My 5-1/2 y.o. son is starting to use a computer and one of the things he likes to do is to type stuff into an editor. He has used TuxPaint before and is familiar with the idea of a "canvas" for painting stuff (where painting anything anywhere on the canvas is fair game).

When he opened the text editor (this was gedit on Qimo Linux), he attempted to do the same thing -- he pointed the text cursor to an arbitrary location within the editor window and expected to be able to type there (like a "text canvas", if you will). I had to explain to him that he would have to press Enter a few times to create new lines, as well as press Space a few times to create columns before he could do that. This is sub-optimal.

My question: How can I perform free-form, canvas-like text editing? Almost like hex editors of yore. I am not interested in getting him to create "text areas" in a paint program.

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    If you “Enable click and type” in “Word Options” / “Advanced” / “Editing options” (in Microsoft Word), it will do something similar to what you want – except it requires a double-click. – Scott Nov 13 '13 at 23:47
  • @Scott I did mention that on a comment on the answer below, didn't know it was disabled by default on later versions of Word... AFAIK, it is on by default on Word 2003. As many people don't use it they probably kept it as a side-feature. – Doktoro Reichard Nov 14 '13 at 0:46
  • @DoktoroReichard: Yeah, but you were only 11 minutes ahead of me. You probably typed your comment while I was checking exactly what all the pane / panel / option names were, and I neglected to refresh the page. ... P.S. Yeah, I guess it’s on by default in Word 2007, too. I always turn it off, so I had to turn it on to check how it worked. – Scott Nov 14 '13 at 0:58

The free text editor SciTE has this option, called virtual space. It can be enabled by editing the user options file. In SciTE, select Options > Open User Options File. Paste the following line into the file (which is likely blank for a new installation):


and you will be able to position the cursor anywhere on a line you have entered.

To create a whole blank canvas, you could hit [Enter] until you have the length you want and save your file as CanvasTemplate.txt. To draw, open the template and save as a new file.

TextMate also has this capability- it's under Edit > Mode > Freehand Editing. (See the question: TextMate click to end of line).


No by definition a text file is a stream of characters: The notion of "location" has no meaning in text file editor, apart from a character's order in the stream. What you are asking for will unavoidably require a program that manipulates images, not text files, whether you are interested in them or not.

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    That is only valid in pure, simple .txt files. In Word, for instance, by double clicking anywhere in a page you could then write on there. You could also make anything with text boxes, tables, etcetera, and with VBA the sky's the limit. – Doktoro Reichard Nov 13 '13 at 23:36
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    @kreemoweet I disagree. A text file may be a "stream of characters", but shouldn't stop a (specialized) text editor from presenting a canvas-like interface and adding blank spaces to account for white space. – scorpiodawg Nov 14 '13 at 0:33
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    I just wrote a tiny little .net application which does just this! I provided 2 cursors, one for draw, the other for write. Click on the draw and you move the mouse to draw. Click on the cursor, click where you want text, type, click somewhere else and type there!! Simples! – Dave Nov 14 '13 at 12:26
  • @DaveRook: That sounds great. Would you care to share via github or something? Also, how does it save stuff out to disk? Do you support the notion of lines? – scorpiodawg Nov 15 '13 at 20:20
  • It doesn't support lines no. It was just so I could type any where. As for printing, it doesn't, although all it would do take a "print screen" to be honest. I have no interest in publishing this. – Dave Nov 16 '13 at 8:56

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