Write or Die

Write or Die

A bit late to the party, as ever, but I finally decided to try out this new nifty gadget. In all honesty, I hadn’t tried it before because I hadn’t realised what it was. ‘I wrote 2,000 words yesterday on Write or Die!’ someone would tell me, and I’d be, like: ‘Great! I am sure that that is a good thing. Go you!’ – assuming that ‘Write or Die’ was some new writing challenge thing. Possibly a community or fanfic writing thing.

It’s not, it turns out.

It’s a program that flashes red at you if you haven’t written anything in the last few seconds. A bit like the opposite of a program I use at work that freezes everything every few minutes to make me stop typing, and then angrily tells me to get up and do something away from the desk every 45mins. Probably not good for my RSI, but potentially quite good for my writing.

I literally didn’t realise what it was until I heard Mur Lafferty describe it on her podcast ‘I Should be Writing‘*, complete with the fact that it flashes up red at you if you stop typing to go do something else. So, having gotten home after listening to Mur talking about it, I decided to try the thing out.

It’s quite good. I’ve written just over 1,000 words of ‘The Giant’, bringing me up to around 19,833, and 75 pages. (I am inching – inching – towards completion.) I did it in 10 minute bites. What you do is tell the program how long you want to write for, and how many words you want to write. It then gives you a blank page and a timer counting down the seconds. If you stop writing, it has several ways of getting narky at you: Gentle Mode, Normal Mode, and Kamikaze Mode. Gentle Mode apparently gives you a polite pop-up reminding you that you should be writing. Normal Mode gives the red screen of ‘YOU SHOULD BE FUCKING WRITING’ (it doesn’t actually swear at you, this is just my interpretation). Kamikaze mode is a whole other level of insane. If you stop writing your words apparently unwrite themselves. I cannot ever imagine wanting to do that, but I suppose we all work differently.

It clearly works, just from a ‘getting you to write something’ standpoint. I think I would want to continue to use it in 10min chunks, because I do need a bit of thought-space for consideration, sometimes. There is a strictly one time only pause button, but it’s not the same. Even so, after 10mins, I was champing to get back and finish my thought, as I often finished in the middle of a sentence. I chose 10min chunks initially, and started with a 100 word target, as I was unsure exactly how much time I actually spend writing, and how much time I spend thinking. I gradually increased it with each new target, and found that as I warmed up, my writing speed went up, too, which was interesting, given that I could never take more than a few seconds to think. I guess once you’re in the flow you just don’t need to stop and think as often.

The only big downside is that it’s not at all integrated into a word editor. You have to do it in a very basic browser application, without italics or even tab, and then paste your writing across at the end. I think I would much rather a literal inversion of the program I have at work – just popping up if I’m not making enough keystrokes. Or, better still, popping up if I’m not making enough keystrokes in Word. But hey, let’s not look a gift horse in the mouth. This is free, after all, and it looks as though it was cooked up in someone’s spare time.

There is a desktop download version, which costs $10, but apart from my general lack of funds, it doesn’t look like it’s more integrated, generally, it’s just more customisable, and has the advantage that you can use it sans Internet.

So, Write or Die: useless for anything as formatting intensive as my thesis, but quite funky for short bursts of fiction writing, and potentially quite effective for killing writer’s block. Thumbs up, I’d say!

*In a side note: I can’t believe it has taken me so long to get into podcasts. My combination of tinnitus and depression means that having something to distract me when I’m on my own (especially when I’m walking places and can’t get on with work or play) means that I have come to rely heavily on a combination of Radio 4, audio lectures, audio books, and whatever music I have remembered to transfer across to my little mp3 player. I had dabbled in the odd bit of EscapePod et al, but the stories rarely took me all the way from A to B, and I wouldn’t remember to do it that often. But just lately I’ve gotten really into it. I’m grabbing my favourite Radio 4 shows (The News Quiz and Gardener’s Question Time, usually – I’m so hip) all the time, now. And, of course, the new Hub podcasts, which led me to Mur’s other stuff. Dunno what took me so long.

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2 Responses to Write or Die

  1. loummorgan says:

    I suspect Write or Die would actually kill me. Years of having to WP college essays, followed by a good three years working in report-heavy office jobs (the final year of which saw me writing reports and tenders as my entire job) and then a couple of years doing temp work means that not too shabby a typist. This inevitably leads to frantic bursts of typing over a couple of sentences or paragraphs, followed by ten minutes of staring into space, whistling, faffing around on youtube (it’s probably Freedom I need to install, thinking about it) picking bobbles off my jumper, doodling, the odd spot of origami (I can rock those funny little flip-flap things that go over your fingers everyone used to make in school) and then back to the typing… and so on.

    I’m all over the place, and having a box that tells me off is probably not the way to hang onto my sanity! (And what’s this about kamikaze mode unwriting your words? Why would *anyone* do that to themselves?!?)

    • I know what you mean. I definitely couldn’t use it all the time. I need space to think, and not all my best thoughts happen at a breakneck pace.

      On the other hand, I spent 4 years going twice a week to a writer’s group where at the end we would always have a writing game – we’d exchange prompts on some theme, and then have 10mins to produce a piece of writing inspired by it. Anyone who had something and was comfortable then read out the result at the end. It does wonders for getting you to just sit down and writer something, and for breaking writer’s block (at least in terms of physically showing that you can still write). Then again, in 4 years, I’m not sure I can think of anything that I later developed into a proper story. And yet… the results were almost always entertaining – I have never laughed so much as I did in those days – and although the idea didn’t come from it directly, in a roundabout way, one of those stories inspired me to go write ‘The Giant’, which I am slowly working towards completion, now.

      So I guess Write or Die feels a bit like that, to me. Like it’s useful for getting me to just fracking write something, even if I only have ten minutes, and I’m not sure I really have the goods. As I try to finish ‘The Giant’, it’s useful, because I sort of don’t want to sit down and write it. I know where the story is going to end up, and that saps energy to write it down… and I guess I’m also sort of nervous of finishing something that long. But I should do. It may not be as exciting as some of my newer story ideas right now, but someone actually wants to buy it – and what am I doing not finishing it if someone has said they’ll give me real money for it if I finish it.

      So, I guess… I see your point, and there’re a lot of times and places I wouldn’t want to use it. But, on the other hand, sometimes I respond well to a little time pressure.

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