But I recognize that for some, the prospect of learning a new tool is daunting. After all, writers do tend to be creatures of habit. So for those who have swallowed just a little bit of my Koolaid, but not enough to actually abandon your word processors, I offer you some simple steps that you can take to minimize the most invasive impacts your current tools might be having on your productivity.
1. Consider reverting to an older version of your word processor. The demands placed on your system by, say, Word 97, are much lighter than the demands of its modern cousin. Reverting to an older tool will pay huge dividends in terms of snappy response times, and will also have much simpler, less screen-consuming buttons and menus.
2. Consider setting up a dedicated computer for your drafting work. Keep it simple. Don’t install games, art tools, video players or any of the million other distractions that plague you during a normal work day. I happen to do 99% of my work on a $300 ASUS EEE-PC netbook, which is the last word in portability and efficiency for me. Some of you might find the screen or keyboard too small, but you can easily get a top-notch writing machine set up for well under 500 bucks these days.
3. Learn the 7 most important hot-key combinations: cut, copy, paste, bold, italic, save and open. Although your specific word processor might differ, those are usually: Ctl-X, Ctl-C, Ctl-V, Ctl-B, Ctl-I, Ctl-S and Ctl-O, respectively.
4. Turn off your menus. All of them. (That’s why you memorized the hot-keys.)
5. Disable all your button bars, widgets, bangles, boxes and bows. (Again, these are redundant with the hot keys.)
6. Close all other programs. Keeping other programs running slows down your processor, drains your battery (if you’re on a laptop) and increases the likelihood of distractions. So kill ’em. Kill ’em all!
7. I said close all the other programs. That means your internet browser too. Email can wait. Facebook can wait. Your online dating, koala cub photo site, and snowboarding with pets blog can all wait too. These are distractions and have no place in your writing world. If there’s a detail or fact you want to check later, just write this in your text: [CHECK THIS FACT LATER – JAS]. (You would put your own initials at the end, where I’ve put the JAS.) These notes-to-self embedded in the text stick out like a sore thumb when you scan the doc later, so you won’t forget to do your fact checking. And if you want to find all of them in a lengthy doc, just search for your initials in caps. However you manage the notes, do your fact checking later.
8. Open your word pro up to full screen. No, you do not need your desktop wallpaper photo of your high-school buddy doing that weird thing with the monkey wrench and ping-pong balls to be visible at all times. Really. You don’t.
9. Now, dive into your fancy new stripped down, greased up writing system… And write.