Distraction-free writing in Google Docs

Writing without distractions in Google Docs is easy! Here are the steps.

Press F11 on your keyboard to go to full-screen mode in your browser. This will hide most of the browser menu bars and your operating system menus. You can press F11 again to turn it off.

Optional: Increase zoom size. Depending on the size of your screen, you may want to increase the zoom. I usually use 150% or 200% for full-screen writing. You can also choose “Fit” at the top to make the text as wide as will fit the screen!

Turn off all the optional view items, if they are on.

Go to the View Menu and choose “Full screen”

Now you are writing distraction-free!

Optional: Invert the colors

If you find that the bright white background is hard on your eyes, you can invert the colors by installing an Add-on / Extension in your browser to invert the colors. (You can also change the text color and the page color, but it doesn’t affect the entire screen.)

I’ve found that the Chrome Add-on “Dark Mode Night Reader” works very well with Google Docs and doesn’t slow down my browser like other dark mode extensions. Using that extension and the tips above, my full screen looks like this:

It may seem too dark in the screenshot, but it’s actually just about perfect for me, and I find it far less tiring on the eyes than black text on a white screen.

The extension will give you a little icon in your Chrome menu bar that you can click on to cycle through the four brightness settings. If you right-click on it and choose “Options” you can set up your default brightness level (what you see on every site).

Optional: Distraction Free Mode browser extension

Alternatively, you can install “Distraction Free Mode“, an Add-on / Extension for your browser (Chrome, Firefox, or Safari) that does this all in one click. It works well, but it lacks some of the customization options that the above method provides.

Now that you know these tips, you can easily set up your preferred distraction-free writing environment in Google Docs!

Optional: Set up offline editing, and then disconnect from wi-fi

To truly go distraction free, unplug from the internet! If you use Chrome as a browser, you can set up Google Docs Offline Mode to save your edits locally and then upload them to your Drive when you reconnect. I have used this extensively while flying (airplane mode) and it works great.

Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy Awards Combined Novel List

In the Google Docs link below, you’ll find a combined list, without duplicates, of all the winners and nominees of the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards for Best Novel. The novels are sorted by author’s last name (to aid in book shop hunts).

Feel free to save your own copy using “File -> Make a copy”. With your own copy, you can use the green filter icons at the top of each column to sort or filter the table by that column. For example, if you only wanted to see winners, and not nominees, you would filter by the first “won/nom” column for only “won”.

Google Docs Spreadsheet link: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1GJAWbhrUa9qEM16YZEZNMnEJpQDuwreOqCZgAwHjAns/edit?usp=sharing

If you are interested in chatting about novel writing, check out our Discord Server, The Library, a chatroom for fiction writers. Discord is a free and easy-to-use chat application for the web, desktop, and mobile devices.

Snowflake Method Spreadsheet for Google Docs

What is the Snowflake Method?  It’s a way to outline your novel, starting with a single sentence, and then building that into a paragraph, then several paragraphs, then pages, and then a full story.*

The Snowflake Method was popularized by Randy Ingermanson and you can read more about it on his website.  He also publishes software that lets you do a much deeper dive into the method than this simple spreadsheet.

Here is the link to the Google Spreadsheet:

If you want to walk through the entire Snowflake Method, then you can start at the first tab and work your way to the right.  If you like to keep track of your scenes and characters in a spreadsheet, you may want to copy only those two sheets out of this file, as they are the most useful once you get your basic plot outlined.

Once you open the spreadsheet, you can go to “File” -> “Make a copy” to save a copy to your own Google Drive.

Good luck!

*  Really, it should be called the snowball method, as that is a much more accessible metaphor than something about fractals.

Google Docs Add-ons for Writers

Here are some useful Add-ons that you can use within Google Docs™.

To install an Add-on, go to the Add-ons menu and click “Get Add-ons”.

Writer’s Highlighter

This useful plugin allows you to highlight words from a word list in a Google Spreadsheet™.  You can highlight from a word list, highlight a selection, highlight continuously as you type, and highlight sentences by length. It also has functions to clear highlights from the entire doc or a selection.  It also includes a stats viewer for word count, word frequency, lists of all the sentences, and readability statistics.  The help file is here.


OneLook Thesaurus

While you can get some synonyms from Google’s thesaurus by selecting a word, right-clicking it, and choosing “Define”, it’s not comprehensive.

OneLook Thesaurus provides standard synonyms, rhymes, and frequently used words that often appear near the word you are looking up.


Word Cloud Generator

This plugin generates a word cloud from your source material.  This can be very useful to understand the frequency of occurrence of the words in your document, or just to share word clouds with friends.  The word clouds are generated as transparent-background .png files, you can can copy-and-paste them into any website or social app.


Better Word Count

This simple tool allows you to get a word and character count, but exclude certain sections of the document, such as headers or titles.


Google Translate

First written as a demo app by Google to highlight the extensibility of Google Docs™, this app has useful tools for quick and easy translations.


Screenplay Formatter

For some reason that has been lost to time, screenplays are still put in an archaic manuscript format, despite the fact that no one has written a screenplay on a typewriter in twenty years.  However, if you are writing a screenplay, you must play by the rules.  This add-on will help you do that.


