The Psychology of Full Screen Mode

I’ve never used full screen mode and decided to give it a try because so many people like it. After spending a little time getting the screen colors right (well, more than a little), I opened up a new document and found myself staring at an empty screen. That’s right. Empty. I stared and stared and words simply refused to come.

That’s when I realized how much I love having the binder and inspector open all the time, not to mention a split window even though I may not be using both documents. With so many words already on the screen, it’s easy to add a few more. Other people may have a different experience, but that’s what works for me and in the end, that’s all that really counts.


I’m with you, Margaret. I tried turning on full screen and immediately began to feel like Linus without his security blanket. I think of writing as a journey, moving across space and time. The outline is my itinerary. I need to be able not just to know but to see where I am in that process. Scrivener is the first writing program I’ve used that lets me have that reassuring visual experience in so many ways. Maybe one day I’ll venture forth to the full-screen mode when a piece of writing calls for it.

Have you tried fiddling with the opacity of the background? If you have a big enough screen, you can even put the standard Scrivener interface beside the full screen page.

You might try flipping into full-screen mode after you’ve written the excruciating first paragraph or two. I didn’t notice until after reading this thread, but I think that’s how I tend to do it.

That is often what I do, mamster. I’ll write in standard for a while, using all of the resources to get my brain going, and once I get started I just flip over to full screen and forget the world.

Av wrote…

Often my approach too. I find I have several different modes, depending on what I’m writing and where I am in the process. Generally, if I’m doing a lot of referencing, console mode with access to the binder is where I want to be. If the source material is all in my own noodle, then I’ll poach it in full screen.

But I’ll also just switch for the hell of it at times, just to get to a different spot without changing chairs.



I never use full screen. I thought I would, especially with Scr.'s lovely design of it. And I have Write Room too. But my experience is just like Margaret’s. I really like Scr.'s interface, I’ve found. I like all the panes and view options and binder ready at hand.

BUT, lots of people love it, so I’m glad Keith has designed such an elegant full screen mode. One of these days I’ll have to try to use it. I keep telling myself I ‘ought’ to use it, since it’s there! :slight_smile:

I’ve been struck dumb by the empty screen waiting for a word from me, too. However, I found (maybe from someone here?) a nice piece of free software called Think ( It lets me have all of Scrivener, every single bit, in the center of my screen, and nothing else. And it can be set for any color or opacity one wants. It comes with black, but when I played myself into a lemony, sunny egg yolk color, I was sold. Then I discovered that there’s something to be said for mood-matching, too. Fortunately, it only tweaks the background color and nothing more.

I tend to think of the full-screen mode as a no pain, no gain thing. It is downright intimidating to look at all that nothing. But once I get going, I find I produce more content, avoiding the temptation to edit or fiddle. Once I get a first cut, its binder mode all the way to edit and fiddle to the wee hours!

I for one love the full-screen mode. I do all my serious writing in full-screen and only come back to normal mode for editing. I actually enjoy starting a new section in Scrivener and staring at that empty screen waiting to be filled with words - I find it extremely liberating.

I’ve never actually used the FSM, for the reasons enumerated by the above posts. But I can certainly imagine doing so in, say, fiction writing situations, and at least one nonfiction situation. Sometimes when you’ve extensively researched a subject, you know too much and lose the bigger picture. When I was teaching magazine writing, I’d occasionally get a student story that suffered from this. The student would propose a great idea, go off and report it, and then come back with a draft that had plenty of info but lost the sense of a story. This would be enormously frustrating to the students so afflicted, but no matter how much they tinkered with the draft, they’d just keep getting bogged down.

In those situations (and this happened to me a few times, too), I’d recommend – or even require – what I called “the dreaded blank screen strategy.” That is, for the moment, forget your current structure, forget your notes, forget your previous draft(s), forget any quotations from interviews. You know the story already. You know what’s important. Just sit down with a blank screen and TELL THE STORY from the top (or maybe leave the lead till last), all in one go. Just keep writing till you’ve said the important stuff. Then take a break, go for a bike ride or shoot baskets or have dinner or go to sleep. THEN go back to previous drafts and maybe notes and make sure you didn’t miss anything important.

I learned this trick from my own mentor in grad school, and it can really work. It’s really painful to think of starting from scratch, in a way, but sometimes that sort of mental re-boot is exactly what a story needs. When you know the material that well, temporarily liberating you from your notes sort of forces your brain to put the important stuff first and see that material from above, as it were. At first it always feels like drinking castor oil or echinacea or some other healthy but distasteful potion. But the blank screen can really refresh your idea of a story, and I’ve seen it work near miracles in the right situation.

I imagine FSM would work well in such situations, and if I ever have to force myself to use it, I’ll report the results here.

I absolutely use full screen mode. I need clear head space when I’ve writing, and onscreen clutter is a distraction. I used to zoom Word into full screen width, and reduce the menus to the minimum for just that reason. But Scrivener’s mode is light years better.

