Writing in Plain Text on the Web with Writer

Over the years, I've probably investigated and used more writing tools than I should have — plain text and otherwise, for the desktop or for mobile and on the web. Of those tools, I stuck with a handful for a few years. They were that useful.

A while back, I made the move to simplify my digital life and ditched many of those tools. But because I don’t use them doesn’t mean they’re not useful. They are. They’re just not for me right now.

One of those tools is Writer. Let’s take a look at it.

What’s Writer?

Writer’s developer describes it as the Internet Typewriter. More to the point, Write is a distraction-free online text editor. You don’t get much in the way of formatting, but you do get a tool that you can use anywhere and on any computer.

It’s easy to use. Plus you can access it with a mobile device.

Using Writer

You’ll need to sign up for an account. There’s a free option (which covers most of your writing needs), and you can also get a paid account if you want to support the service.

Once you log in, you have a blank canvas:

Writer when you first log in

Just start typing. The first line of what you’re writing is the title, and that appears in the Recently modified list at the bottom of the screen.

List of your work in Writer

Click the Save icon to save your work. Writer does that automatically if you have a paid account.

Whenever you log into Writer, click one of the items in that list to open it.

Writer in action

On the icon bar near the bottom of the Writer window is a button that you can use to switch between text and Markdown modes. That doesn’t have any effect on what you’re editing — you’ll work with it as plain text. However, the mode you select does have an effect on what happens when you print or export your work to PDF.

Printing or exporting in plain text mode displays your work as plain text — including any markup you have in your document.

Plain text export from Writer

Printing or exporting in Markdown mode formats the output.

Plain text export from Writer

When you’re in Markdown mode, you can also preview what your document will look like when you export it.

Previewing your work in Writer

Exporting Your Work

As I mentioned a few paragraphs ago, you can export your documents to PDF. You can also export them as plain text and HTML5 files. With a paid account, you can also publish your documents to these blogging platforms:

Exporting from Writer

Configuring Writer

When you first log into Writer, you might find the green text on a black background a bit glaring. If you’re familiar with the old terminal screens, then you’ll be right at home with Writer. If not, click the Settings icon at the bottom of the screen. You can change:

You can also turn off the annoying typewriter sounds that play when you type. I’m still not sure what the point of that is …

Some Other Useful Features for Writers

You can click the icon the top left corner of the screen to set goals either for your current writing session or for your document as a whole. You can set a word or character count, or the number of minutes over which I want to write.

If you get a paid account, you get a few additional features like a thesaurus and a history of your changes to your documents. You also get the ability to:

Final Thoughts

While Writer isn’t a tool I currently use, it’s one I can recommend if you need a simple place on the web to write. Plain text is at Writer’s core, and it enables you to focus on your words and not formatting.