Friday July 4, 2008
If it’s been a bit quiet over here for the last few weeks, at least it is for good reason: in a couple of weeks, I move up to Yorkshire, after almost seven years in Birmingham. We’ll be living in Pudsey, half way between Leeds and Bradford, and I’m looking forward to a change of scene; but at the same time, moving always takes more time and energy than you would anticipate. So I’ve been preoccupied with packing things into boxes (books, books, books…), applying for jobs further north (curse those Microsoft Word application forms) and so on. I should be properly installed up north by the end of July, and then I’m off on holiday in August; so it may be a quiet summer here on thinkBuddha. We’ll see…
On top of the whole business of moving house, I’ve been trying to get some writing done. And here, amid the many distractions offered by a life that is currently in transition, I have been relishing the wonderful piece of software that is JDarkRoom. JDarkRoom is inspired by the Mac program WriteRoom (see the link here), and is, in essence, very simple. It is a full-screen text editor that offers a distraction-free writing environment. It is only when you actually use such a thing that you realise how distracting using a standard word-processor actually is, with all of the bells and whistles, not to mention all the other things that may be open at the same time on your desktop.
JDarkRoom, on the other hand, just provides green text on a black background (although you can change the colours if you like), a few keyboard shortcuts and that’s it. Writing in text files allows you to concentrate on the content and structure of what you are writing, rather than on fancy formatting. I am astonished by how effective it is as a writing environment. If you are fed up with the way your mind flits around whilst writing on your PC, JDarkRoom is the tool for you. Hell, it’s almost as good as using a typewriter. And not only is it a pleasure to use, reducing both distraction and eyestrain, and allowing for a calm and concentrated space in which to write (and one should, to paraphrase the great Leonard Cohen, choose the rooms one writes in with care), but it also feels pleasingly retro with that green on black.
If you ever go to an author event or reading, during the questions somebody will almost inevitably ask the writer what they actually write on: ‘Do you use a pen, a typewriter or a computer?’ I don’t know why this question is always asked, but it is. But, just for the record, this is what I use to write at the moment: jDarkRoom coupled with LaTeX to typeset and structure my documents – which makes writing and editing a pleasure and also produces documents of aching beauty (although it is regrettable how many in the humanities insist on MS Word documents for submissions). To these two, you only have to add the wonderful JabRef for managing citations, and Zotero for collecting bibliographic information from the web, and you have something close to writing heaven. These days, I hardly have to open MS Word (or that lumbering great beast Open Office) at all, aside from filling in those pesky job application forms…
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