To be honest, what I need to get the hang of its corkboard, outlining, structuring and so on - something I’ve never really done. I wrote an entire 90,000 word novel by just starting to writing and keeping going until I finished. My only help tool was a two page outline I prepared for submission to agents and publishers (so they would know how the book would turn out - as well as me).

I honestly don’t get the point about full-screen mode. Ok, one thing I do is turn off all my distracting applications (IM, mail, etc), while writing, but since writing can be such an iterative process, it’s nice to get Scrivener’s functions right in front of you.

I’m reminded of a quote of an author, Asimov I think, who said that writing in an environment full of distractions, e.g. a shopping mall, makes you a better writer. I believe that. Not only do you hone your focussing skills for future difficult situations, but you also get fresh ideas from what’s happening around you.

Anyway, /end rant.

To everything there is a season. If you can write about quantum physics in the middle of a shopping mall, you’re a better (or at least more focused) writer than I am.

When I’m writing, I love full screen mode. When I’m editing, I love Scrivener’s functionality. Again, for everything there is a season.


So once again it seems that we are not all the same in our personalities nor our habits. Sounds so simple. I myself am a writer who seems to concentrate best in a busy environment, guilty sometimes of being overly focused on my work. I love writing in my favorite, often noisy hangouts, like Grand Central Bakery or the local coffeehouse (not so sure about shopping malls!). As for Scr., I like all the panes and access to notes, etc., Scr. offers in its interface.

BUT, guess what? Thankfully!!!, not everyone is like me! There are many on this thread alone I greatly respect who do use full screen mode and write best in quiet solitude.

To be honest, there are times I want quiet solitude as well. Depends on my mood and what I’m writing. In fact, this thread has inspired me to stretch my style a bit and give full screen a whirl! Who knows what will happen!!! :slight_smile:

So let’s all bless dear Keith for creating software that accomodates all of us so well and offers so many wonderful options for how we might work!


Funny how the writing experience is different to different people. I find Full Screen mode extremely inspiring. That dark environment is like my Linus blanket. Dark protects me from anything else.

As for settings, I find that Keith already prepared the right mixture of orange/amber in the Preferences. I love to work with that one. Just select “Override text color” in the Full Screen Preference pane, then move the color cursor all the way up. It remembers me the warm glow of astronomy programs.


Indeed, well said :slight_smile:

Usually when writing I have Scrivener zoomed out to fill the whole screen, exclusive of the dock permanently berthed to starboard, with the inspector open and two windows split vertically. Outlines and whatnot are in one window; the document I’m currently writing based on those whatnots is in the other.

Once I figure out from the notes and outlines and index cards and review impedimenta what I actually want to say in the writing window, I can zoom out to a large view of it via one click of full screen. I might go back and forth three times in five minutes, or not come out of full-screen mode for an hour, depending on how long it takes me to lose the focus of what I’m trying to say.

It beats unsplitting windows and resizing and such, or writing in a claustrophobically narrow column, and it occurs instantly with a key combination I actually have a shot at remembering.

So it isn’t the theoretically distraction-free zoniness of full-screen that I like, but the ability to instantly add writing real estate when I need it and make it go away, non destructively, when I don’t.

I also love outlines (binder) structur, but more for organising. I have a lot of notes. But when I have to concentrate on the text the FS helps a lot. Especially comparing (extraxt and put tougehter) 2 notes.

Take a snapshot of one note - show snapshots
select the other note
go FS - set the paper position of that note to left (FS menue above)
now you have 2 notes side by side.
Now you can set with the scroll bar both to the same position. Perfect to correct two different versions.
(ok. im chaotic i have to do that often :wink:)

For me, the only drawback to writing on the computer is all those distractions so readily available. From “just a quick game of Solitaire to let ideas caper in the back of my head” to popping up Safari for some unneeded research, only to get lost in Wikipedia Wandering. Sometimes you just have to focus on the task at hand.

I don’t find the blank screen intimidating. It’s a reminder of what you are there for. And you can see so much of it! I have a big monitor and I widen the sheet to cover the whole screen. Now I can see that the sentence near the bottom really works better nearer the top. Now I can see how splitting that paragraph will let me expand on both of them.

One of the great things about full screen is that it lets you focus on ONE piece of writing. I go back to the Binder when I want to rearrange and turn all the little pins the right color… one of these days I’ll tire of that, perhaps. (’:wink:’)

But there’s a time for fiddling and rearranging and there’s a time to just pump out words. It’s wonderful that Scrivener so smoothly transitions between these two states of writing.

It can be very seductive to hold onto the side of the pool and fiddle with what you already have. But sometimes the fiddling is holding you back from coming up with a new direction or new thought that is begging to be fleshed out.

That’s when you let go and just head for the deep end.