Businesswoman meditating, for The Frugal Parson on ZenwareDo Your Writing Tools Frustrate as Much as They Help You Create?The Frugal Parson

If you’ve used a lot of high-end software, think of all the time you’ve spent searching through menus or ribbons just to find the command you want. You’ve also been frustrated with all the hoops you need to hop through just to accomplish relatively simple tasks. Pop-ups or squiggly lines demand your attention for spell-checking and grammar-checking, and the ubiquitous reminders of the Are-you-really-sure-you-want-to-do-this? nature can be maddening at times. Throw in widgets, wizards and whats-its, docks, system trays, and toolbars and you have so many features to play with you can’t do any work. (If you don’t believe me, open every toolbar in Microsoft Word or LibreOffice Writer and try writing something.)

There’s an entire class of software that strives to end these distractions and put as little as possible between you and your creative process. They strip away all unnecessary commands and menus and options. Collectively, these programs are called Zenware. For writers, they are the minimalist option for creativity.

This is, by the way, one of the basic precepts of the Frugal Guidance 2 blog, one which many frugal computer users should appreciate. Aim for simplicity, not the expensive, whiz-bang, complicated programs (unless, of course, those complicated programs can help you produce simple work).

What is Zenware?

Zenware is more a philosophy than a specific software tool. (Caution: There is a company and website called Zenware, but they don’t appear to create “Zenware.” Go figger.) The purpose of the Zen approach is not to publish, or blog, or email, or create PDF’s. The purpose is to create.

Unlike Microsoft Word and LibreOffice, which are great publishing tools, the Zen approach is to create a software program that does one thing well. Not all Zen programs are for writing, but most Zenware tries to create a distraction-free environment to put words down on the screen. The ideal is to imitate writing on paper, with as few software choices as possible.

The goal is just to write. Not fiddle with non-writing choices. The Frugal Parson likes this!

Water Lilly Closeup, for The Frugal Parson on Zenware; Copyright 2011 by Andrew Brandt

Clear, distraction free writing software

Some common features of Zenware are:

  • No distracting menus
  • Full screen editing
  • No squiggly lines created by spelling and grammar checkers
  • Little or no formatting
  • Dark, colored, or textured backgrounds to hide distracting computer desktops
  • They usually create only simple text files using a limited number of fonts.
  • The software makes few processor or memory demands and should work on older systems.
  • Creates small text files, easy to share via email or format later in Word, LibreOffice, Google Writer, Zoho Writer, and almost any other word processor.
  • Bloggers can simply write and, later, add HTML formatting in their blogging software.
  • Alternatively, bloggers can write using Markdown, then transfer to a Markdown compatible program to create HTML. At least one program adds Markdown to its options.
  • Writers with (or without) ADD may find Zenware helps them focus on the task at hand.
  • Poets, lyricists and other short form writers may like the contemplative style of Zenware.

Other possible options

  • Choice of background and font colors.
  • Choice of environmental sounds or new-age style music.
  • Many of these programs, such as WriteMonkey, can be used from a USB drive / memory stick, for easy portability between computers. Essential if you work on several computers or in a computer lab or library.

Most of these programs present you with a blank or black (or tastefully decorated) screen with few or no menus or other distractions. The work window usually takes up the full screen and you may need to push an F-key to even see a menu.

Some of these programs have the option of using a totally black screen with green or yellow text. Older writers might remember when this was the way most word processors approached writing. (Got DOS?)

Some programs also offer soothing musical or environmental sound backgrounds which are handy for blocking out noise of office machines and other workers — or just to put the writer into a creative mood.

The idea is to encourage you and your writing inspiration. Even if you like full-featured word-processors, you should try some of these out for your creative and/or journaling projects. (A paper journal may also be a useful option.)

In other words, if you want to focus on writing — putting the words down — Zenware or some of the near Zen tools, may be best for your creativity.

Disadvantages of Zenware

  • Some writers may not like having to export text to another program or app to add formatting.
  • Like people who grow up in the city and can’t stand the quiet of country life, people who learned how to write on Microsoft Word might find the lack of features to be scary. The distraction-free environment can be its own distraction, at first.
  • Mac and iOS writers are often more likely to be comfortable with text processors since they have been more prominent in the Mac OS than in Windows, which is dominated so heavily by Microsoft Office. (This difference dates all the way back to the 1980s and incompatibilities between early Mac and Windows programs.)
  • A few programs have very limited font choices. If you have a favorite font for writing or reading (or if you are vision impaired) you may want to explore which programs give you the right fonts and sizes.
  • For some musician-writers, the sounds or music can be more distracting than useful.
  • Zenware is just the first step in producing a finished product (a book, blog article, a brochure, a PDF, or a research project).

Next posts

In our next post we’ll explore specific Zenware products, such as OmmWriter and its imitators, Q10, WriteMonkey, FocusWriter and more, for Macs, PCs, Linux and the web.

Then we can explore some frugal, near-zen tools you might already have, or can get free or cheap, to match your workflow and writing needs.

What Zenware tools to you use? Tell us in the comments.

Electro Dragonfly - Copyright 2011 by Andrew Brandt

Portions of this article were adapted from an article on the original Frugal Guidance blog.


“Businesswoman doing yoga” courtesy of Ambro and

“Water Lily” and “Electro Dragonfly” by Andrew Brandt. Copyright 2011.

Frugal Guidance 2 -