Words on a Page Writings about writing

3 minimalist tools for writing

A closeup on some text on a piece of paper in a typewriter

I know far too many writers who focus on their tools. They believe that unless you’re using, say, Word or Scrivner you’re doing it wrong. That you’re not (in their words, not mine) tapping into your full potential as a writer.

I disagree.

For me, the tool isn’t important. Your talent, your ability, your skill as a writer doesn’t flow from the tool you’re using. All of that flows into the tool. Your words won’t shine more brightly or have more impact if you use a word processor rather than a text editor, or vice versa.

Sometimes, though, we need to get closer to the words we’re puting on the page. To do that, we need to step back and write with something a little more stripped down.

Presented for your perusal: three web-based, minimalist tools for writing that let you concentrate on your words.


Writer bills itself as the internet typewriter. It does live up to that billing. You have what’s essentially a blank sheet of paper.

As a minimalist writing tool, Writer shines. There’s nothing to distract you, and the interface is clean and easy on the eyes. You can tell Writer whether you want your document to be plain text or Markdown and, if the latter, it offers a preview. While Writer stores your documents online, you can also download them as a text file or a PDF.

You can also configure Writer to change the colours of the background and text, change the font, and you can even tweak the settings to play typewriter sounds as you type. With a paid account, you can link Writer to Dropbox or Google Drive or Evernote, get a thesaurus and a running word count, and download an archive of all your documents.

Writer in action


ZenPen is probably the most no-frills of the tools that I look at in this post. It’s pretty much black text on a white background (which you can also invert), and ZenPen allows you to set a target word count. That’s the number of words you want to write in a writing session. As you near that word count, the scrollbar on the right side of your browser window changes colour from gray to blue to green.

You can also add some basic formatting to what you’re writing — bold, italics, blockquote, and hyperlinks. When you want to save your writing, you can download it as an HTML, Markdown, or plain text file. Your formatting only shows up in Markdown and HTML files.

The only thing I don’t like about ZenPen is that I can’t change the font. I prefer either a sans-serif or monospace font when working in tools like this.

Editing this post in ZenPen


StackEdit, which I looked at in this post, web-based Markdown editor. It displays your text on the left and a preview of what you’ve written on the right. The toolbar at the top of the window lets you quickly apply formatting like headings, images, links, lists, and character styles.

You can open files from, and save them to, Google Drive and Dropbox. Well, most of the time anyway. StackEdit’s integration was broken for a while and although I haven’t had any problems with it lately, I’ve heard some people complain the problems are still there. And you can publish your work to Blogger, Tumblr, WordPress, GitHub, or your own website.

While StackEdit is a web-based tool, you can use the Chrome browser extension when you’re not connected to the internet. When you’re offline, you can open files from and save them to your computer. You can also save your files as HTML. For $5 a year, you can get a few additional features like the ability to save your documents as PDF files.

Writing in StackEdit

Final thought

Minimal writing tools aren’t for everyone. But I find them to be a boon, especially when I need to get away from distractions or just concentrate on the words I’m trying to write. They might be useful to you, too.

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