Proposed Enhancements to Distraction-free Writing in WordPress

When we asked readers what they thought of the new Distraction-free writing mode in WordPress 4.1, a majority of readers responded that it was an improvement. However, a number of others stated they preferred the old version. Readers also took to the comments to describe their first impression of the feature.

Distraction Free Writing in WordPress 4.1
Distraction Free Writing in WordPress 4.1

Since the release of 4.1, I’ve forced myself to use DFW. When I write content, I often hit the preview button several times to review changes. This results in DFW mode turning on and off multiple times which I find distracting and at times, annoying. I’m not the only one who feels this way as Brian Krogsgard of PostStatus.com explains:

When I write, I tend to save and preview the post live a number of times while I’m writing, especially toward the end of my time spent writing.

It gets a bit dizzying to be fixing typos and saving and previewing while going in an out of DFW.

I’d like to see “Save Draft” and “Preview” buttons moved into the editor body, so that I can stay in DFW while finishing up my posts.

I like the idea of moving the Save Draft and Preview buttons to the post editor. It’s one of the reasons why I reviewed the Distraction Free Preview Button plugin by Alex King. Krogsgard also lists several other ideas with screenshots showing the changes in action, including:

  • Inverted editor colors
  • Centered post editor
  • Setting the editor to use the Max-width available
  • Full-height editor

Jen Mylo, who reviewed the feature as a user, suggests similar improvements. One other thing I’d like to see is a full-height editor. It’s annoying when the meta boxes fade away, the editor remains the same size as if the boxes are still in place. That’s because they are, but I think it would be better if DFW mode would go back to being a separate writing experience so meta boxes are a non-issue.

I believe if the ideas proposed by Krogsgard and Mylo are implemented, DFW would likely become the primary mode in which I write content. Until then, I’m sticking with the default interface. What you do you think of the proposed ideas and are there any you’d add?

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24 Comments


  1. Sorry, but I can’t agree. You don’t need preview or save buttons if you’re in distraction free mode. You should use that mode to write the full post, without any interruption in the writing/thinking flow. If you are fixing typos, formatting, or testing the previews (stuff that you’d normally do once you’re done writing), why are you in distraction free mode? You’re not writing, you are doing something else, which is by itself a distraction.

    And about the other ideas (except for the inverted editor colors, which is the only point I can agree with in the whole post) are about changing the layout of the content field. But by doing that, you’d break the seamless change between normal mode and distraction free mode, and I think that’s a terrible idea. Terrible. I find the way it works now to be super productive, it does what it’s supposed to do, and nothing else. You take everything but what you are writing out of the way, but if you need anything else, you just need to move the mouse. And you don’t even need to see the meta boxes before moving the cursor in the correct directions, because we all know already where everything is.

    The new version is better, faster and more productive. I think that you just want the old version back, but that’s plugin territory now.

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    1. You are in distraction free mode when you’re editing because distraction free mode is persistent now. I do write without saving and previewing for the first 80%. But in that last bit it’s stilly to turn distraction free mode “off” because it should be a always-on feature, per the new system.

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    2. I do use the mode to write my content with little distractions but near the end, I probably click save draft and preview at least 5 or 6 times while doing edits before hitting publish. When DFW mode is activated, all it does is hide the meta boxes, making it not much different from the default mode. So why should I turn it on and off which is doing the same thing as fading in and out.

      Ultimately, I’d like to see iterations continue on the feature so that one day, we have just one editor with one writing mode that nails the experience for most content writers.

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    1. I would agree. It’s incredibly annoying once you’ve put together a longer case study and need to see how the line spacing looks.

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  2. To be honest, I fail to understand why people are spending so much time on this. What I mean is that WordPress can be improved in so many other ways; why keep on talking about this, which basically only targets a very specific group within all WP users: the bloggers.

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    1. Because it’s an area ripe for improvement like so many other areas of WordPress. Through blog posts and discussions, we can target specific improvements, create trac tickets, and get the ball rolling.

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      1. What I meant was that the DFW has been one of the main topic for 2 WP releases now already. I would say that it is time to focus on other areas. But of course, I’m only expressing my personal opinion :)

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      2. I agree, and if you take a look at the article I wrote a few days ago on the Features-as-plugins first model, you’ll note that even that process needs some focus and improvements in order for us to get the maximum benefit from the experiment. If there’s one thing to know about WordPress development, it’s that things don’t stop on a dime to focus on a particular area unless it absolutely prevents a release from happening.

