Friday, August 21, 2009

Setting Up a Windows Desktop Specifically for Writing

by Scott Rhoades

Do you ever wish you could get rid of the clutter on your Windows desktop and turn it into a workspace dedicated only to writing? Few of us have the luxury of having a computer that we use for nothing else. Even if we get the contraption with the idea of building a dedicated writing space, it doesn't usually stay that way. Today I'm going to briefly discuss two free programs that can help you set up that organized writing space without giving up all the other stuff you do on your computer.

Dexpot (http://www.dexpot.de/index.php?lang=en)

Your desktop most likely contains icons for many of the programs you use, plus others from other family members. You don't want to change that, because all your important stuff is handy. But you still dream of a desktop without the clutter, containing only the icons you need for your writing. You could just set up a different login in Windows, but that requires that you log out and log back in to switch workspaces.

Dexpot lets you turn your desktop into as many as 20 separate virtual desktops, each accessible by a quick keystroke. You probably don't need 20, but even if you only use two--a general space and a writing space, Dexpot will become your best friend. I use four myself, but only two get used regularly.

There are other virtual desktop applications that are simpler, but Dexpot is one of the few free programs that let you give each desktop a unique set of icons and a different wallpaper. And if you trust yourself to delve into the programs many settings (not required), it has a lot power.

If your computer is used by multiple people, you can even protect your writing workspace with a password. This keeps people from invading and messing up your personal writing space.

Linux users already know how valuable separate desktops can be when it comes to staying organized. Dexpot brings that power to Windows.

Fences (http://www.stardock.com/products/fences/)

Once you have a dedicated writing space, you might still wish you could organize your icons better. What if you could put them in separate groups, like programs, work folders, documents, reference stuff, or whatever? Or, even if you don't want to set up multiple desktops, maybe you just want to put all your writing eggs in one basket. Fences lets you do just that.

You create areas on your screen (or even on both screens if you're set up with two screens). Each area is "fenced off," so you can place only the icons you want into each fence. You can give each fence different settings, move it and its contents to a new place on your desktop, and get rid of the clutter by organizing your icons your way.

It's easy to set up, easy to use, and comes with a bonus feature: double-click on your desktop and all of your icons disappear, leaving a nice, clean space. Do it again and they're back.

There are so many ways to customize and organize your workspace, many of them free, but these two will get you started. If you want to know about more free apps to organize your writing space and to make your files easier to access, leave a comment to let me know and I'll write again on this topic in the future.

http://www.scottrhoades.com

4 comments:

Tiffany Dominguez said...

Cool programs! What a great visual idea to get into the "writing mode" by customizing your workspace for writing.

Yamile said...

what do you do if you have a Mac Notebook? I'm still learning how to use it after one year, and I'm eager for tips.

Scott said...

Yamile,

I'm less familiar with free software available for the Mac, but to answer your question I found a virtual desktop manager for Mac at http://desktopmanager.berlios.de/. I don't know whether it will let you set up each desktop with unique icons and backgrounds like Dexpot does for Windows. It doesn't list those abilities in its features list, so it probably doesn't.

Another option, apparently based on the first, can be found at http://virtuedesktops.sourceforge.net/overview. Again, I've never used it, so I can't say anything about what it can or can't do.

Really, though, all of this is about one thing: making it easy and enjoyable to write on your computer by creating a personal space. This can be done on the Mac by using a background that welcomes and inspires you, arranging your icons or dock so that the programs and folders you use are easily accessible, and just generally setting up the computer to work for you rather than against you.

For example, if you're easily distracted by a certain game or by the Internet, make it a little harder to see the game or Safari by making their icons less visible than your writing stuff.

Bottom line is, many people work better in a comfortable, personal, work environment. I believe the same concept should be extended to the writer's computer, which should also be comfortable and personal. After all, you'll spend hours staring at that screen. Make the computer environment work for you, not against you, like you would your office or wherever you write, and it will be a much more pleasant place to spend your time.

Cathy Witbeck said...

You always have such great tips, Scott. Thanks for the info.