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Distraction-Free Writing in WordPress 3.2

By July 27, 2011 Recommendations

As a fan of WordPress, as soon as 3.2 was released, I found myself reading the changelog. While doing so, I noticed a very intriguing feature addition:

Start writing your first post in our redesigned post editor and venture to the full-screen button in the editing toolbar to enter the new distraction-free writing or zen mode, my personal favorite feature of the release

Zen mode? Distraction-free writing? Sounded good, so I proceeded to update all my WordPress installations. To fully impress upon you how significant of a feature it is, here’s what the typical WordPress WYSIWYG editor looks like:

The standard editor within WordPress offers plenty of controls, making it a very busy-looking page.

It’s a full-featured page, that’s for sure – but it also has quite a lot of controls surrounding it. The text editor itself loses some screen space to these controls, even vertically – requiring a scrollbar. I often find myself resizing the editor by dragging the bottom right corner, until I have the maximum vertical space available to me. While this works, WordPress does not actually remember my preferences, forcing me to manually resize whenever I’m working on a post.

Now, with all that said, take a look at full-screen mode:

Full-screen mode has a main toolbar, and not much else.

Full-screen mode is a highly simplified version of the regular WordPress editor. All you really have is the toolbar at the top, subtle outlines of your title and content sections, and a lot of free space.

Then, two seconds later:

If you wait a few seconds, or start typing - the little UI that exists will actually disappear.

The controls disappear, making it so only the content is visible. When this originally happened, it was a bit of a shock to me, as I realized that having the full WordPress interface around the content (as I typed) gave me some re-assurance. It kept telling me when it auto-saved, the word count, stuff like that. But in this new mode, I seemed to be on my own – what if I accidentally navigated away? I barely felt like I was in WordPress anymore – it almost looked like completely different application. It’s at this point that I tweeted a message to @wordpress:

@wordpress Good job guys, I really like the new dashboard design. Full-screen editor will take some getting used to, though – but it’s nice.

After writing that, I stepped away from the editor, and only returned to it a few days later – when it was time to write a blog post. It’s at that point that began to see how useful it was. The toolbar appears whenever you hover your mouse towards the top of the page, no matter how much you’ve scrolled. The same cannot be said about the regular editing mode, so this is a definite improvement. If I accidentally press Back in my browser, I get the usual warning that I might lose information – and I can cancel it. So, there’s really no need to worry about navigating away.

The word count and slogan are visible right after the post content.The other features I mentioned, namely, the auto-saving and the word count, are still accessible from this new editor. You can save whenever you want by making the toolbar appear, and click Save. I’m not sure it actually saves automatically, but I find it instinctual to save manually, so at least for now, this isn’t a problem. The word count can be found at the bottom of the page, right after the content. It’s at that location that you can also see a slogan, which says, quite simply, “Just write.” I really like this, as I feel it truly sums up the spirit of this new feature – it is meant to block out all excess interface noise, and let you write, distraction-free.

At this point in time, I exclusively use the full-screen editor when working on my posts. It’s a very refreshing feeling, having just my content to work with – and I commend the WordPress devs for adding such a feature.