Cool Tool Review: Zen Writer

Creative writing is the great fickle mistress of my life. I've always had a great passion for the world of fiction and literature but the effort:reward ratio is most often too imbalanced for me. It's a frustrating contrast to my feelings about drawing and design; it's always been a given that I will, at times, struggle to make good art, but eventually I will overcome those hurdles and it will be fun along the way. Writing fiction is a slog. I want to establish a world and likable characters the reader will want to return to but that usually takes a bit more than just a day's work. With art the gratification is instant- "Look, there's the progress I'm making right in front of us!" With a book, it's more like, "Here, sit down and comprehend this for a while and let me know your nuanced take on the characterization as well as the coherence of the plot. " To make a long story short, writing is hard. I used to do it a lot as a kid, when I had no self-filter, but these days I have to be in the perfect mindset to even attempt it. Anytime I can find that special something that can get me excited about the long journey ahead is a treasure.

I first came across Zen Writer a few years ago when people were singing its praises on Tumblr. It's a lightweight program developed by one man show Beenokle and it only costs $20. It's the perfect word processor for the writer who requires getting into the zone before inspiration can strike- e.g., "I'm going to the summer cabin on the lake and listening to French music so I can finish my novel," or even "Don't mind me, just setting up here in this cafe with my cappuccino and working on my screenplay."

Zen Writer provides a unique work environment perfect for preparing your mindset to get into the world you are creating. Have you ever been to a yoga class where the instructor tells you to breathe, puts on the music, and turns up the thermostat and you drift into a sort of half-meditation? It's a bit like that but with less sweating. Here's some features.


The user interface is extremely minimal. There's a small menu on the side but it disappears as you start typing, leaving you in a full-screen space with just your words. You can choose to enable several options such as the word count or reading time display (until now I've never seen a writing program that estimates how long it will take to read your document). 


You'll notice, when you first open the program, some very chill music starts to play. I love the music options that come with the program. It's hard for me to write without silence but for some reason these tracks are just atmospheric enough to work as white noise. You can also upload your own. Along with music, you can also simulate typewriter key sounds, you shameless hipster. Or water droplets. Needless to say, all of these can also be turned off.


Another feature I really like about Zen Writer is its background art options. There's some moody nature photography you can set as your background (and a couple stock-looking graphics that I think don't really belong), and you can choose a lightness mode of Day or Night. This is perfect if you've ever felt like your retinas were about to be fried by the white screen of most word processors. You can also set a background picture of your own.


While the program lacks most of the more advanced options that Word would provide, you can change the typeface and font size to whatever you please, and you can pick from the typical 1, 1.5, and 2 line spacing. The menu itself doesn't include an italics or bold button, but I discovered that the keyboard shortcuts for these did work, so it's possible there are some other formatting capabilities hidden inside. There's also a simple Table of Contents feature which you can create with # designation. This lets you skip around to certain parts of your document. The documents export as .rtf files or plain text, and can import documents of the same file format.

I don't really want to submit Zen Writer to some arbitrary rating system, so I'll give it a "Go Try It!" You can download it for free for a 15-day trial, and if you decide to get it, it's not a whole lot out of your wallet. I made a no-commentary, zen video taking you on a quick tour through the program, because it really needs to be experience to be appreciated. Hey, and while you're at it, follow SNOWCOYOTE on YouTube. We'll have more neat things there in the future, and more program overviews to go with our  Cool Tool Reviews, just like this one.

Related writing productivity tools:

Rainy Mood, for atmosphere.

f.lux, for not frying your eyeballs.

Do you have any others to share? Drop those names in the comments.