Best Focus Apps for Writers: 9 Tools for Distraction-free Writing

Writing is hard work. Whether it’s an email, a short story, or an entire novel, it requires focus and clarity to get the words in your head down on the page (or screen). And with all the websites and apps out there that are literally designed to keep you engaged as long as possible, staying focused becomes an uphill battle. Then you have all the features and tools in your writing software or app, all of which can also be distractions. 

This is why I wanted to make a few recommendations for the best focus apps for writers. There are some excellent ones to choose from, and there’s sure to be one that can help you stay focused and get your writing done quickly and efficiently!

In this article, you will learn:
  1. Best Focus Apps for Writers
  2. The Best of the Best: Our Recommendations
  3. Honorable Mentions: Tools to Keep You On Task

Best Focus Apps for Writers

Let's start with our list of the best focus tools for writers in general.

FocusWriter (Windows, Linux)

FocusWriter is a great free tool that's designed for distraction-free writing. It has some key features you can access by moving your mouse to the edge of the screen. Otherwise, the toolbar fades away when you're writing so you can focus on getting your words down. It's designed to resemble a sheet of paper on a background of your choosing (several templates to choose from). FocusWriter also has some great features.

Features:

  • Customizable Themes
  • Alarms and Timers
  • Portable Mode
  • Daily Goals
  • Optional Spell Check

Cost: Free

Atticus (Online, Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android)

We released Atticus not long ago, and there are still a lot of features in the works. But for as many features as will be available for Atticus users, the design will still be simple to limit distractions. You have the option to fill the screen with the text window aside from the chapter bar on the left and a basic toolbar on top. For an all-in-one book writing software, you'll be surprised at how distraction-free Atticus is when you just need to meet your word count for the day.

Additional Features:

  • Familiar Text Formatting
  • Organizational Tools and Features
  • Ability to Work on Just on Chapter or Section
  • Available on Every Platform
  • Goal Tracking
  • Autosave
  • Available On and Off-Line

Cost: This All-in-One formatting, writing, and editing tool is available for just $147

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Scrivener (Mac, iOS, Windows)

Scrivener is a well-known writing software that's most useful for book writing. And while its normal mode isn't great for focus, it does have the option for you to turn on distraction-free writing mode, which limits your options within the software. There's also a typewriter mode, which automatically keeps the cursor in the middle of the screen.

Features:

  • Familiar Text Formatting
  • Customizable Full-Screen Writing
  • Organizational Tools and Features
  • Ability to Work on Just on Chapter or Section

Cost: $49

Calmly Writer (Online, Windows, Mac, Linux)

When you visit the Calmly Writer website, you're greeted with a blank white page, aside from a little flower in the top left corner. You can click in and start typing right there on the homepage of the online version of this tool. This is indicative of the distraction-free writing you get with the app. As far as writing productivity tools, it's hard to beat this one for simplicity. The app's interface essentially disappears when you start typing, and it highlights only the paragraph you're working on, sending all else fading into the background. This is one of the markdown writing apps on this list, but you can also use the pop-up menu to change your preferences.

Features:

  • Theme and Color Options
  • Smart Punctuation Options
  • Optional Typewriter Sound
  • Optional Word Counter

Cost: $10

Ulysses (Mac & iOS)

If you're looking for a great app to keep you focused on your writing, Ulysses is one of the more powerful (but pricey) options. Ideal for bloggers and freelance writers, this app is a markdown-based tool, which will allow you to format headers and text by using the keyboard alone. For some writers, this is the preferable way to work, without reaching for the mouse every time they need to change something. Unfortunately, if you're looking for an app to use on your Windows laptop or Chromebook, you'll have to find another, since Ulysses is only available on Mac & iOS.

Features:

  • Focused Writing
  • Markdown Formatting
  • Typewriter Mode
  • Syncs to iCloud for Use on All Devices
  • Integration with WordPress and Medium

Cost: $5.99 per month or $49.99 per Year

Storyist (Mac & iOS)

Storyist is a word processor and story-driven app with limited options and a simple interface for focused writing. It's not as bare-bones as some of the other distraction free writing apps on this list, but its pared-down features are great for those who just want to focus on writing. It's better for novelists and screenwriters than it is for nonfiction writers or bloggers. It has some good features for plotting, tracking character appearances, and producing a submission-ready manuscript. However, these great features can be distracting at times. Plus, this app is only for Mac and iOS.

Features:

  • A Rich Text Editor with Added Features
  • Provides Manuscript and Screenplay Templates
  • Tools for Outlining
  • Cloud Storage
  • Goal Tracking

Cost: $59.99

iA Writer (Mac, Windows, iOS, Android)

iA Writer is a deceptively simple tool — in a good way. It does such a good job of keeping you focused on the writing that it's easy to forget about the other helpful features available for when the writing is done. Focus mode blocks out everything but the document you're working on in iA Writer. And dark mode is great for those of us whose eyes hurt after staring at the computer all day. Not to mention the ability to export to MS word, or preview what a PDF of your document will look like. It also has a style checker and optimizable typeface, to name a few more options.

Features:

  • Smart Punctuation
  • Simple Interface
  • Syntax Highlight
  • Style Checker

Cost: $29.99

Byword (Mac, iOS)

For a simple productivity app and formatting with markdown syntax, Byword is a good choice. It's no-frills text editor that focuses on basic formatting and getting words down on the blank screen. You can publish to Evernote, Medium, WordPress, and Blogger from Byword. Plus, it backs up to iCloud and Dropbox so you can access your work on any Mac or iOS device.

