Friday, October 23, 2009

Announcing Write or Die Desktop Edition!

I am proud to announce the release of Write or Die: Desktop Edition! Now you can have all the procrastination-destroying benefits of Write or Die without the giant kitten of the internet pawing at you for attention! New features, new look, new sounds, same awesome!

  • Offline, unplug and write!
  • Custom colors
  • Custom sounds
  • Variable grace period
  • Statistics (high score, average wpm, total words written)
  • Save to file
  • Add to existing file
  • Publish to blog
  • Head to Head Word War!
  • And many more
 It is written in Adobe AIR so it works for Windows and Mac and it only costs $10. So unless you're really attached to your writer's block, you might want to check it out.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Ritual vs Habit

"I am a brain, Watson, the rest of me is a mere appendix"

Those are, as you may have guessed, the words of Sherlock Holmes. To provide some context, in the story The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone, Watson and Holmes's landlady are increasingly concerned about Holmes because he refuses to eat until he solves the case. "What one's digestion gains in the way of blood supply is so much lost to the brain."

I am not advocating an eating disorder in pursuit of your creative craft, but there is truth to what Holmes says. This is the second Monday in my "Monday is creative day" regime and so far it's working splendidly (I know it's only been a week, but optimism is essential). Think about your day, think about when it really starts. For me personally I feel like the day picks up speed as soon as I have breakfast and does not slow down until late at night. This may not be true for everyone, but I would suggest to you that you pinpoint when your day starts and try to get some writing done before then.

In the case of postponing breakfast, one might think that this is "dangling the carrot," and for some it might be, but I find that this is a simple way to exercise your willpower and make your writing time your own.

What we're aiming for is a writing ritual, not necessarily a writing habit. Rituals are a lot easier to start and maintain than habits, which is why they're employed in some form by every religion on earth. Let's take a look at the word habit:

Habit noun
3b: The involuntary tendency or aptitude to perform certain actions which is acquired by their frequent repetition.

This would be a very nice thing to have, I would like to get to the point where I write so consistently that it is second nature. I would like this to stop just short of hypergraphia, which would be interesting but also terrifying. On the other hand...

Ritual noun
Any customary observance or practice; the prescribed procedure for conduct.

This seems well within our reach. We use rituals to develop behaviours which can turn into habits. We can't aim directly for the habit or we will fail. Only bad habits are easy to acquire.

So when we choose, for example, to abstain from food until we have written, we lend the writing act a significance it might not otherwise have. We also sanctify (literally: to set apart) that period of time, recognizing it, consciously and subconsciously, as important.

I encourage you this week to set apart some time for writing. As always, write whenever you can, on the back of a napkin, in the margins of your newspaper, but also find your own ritual to build walls around your writing time. Perhaps in building your ritual you will acquire the writing habit, but either way, you'll get more writing done.

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Monday, July 13, 2009

The Morning Muse

I’ve decided to start a new regimen. I’ve got a new job, I no longer work at Starbucks so I never again have to wake up at 4AM, I usually get to work by 10:30 or so and stay till around 7. It’s a good job, so far, I love it. But in a way I miss the things that happened to my mind when I was forced to be conscious at an unreasonably early hour. I’ve been, overall, less creative and less productive with writing. Even my Tweets have suffered because I’ve got this blasted morning muse that I can’t seem to switch over.

So I’m off every Monday and Monday shall now be my creative day, the day on which I court my morning muse and get things done. I will not allow myself to eat or watch movies or leave the house until I have blogged and written. I’m starting with a goal of 500 words and intend to increase it. I find that it’s better to start small because otherwise one gets discouraged and falters right at the start.

So here’s the plan,

  • The newsletter will be far more frequent
  • The podcast will actually have new episodes
  • This blog will be a little more about my life and thoughts

That’s a start and a good one. And hopefully this inkling of productivity on Monday will lead to more throughout the week. Another perk of my job is that I get to sit at a desk with a computer with internet access so it is conceivable that I can create from there. UNMITIGATED JOY!

So I’d like to thank both of you that are still subscribed to this blog, there will be more, it will be better. I’ve felt like the biggest hypocrite, I made this thing that helps writers to write and I hardly write at all. The meandering tone of this blog post makes me want to delete it but it’s going out their and I’ll just have to keep adding better and better words to make up for these.

Thanks and stay tuned.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Write or Die Desktop Edition Feature Requests [UPDATED]

I did an informal Twitter poll of what people would like to see in Write or Die Desktop Edition, here are the results, feel free to add your requests in the comments.

Things I'm Planning to Implement
A Mac version. (@callista, @kyrina)
Choose your own sound (@AlabasterFalcon, @belcasas)
Linux version (@Kyrina)
Save to disk (@unfocusedme)
Post to blog
Full-screen mode (@rjbman)
Tweet results

Cumulative words typed, "high scores" ( @joaovc)
Different warning animations/images (scary clowns perhaps)
Set your own time period. (Allie, Seliza)
Spaces don't count, perhaps? I sometimes cheat by pressing the space bar (Allie) [Note: So do I]

Things I hadn't thought of but are good ideas
Kamikaze mode eats more words, faster (@Caanz)
Boss/Panic Button (@saoki)
Append to existing file (@jedidiplomat)
Simulated blood pouring down the screen when you fail? (@Hoshiko_Malfoy)
Different warning colors (@lostcheerio, @tinahunter)
Change font size (@wielding)
Allow/disallow unlimited pauses (@lienne)

Daily Goal in addition to per session goal (Allie and Jo)
Graphic to visualize your progress (Allie)
Ability to change background color to something more soothing (AdventureAddict)

Things that are unlikely to happen (but thanks anyway)
Spellcheck (@rjbman)
I want to make a separate super-spellcheck program for writers but IMO this would be counterintuitive for Write or Die.

