difference between the vga of then and the super vga often delineated as simply vga today). I even added in a sound card, and managed to get it to work by finagling the IRQs. I started out with DOS 5, in the era before Windows.
Back in the day the word processor wars waged a bitter battle. I won't discuss the outcome of the war, as it's largely immaterial. Today I want to talk about a new, emerging trend of softwares: the stripped down novelty text editor.
It seems hardly a week goes by where some new plain text editor is hawked as the thing in writing, now. The idea behind them is to distill the writing environment down to its most fundamental: a screen, and a cursor. By ridding the real estate of everything else, it's believed to eliminate distractions. I can't say I've ever been distracted by the various menus and toolbar buttons of my word processor, so I don't get the appeal.
Others add in gimmicks to ease the burden of writing such as a concept that if the writer doesn't keep writing, the word processor will slowly begin to sound an annoying tone or even erase what was written. Another seeks to transform writing into a zen-like experience with pleasant sounds, soft backgrounds, and customizable clacking sounds of the keyboard. Some take the other route, and while providing a simple editor, offer extensive organizational tools that cross link, allow for pictures, sound files, notecards, and the like.
I've played around with them, and can't say that I prefer any of them over my word processor, and I've got reasons for them.
1. Text editors, while some of them support file formats other than plain text, do not allow for formatting inputs. If I need to add in italics, underlines or any other non-standard formatting, the text editors can't handle it. Yes, I could come back later and put them in, but what's the point? It makes more sense to add it right away instead of making a notation to do it later. Text editors also cannot handle headers, page numbers, indentations, or page breaks. The WYSIWYG interface of a word processor is also very nice to have.
2. Automatic backup and save options are limited. With my word processor I can tell it where I want to save backups, and how often, minimizing the chance of something going wrong.
3. A word processor is highly customizable. If you really want a stripped down appearance, you can do it! Take down all the toolbars, rulers, buttons, and what have you for a clean, no frills appearance. My beloved WordPerfect even allows for a fully retro appearance with a blue screen and a cursor (ahhh, memories).
4. Writers are required to know how to perform some more advanced functions on word processors. Aside from knowing how to properly format a manuscript (and that means not inserting headers and page numbers manually or hitting enter several times to get to a new page. More on manuscript formatting here) there are the tools of editing, such as Track Changes, which Rachelle Gardner posted about some time back found here.
5. Distractions come in many shapes and sizes. I don't believe that a plain text editor really is a solution. The various menus of word processors really aren't the distraction. Internet, TV, other people, and cats are distractions (even now my cat has decided that my keyboard is an excellent place for her tail to rest). And, let's face it, distractions happen no matter where you're at or what program you're running.
I think it's far less complicated to eliminate extra software. The time it takes to learn these new text editors (despite having minimal features) could be better spent writing, or even getting to know your word processor under the hood. Make it fit your needs instead of going for gimmicks.
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