Features:

  • Complete Markdown Support
  • Super Simple Interface
  • Export and Save or Publish Directly Online

Cost: $5.99

Typora (Windows, Mac, Linux)

If you're all about markdown syntax and want a distraction free writing app, Typora is the one for you. This free app provides a real time interface so you can see what your document looks like as you write it by removing all the distracting markdown symbols and code. Otherwise, it's pretty bare bones, keeping you focused on the writing without the distractions or endless options of a Microsoft Word or Google Doc. This plain text editor features several custom themes to keep you engaged. Perhaps best of all, it's absolutely free!

Features:

  • Simple Design
  • Supports Coding
  • Supports Images
  • Removes Distracting Symbols in Real Time

Cost: Free

The Best of the Best: Our Recommendations

Now that we've covered the best focus apps for writers (in no particular order, btw), it's time to make recommendations for the major operating systems. Let's start with the best focus writing app for Mac.

Best Focus Writing App for Mac

Ulysses wins out as the best app exclusively available on Mac and iOS. This app is made with distraction-free writing in mind, but that doesn't mean it's not a powerful tool to help you publish, format, and sync your writing projects. It just does a good job of keeping those advanced tools out of your way until you need them.

It's a writing tool with features that bloggers and freelance writers will love, but you can also write notes, stories, outlines, and novels on Ulysses — all without getting distracted by bells and whistles. It's great for use on your iPad, iPhone, and Mac computer, thanks to the seamless syncing feature. It also supports keyboard shortcut navigation, so you don't have to take your hands off the keyboard! The one drawback of this app is the fact that it's a monthly or yearly fee. No one-time payment for this app.

Features:

  • Focused Writing
  • Markdown Formatting
  • Typewriter Mode
  • Supports Goal Setting
  • Choose Editor Theme
  • Allows External Dropbox Folders
  • Syncs to iCloud for Use on All Devices
  • Integration with WordPress and Medium
  • Use on Your Apple Mobile Device

Cost: $5.99 per month or $49.99 per Year

Best Focus Writing App for Windows

FocusWriter is the best productivity app for Windows. It has some very nice key features that enhance your writing time by keeping you focused. These features fade away when you're writing, and you can access them again by moving your mouse to the side of the screen. You can choose from several backgrounds, and you can turn on optional features like typewriter sounds, live stats, and spelling/grammar checker.

You can set timers and alarms within the app, and it has fully customizable themes so you can make it your own. It also has portable mode and multi-document support. Best of all, it's free!

Features:

  • Customizable Themes
  • Alarms and Timers
  • Optional Typewriter Sound Effects
  • Sessions
  • Optional Live Stats
  • Portable Mode
  • Daily Goals
  • Optional Spell Check

Cost: Free

Best Focus Writing App Compatible With All Systems

For a writing app that does it all and is compatible with every system, Atticus is the only choice. I may be a little biased because this is my baby, but the feedback we've been getting from users is excellent! We've taken all the best features from the most popular word processor tools out there and combined them into one — all while keeping the interface simple and distraction-free.

So whether you've been writing in Scrivener or a Google Doc or even an app like Evernote, you'll feel right at home with Atticus. You can customize Atticus to your liking, working on just one chapter or section at a time. We've also got word count goal tracking and grammar checker ProWritingAid integration upcoming. For a distraction-free word processor that also does print and eBook formatting but doesn't take a degree to operate, Atticus is unbeatable.

Features:

  • Familiar Text Formatting
  • Organizational Tools and Features
  • Ability to Work on Just on Chapter or Section
  • In-App Spell Check
  • Tons of Customizable Themes
  • Simple Print and eBook Formatting
  • Available on Every Platform
  • All Future Updates Included
  • Goal Tracking
  • Autosave
  • Available On and Off-Line

Cost: One-Time Payment of $147

Honorable Mentions: Tools to Keep You On Task

We've mostly focused on writing apps in this article, but there are some other tools out there that deserve a mention. These aren't technically writing apps, but they can help you stay focused by limiting other distractions, such as social media.

Freedom 

  • This tool allows you to block distracting websites and apps so you can focus. You can schedule these blocks ahead of time or start them up whenever you're ready to write. Available on Mac, iOS, Windows, Android, and Chrome.
  • Cost: $30 per year or $6.99 per month

FocusMe 

  • This app is similar to Freedom in that it blocks distracting apps and websites. You can completely block the ones that eat up your time, or you can limit them. It also has a “force” mode when you really need to get stuff done. It's a great way to build a better writing habit if you often struggle to get or stay focused.
  • Cost: The Android app is free! – $79.99 for three years, $39.99 for one year, or $6.99 per month for Windows and Mac.

Cold Turkey 

  • This is another distraction-blocking tool. You can even make it so you can't uninstall the app once you've created a time block, making it nearly impossible to get around. This one is good for those who tend to go the extra mile to procrastinate. Put that creativity to work with this app! Available for Mac and Windows.
  • Cost: Free basic version and a pro version for a 1-time payment of $39.

Conclusion

Whether you're suffering from writer's block or you can't seem to focus on your writing project, one of the apps above can help you stay focused. After all, distractions are all around us. Even just clicking into your Google Drive dashboard can be an exercise in distraction. And while the biggest ones tend to be just a click or two away on our phone or browser, it's also easy to get distracted by endless features and too many options in your writing app.

There are many similar apps on the market, but I think the ones above are the best-rated and most effective for creating a distraction-free writing experience.



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