How to organize your work in Google Docs

Put each story in its own folder

This will help keep your stories separate.  I recommend making a folder for story ideas, where you keep notes for future stories.

Here is an example where the writer is working on three stories:

Make sub-folders for drafts, reference material, etc.

As you write stories, you may want to save spreadsheets, reference material, older drafts etc. and you may want to make sub-folders for these items.

I recommend dividing longer works (novels) into chapters to make it easy to find things.

Use spreadsheets to keep information organized

Spreadsheets may seem intimidating, but they are just boxes that hold text or numbers.  We’re not doing anything fancy; we just need to stay organized.

If you like to keep your notes on characters and scenes in a Document, that’s fine too, but you may find spreadsheets much quicker to work with.

Creating a character sheet

If you’re working on a novel, you most likely have many characters.  Even if you only have a few, a spreadsheet can help you keep track of descriptions, motivations, backstories, etc. so that you don’t slip up and confuse the reader.

All the data on one page can also help you compare characters and avoid too many similar characters.

I recommend running the character names across the top, and putting a list of information that you want to track on the left (in Column A).

Create a scene sheet

A list of scenes, usually in chronological order, can help you immensely in organizing your work.  You can keep track of timelines, locations, points-of-view (what character is narrating the scene), and which characters are present.

You can also keep track of scenes to see how long they are, or if they have the requisite story structure of Goal>Conflict>Result or Dilemma>Decision>New Goal.  This can be useful for identifying weak scenes that lack important components of good scene structure.

I recommend one line per scene, with the information you want to track running horizontally.

Example spreadsheet

Check out our Snowflake Method Spreadsheet which contains both of these spreadsheets, and other helpful ways to outline your novel.

SCENE SHEET: List of items to potentially include

These are the column headers for each scene, some of which are shown in the example image above.

Scene Name (for example, a chapter title or your scene’s title)
Scene Summary (one sentence description of what happens)
Time/Day (helps keep track of events)
Location (reminds you where this scene takes place)
Point of View (whose point of view is this scene written in?)
Scene or Sequel? (is this a scene, or is this a sequel to a scene)
Goal / Reaction (what is the goal for the scene, or if this is a sequel, what is the reaction to the Result at the end of the last scene)
Conflict / Dilemma (what is the conflict in the scene, or if this is a sequel, what is the dilemma the characters face)
Result / Decision (what is the result of the conflict, or if this is a sequel, what is the decision the characters make (which leads to a new goal))
Characters Present (which characters are in this scene? this is very helpful if you need to change something about a character later)
Significant point in a character arc? (If this scene is a significant moment in a character arc, why?  Which character?  You may want to create a character arc column for each character, to track their development through the scenes)

CHARACTER SHEET: list of items to potentially include

You can copy and paste this list into Column A of your spreadsheet.

Short description (basic looks, age, occupation, etc.)
Motivation (abstract) (e.g. Dantes wants escape, then revenge)
Goal(s) (specific) (e.g. Dantes wants to kill the men who falsely imprisoned him)
What’s at stake? (a good character shows strength of will against “death” stakes, including literal, psychological, familial, or professional death)
External conflicts (e.g. an antagonist, force of nature, etc.)
Internal conflicts (e.g. the “lie” they believe vs. the “truth” they learn)
Epiphany/Evolution (how do they change over time & learn their “truth”)
General notes (biggest box, for jotting down things as you use them in your story)

The above is all you REALLY need for your characters. If you want to get into the details, below are some suggestions for more traits. Please try not to waste your time determining character details that you never actually use in the story. Every minute you spend on superfluous outlining is a minute you’re not actually writing your story. You may find it easier to write down the essentials (above) and then as you actually use things in the story to add as details, jot them down in a “general notes” area (e.g. “has brown eyes”).

Backstory prior to this story
Storyline within this story
Epilogue after this story
Birthday / age
Place of birth
Ethnic/Cultural background
Places lived
Special training
Greatest success
Biggest trauma
Cares about most in the world
Worst thing ever done and why
Does he have a secret
Most embarrassing thing that ever happened
Strongest/weakest character traits
Other people
Dating, marriage
People the character admires most
How is the character viewed by others
What people like best about him/her
What people dislike about him/her
What does this character like best about the other main character(s)
What does this character dislike about the other main character(s)
If s/he could do one thing and succeed at it, what would it be
Why will the reader sympathize with this character
Physical appearance
Physical build
Head shape
Tattoos / piercings / scars / etc.
Right- or left-handed
What you notice first
How would character describe self
Interests and favorites
Collections, talents
Political leaning
Food, drink
Sports, recreation
Religious beliefs
A great gift for this person
Favorite subject in school
Typical expressions
When happy
When angry
When sad
Laughs or jeers at
Ways to cheer up this person
Ways to annoy this person
Hopes and dreams
Overall outlook on life
Does this character like him/herself
Wants to change anything about his/her life?
Is s/he lying to himself about something?
S/he is the kind of person who
How much self-control and self-discipline does he have