The Advantages of Multiple Monitors for Writers

February 3, 2009

 Two 24" Monitors 

Imagine, you have your trusty screenwriting or novel software open, the internet displaying your latest research, email, your favorite story structure software opened, and iTunes softly jamming in the background.  Any computer can do this, but only multiple monitors allow you to view it all at once.

And you say, "But I can only focus on one thing at a time." Actually, you’re capable of more than you think. Imagine each of the controls of a cockpit being accessible via individual, mini, sliding doors.  Check altitude – open door, close door.  Check airspeed – open door, close door.  That’s so ridiculously non-productive it’s hardly fathomable.  As a writer navigating a novel or a screenplay in the 21st century you have several controls in your cockpit:  Email, writing software, internet research, story structure software, dictionary/thesaurus software, even iTunes.  Almost all these software applications are resources that either inform, format or network whatever you are writing.   Yet, if you’re using a single monitor you are mimicking the pilot scenario by opening and closing multiple applications throughout the workday. 

To improve your productivity you want to invest in something called "screen real estate" (i.e. multiple monitors).  It’s the difference between owning a 600 sq ft studio with a broken AC, or a 5-acre estate with an ocean breeze.

Types of Extended Monitors
Extended monitors range in sizes from 10" – 30".   For the purposes of this article we’re going to focus on 17" – 30" monitors.  Also let’s be clear… CRT fat-cube-boxy monitors are out and flat panel monitors are in.

30" Monitor Setup 

The Mammoth 30" Monitor
Big screens are not about filling the entire screen with one application, but about multiple applications open in one window.  A 30" screen is big enough to allow you to open two full-size windows plus extra space for reduced windows and widgets.  Although it is physically huge, it takes up less space than two side-by-side smaller monitors capable of only one full-size window per screen. 

Advantages of Three Monitors
The advantage of a three-monitor-display (Yes your laptop screen can count as one) is that there is a focal point – the center monitor.  It has something to do with the human psych…I guess…I don’t know. But having a "main screen" signals to the brain that the important task at hand is in front of you.  Everything else is tertiary.  Westerners read left to right so it stands to reason that your least important business would reside on the monitor to the right. 

In my opinion, the ultimate setup for any writer  who predominately works with a computer…at a desk…all day long… is a three-30" monitor-setup.  I know, this seems akin to needing a Hummer to pick up dry cleaning, but I guarantee you that once you have tried this setup you will NEVER go back to a single monitor.  Notice the picture below with Al Gore.  Aside from the clutter, Al has got it going on! He’s got the ergonomic chair, ample light, and THREE, YES THREE 30" MONITORS!  You will notice that he has six windows open (2 per screen).   The only thing I would suggest to Al is more VISIBLE wood surface on which to write.

Al Gore – Three 30" Monitor Setup 

CAVEAT EMPTOR – While most desktops have descent graphic cards, not all laptops are created equal.  If you attach a 30" display to your laptop it has to be able to drive display resolutions up to 2560 x 1600.  That’s huge. For example my Motion Computing Tablet PC can’t handle a 30" monitor because it’s only capable of extended resolutions of 1680 x 1050.  How do I know?  In Windows click Start>Control Panel>Display  select the "settings" tab.  Select the Plug and Play Monitor from the drop down.  Now look just below at the "Display Resolution" slide bar and drag it to "more".  That’s the maximum resolution your laptop can extend to a separate monitor.  On a Mac, click System Preferences>Displays and the resolutions are listed from smallest to largest.

If you can’t afford 30" monitors try two 24" monitors and your laptop screen. Also, don’t hesitate to check out Ebay or Craig’s List for great deals. If you’re overly cautious about all this multiple monitor talk, just try one single extended monitor and go from there. 

Which brand is best?

I can’t testify as to which monitors are best because I haven’t tried them all.  Here at LitCentral we have both Dell and Apple. Both are excellent. Both companies offer a 30" flat panel monitor.  According to multiple tech guru sources, the only differences between the 30" Dell and Apple are price and aesthetics – Dell (black) 30" start at $1,100 vs Apple’s (Aluminum) 30" $1800

In my opinion Apple does offer the best 24" monitor with its latest 24" flat panel LED Cinema Display but you can get a comparable Dell 24" starting at $689.  Don’t get too caught up in the tech specs.  It’s all about text for writers, not graphics and color balancing, etc etc.  Thank God writers don’t have to be bothered with all that other…stuff!

Mac Users FAQ 

Can a Macbook laptop pre Fall ’08 drive a 30" monitor?
No.  Only Macbook Pro laptops pre Fall ’08 has the "pixel push" to power a 30" monitor. 

Can my new unibody Macbook laptop purchased in Fall of ’08 drive a 30" monitor?
Not quite.  It has the "pixel push" (i.e. graphics card) but you will need to order a $99 mini DisplayPort to Dual-link DVI Adapter. The same applies to new Macbook Pro owners. 

Caution:  I’m noticing the customer reviews for the Display Port to Dual-Link DVI Adapter are extremely critical. Apple delayed the release of this device by 5 weeks after they released the new unibody Macbook Pro.  This could be a supply and demand problem or a technical problem.  According the reviews, it’s all tech. Visit your local Apple store and ask a genius for the inside scoop.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

X49Jen February 5, 2009 at 4:53 pm

Hi – I get the 600 sqf studio analogy. I have a 10″ laptop but use a 19″ monitor at work. So much better.


Robin February 7, 2009 at 2:51 pm

X49Jen – My hope is for people to just start out with one extended monitor and see the difference. They can work their way up from there, measuring productivity as they invest in more screen real estate.


Dual Monitor February 9, 2009 at 8:55 pm

I’ve been using Multiple Monitors for a long time and I would die without them! Great Article!


Robin February 10, 2009 at 2:30 pm

Dual Monitor – you have a very informative blog as well. Thank you for dropping in and commenting.


Jackson K. March 11, 2009 at 2:05 pm

GREAT article!


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