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    2. The editor is perhaps the most impactful ting in the entire admin. Anything longer than like 5 words will end up in the editor, and therefore affected by DFW, in its persistent state. It’s not just about making DFW better, but the entire editing experience better. Especially some of the stuff I noted in my post about changes that could impact both views are worth talking about if it can make the experience better.

      Additionally, this is a beauty of open source. We volunteer these things, and therefore tend to put effort where our passions are. If you are passionate about the elsewhere, then go for it. Today, I was thinking about this. As was Jen when she was writing her blog post… etc. That’s how it goes.

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      1. +1 for LIKE comments on the Tavern

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      2. You guys are all arguing under the assumption that everyone actually is using the DFW.

        Looking at myself – and I simply do not believe that I am a. alone in this and b. a huge minority – I have looked at the DFW and that was that. The distraction for me is that the thing is there and that I even get a reminder (one time only after the update to 4.1) that it is there.

        I am not a blogger (I have a blog, but I don’t write on a very regular basis) and nor are my clients. We use the editor to write page content, we also write the occasional post and that is about it.

        No need to explain the beauty of open source, I’m well aware, thank you :)

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      3. I fully agree. I never use it, never will use it nor will any of the hundreds of clients we have. DFW is the distraction. Would sure be nice to disable it.

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      4. Clicking it the DFW button again in the corner will disable it if you don’t wish to use it after trying it.

        Also I like the idea of improving the editor though I would push more towards having an option for a front-end editor over DFW. I like the idea of wordpressdotorg plugin https://wordpress.org/plugins/wp-front-end-editor/

        But then again if the WP API gets added to core that will hopefully get a maybe more options for front-end editors or ones that come built into themes.

        Just hope more maintained flexible ways for front-end editor open up this year.

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    3. I agree with you, Piet. According to the 2013 WordPress survey, 69% of those surveyed use WordPress as primarily as a CMS, 20% use it as a blog/CMS combo and 6% for blogging only. So, maybe it’s time for core developers to stop focusing so much on features only a minority uses.

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  3. Isn’t the Visual editor suppose to be the preview? Also we should get rid of Save button and everything should be auto-saved by default.

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  4. I like these changes. Full screen is important to me; otherwise it’s not really distractionless. What might be nice is some window-edge mouse functionality, which I’ve found useful elsewhere: the ability to assign actions to the four sides of the window. No additional buttons needed, and, if implemented correctly, an even better writing flow.

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  5. Jeff, you’ve mentioned Brian’s post about Distraction Free Writing, but he also blogged about his Medium experience. After trying out Medium myself, I find their user experience for content writing to be incredibly friendly and creative in comparison to the DFW writing mode.

    It’s worth mentioning that there were several strong proposals about making DFW the default editor view. I was opposed to the idea, but seems that even some of the influential Core contributors were interested in making it the default view.

    While I agree with Piet that there are other problems with WordPress that we can focus on instead, WordPress is still a Content Management System where content is the main feature. Some of the largest “customers” of the platform are online magazines and newspapers, and they have armies of editors and content writers spending most of the day producing content. Moreover, larger brands and businesses need a strong content marketing strategy in order to build their traffic, maintain their online products and so forth.

    The most annoying part with DFW for me is the wide gray area around the content box. It is restrictive and doesn’t use all of the space properly. If you tend to scroll just once (which I do by mistake or just reread what I’ve mentioned above), the view switches back to standard. The view is not consistent and isn’t any friendlier in practice.

    I also do agree about the Save and Preview buttons – the main reason for “Save” is the unfortunate moments where something happens with JavaScript (say, a conflict with another JS snippet or anything else) and my post isn’t saved if I accidentally close my browser. It’s old-school, but accidents happen and I save my progress all the time.

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  6. For those of us who work on the post edits and preview, DFW is very important. TBH, I handle all the post edits at our blog and I believe that the time spent on making it better really worth a lot. It is not necessary that what is good for me is good for everyone. I totally agree that there are so many other things that needs focus. Specifically if you ask me for example: Two-Factor authentication at login for security purposes is much needed. I have shared at AWP in a discussion that if Matt could acquire any good plugin for it. Getting back on the discussion, I am happy with the advancements made. I want a few more changes in the image editing in post section for example image alignment.

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  7. No offense intended to anyone who worked on DFW but, somewhat ironically, I find DFW to be very distracting. With it automatically popping in and out it becomes more dizzying than useful. As with most animations (and most people with ADD), my brain gets caught up in the “cool” factor as they fade away and I forget what my train of thought was. Then, if I need to hit save or think about which categories this post will belong to, the side controls are constantly animating in and out and I find myself super dizzy and, well, distracted.

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