I have a desk. Sometimes it’s tidy, sometimes it’s messy. But undoubtably I study better when it’s tidy. Some people can revel in chaotic surroundings, others need to Feng shui their working space. I fall somewhere in the middle. I can certainly cope with messy surroundings, but it’s easier to organise my thoughts into a tidy logic if my surroundings are similar.
In front of a computer something similar happens. I’ve never been one to tweak my computer’s wallpaper and colours, although I might just adjust the default setting to something a bit more me. I prefer simple themes rather than glaring, flourescent setups.
As someone who first began using DOS-based word processors (ask your grandparents) I have witnessed the gradual rise of menu items and buttons above the space where I write. What used to be a few simple formating options have been bloated into a selection of bells and whistles that won’t improve your writing, but might make it look prettier.
Word processors replaced typewriters and were revolutionary in that they allowed writers to have second thoughts without the incriminating evidence. No longer were pages covered in Tipp-Ex or scrawled-out paragraphs. And no longer could an angst-ridden writer dramatically rip a page from the typewriter, roll it into a ball and toss it into the corner. The word processor produced a clean page of type, as if one’s first thoughts seamlessly appeared on the page, without need of editing.
I like the notion of the blank page. It used to be a cliché, something that terrified writers. But it’s also a wonderful invitation to your thoughts: a tabula rasa or blank canvas for ideas.
Recently, I discovered the perfect word processor that combines the pure simplicity of the blank sheet of paper with the functionality of the computer. Focus Writer removes menu items and buttons from view and invites your thoughts on a blank white screen or a specific backdrop. It is like having a tidy desk. There are no distractions and all of your thoughts are on the words that you write, rather than wondering how it would look in Verdana or whether key concepts should be highlighted in yellow or green. It’s available for OSX, Windows and Linux.
Another great feature is the ability to set daily goals, either as time or a wordcount. You can set a timer for, say 45 or 60 minutes to get used to timing yourself answering exam questions, or set yourself a certain wordcount.per day.
Armed with a clean desk and a clean computer screen, there are no excuses for unclear thoughts.
Michael is studying BSc Politics & International Relations