Surprising Distraction-Free Writing App

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Distraction free LibreOffice Writer and dock icon example

I’ve been looking for a distraction-free writing app lately for drafting more stories. All popular ones have their pros & cons, however, the best of the best will cost you a mediocre one-time fee (or a more insidious monthly fee). I believe I’ve found a solution that not only ticks all my boxes but is cross-platform, handles a ton of formats, free, and open-source software (FOSS for short). The surprising distraction-free writing app is… LibreOffice.

Cleaning up the UI

The hallmarks of a nice distraction-free writing app are a centered text region, a width-limited writing area, typically no visible UI, and nice clean legible fonts. It gets out of the way and does what you need it to do. By default, Libre Office Writer is not this way.

Libre Office Writer's initial state covered in toolbars and UI noiseFirst things first, while this guide will be exclusively for the Mac, the Windows version should be able to do the same.

Cleaning the writing area

Now head to LibreOffice’s menu option “Preferences…” under its main menu (Tools in Windows). Open the sub-section LibreOffice > Application Colors.

  1. Disable Text boundaries and Shadows.
  2. Set your Document background and Application background to the same color.
  3. Finally, adjust your Font color to fit your theme.

I personally use a darker-sepia writing scheme as warmer light is supposedly easier on the eyes.

Libre Office's general color preferencesCleaning up your default fonts

After setting up the writing area, and while within this preferences pane, open the sub-section LibreOffice Writer > Basic Fonts (Western). Most distraction-free writing apps use a larger font, so I recommend bumping everything but Heading up to 13 or higher. The Heading should be larger. If you aren’t a designer, search online for great Google Fonts pairings to get some ideas.

Libre Office Writer's general font preferences

Ditch toolbars, add basic formatting tools

Libre Office provides lots of options in their toolbars. But since we are only writing, and not creating a master thesis, let’s get rid of them. Head into the View menu, and uncheck Status Bar, Sidebar, and all bars under Toolbars.

Now that all UI is gone there is no easy way to add basic formatting. There is a simple solution for that too, the right-click menu. Head back to View > Toolbars, then scroll down to Customize… Once here go to the Context Menus tab and choose Target > Text. These are your right-click menu settings.

LibreOffice Writer's right-click menu settings

When you’re done it should look something like this.

Simplified LibreOffice Writer UI

And what your context menu may look like…

Custom Libre Office Writer context menu

Enjoy your FOSS distraction-free writing app, and take that money you saved and donate to the project.

Bonus customization

Libre Office hasn’t updated its icon for Big Sur yet. I created a few variations you can use.

Just download your favorite ICNS file, right-click > Get Info on the app in and drag your new icon over the existing one. Looking good!

LibreOffice custom icon

Opinions and views expressed here don't necessarily reflect those of my employer.
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