Kittens (@saoki)
You must supply your own kittens.

iPhone version (@unfocusedme)
If you can convince me that this would be useful and/or find me a good iPhone developer I will reconsider.

Save to .doc file
Word formatting is annoying and exists mainly for higher level editing, I'm planning on sticking with txt files for simplicity

This is just the beginning of the list, if there's something missing that you'd like to see in the desktop version, feel free to tweet me or comment below.
Thanks a lot!

P.S. Does $10 sound like a good price to you?

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Monday, March 2, 2009

Write or Die Update

Minor but important update to Write or Die. It seems that Flash version 10 broke the autocopy functionality so I all but removed it and replaced it with a script that makes sure you want to leave the page before you navigate away and possibly lose your precious words.

Let me know in the comments if there are any problems.

Desktop Edition is coming along, I'm hoping for a March release.

Stay tuned

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Writing Hacks: The 48 Minute Rule

One of the biggest problems I've been having lately is my internal (or infernal) editor sitting on my back looking over my shoulder like a highly literate monkey. This monkey is hungry for words but it is very selective about which words. That's often the problem with writers, something inside them gives them immense guilt if they do not produce anything but the same force seems to be employed in rejecting what few words they do manage to crank out.  I've been plagued with this and I've hardly written anything this year because of it. So instead of lamenting this fact in private, I've opted to share it with all of you along with a few solutions for combatting the evil editor monkey. This is the first in a series of newsletters dealing with the topic of motivation and productivity in writing. If you have any ideas you'd like to share on this topic, please feel free to drop me an email, I'd love to hear your solutions.

The 48 minute rule

Often times the problem with getting things done is the simple tendency towards distraction. As creative people, we simply cannot be trusted to remain on task. It is no easy thing to sit still and do the same thing for a set period of time each day. Let's say you've managed to snatch from the jaws of your busy life 2 hours in which you plan to work on writing. I'm sure you've had this happen, the 2 hours seem so vast and full of potential but before you know it you've wasted an hour and a half simply distracting yourself. Either you're folding socks or reading the news or God forbid you turn on the TV and your time is gone.

Those 2 hours loom too huge in your mind, I personally cannot imagine myself typing for 2 hours straight, as much as I'd love to be that productive I simply cannot work with that large of a chunk of time. On the other hand, when I've worked on NaNoWriMo I've been very productive in much less time because it's all the time I have and I can easily work all the way through a shorter period of time.
The answer, therefore, is to break the time down into smaller chunks, and the magic amount of time is 48 minutes. Get a countdown timer or egg timer, either software or hardware. I recommend ChimooTimer for Mac or EggTimer for Windows. Or just use the timer on Write or Die.

Break each hour into 48 minutes of productivity and 12 minutes of break time. You'll find that it's much easier to write this way rather than trying to force yourself to write constantly for several hours, or even one whole hour.

Your brain likes structure and digestible amounts of time. This is why it's easy for people to get sucked into watching hours and hours of television, because it's broken down into small chunks. The 12 minutes of break time also helps you put off anything else that might interrupt your writing because you can say to yourself "I'll do that on my break in x minutes" instead of "I might as well do that now, it's not like I'm going to get anything done." So all of the sudden your writing gains a greater importance in your mind. You can put off checking your mail and twittering till you're done with your current bout of writing.

Think of it as breaking your work time into mental chapters. When you read a book there are logical stopping points where you can put the book down and do something else. If you plan these logical stopping points within your writing time, you'll find yourself being more productive by far.
Next week I'll give you another tip on motivation and productivity, and it most definitely will be next week because I'm going to write and schedule the darn thing right now because I'm on a roll. Thanks everyone for joining and I look forward to being more frequent with my newsletters.
Godspeed and good writing.

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Saturday, February 7, 2009

Writing and Technology: Finding Your Place

As writers, we have more available technology than is probably good for us. Technology can be useful or distracting. Technology can help you or hinder your creativity. Given the wide spectrum of options, it is the job of the creative person to carve out their own space in the continuum of technology. Artists must choose if they work best in charcoal, clay, sharpie, pen and ink, or on the computer with tablet and vector drawing program. Often times the writer will ignore the concept of different media that might be more conducive to his or her creativity. In this article I'd like to consider some options available to the writer.

Pen and Paper
This is the bottom of the spectrum, the way that people have been writing for thousands of years. Before 1873 when the typewriter was invented this was your only option for drafting prose. Current novelists like Stephen King and Neil Gaiman still write their first drafts longhand. Personally, I can type a lot faster than I can write, not to mention a lot more legibly. My hand also cramps up a great deal when I write for any length of time so this is not an option for me. In favor of the pen and paper option, besides the fact that some great writers swear by it, is that it's a great deal more tactile, there is a sensory joy to writing on paper that you don't get from keys on a keyboard. Another benefit is that you must keep writing forward, you can't go back and effortlessly delete words or sentences, your only option is to throw away the entire page, which would certainly make me think twice. Write or Die wouldn't be necessary in a world where everyone who wanted to write was writing in such a permanent medium. You also have the bother and benefit of needing to type up your written manuscript. This is time consuming but also allows you to catch mistakes and trouble spots
that are harder to spot on the screen. You're also forced to re-read your entire manuscript, which, judging by many modern novels, most authors do not do.

The Typewriter
Ah that romantic machine-gun sound of the typewriter. Regardless of implement, many aspiring novelists fancy themselves toiling away in a small attic room in the city, slanted ceilings making it difficult to stand up straight,  hunched at the desk with their typewriter, a stack of clean white pages on one side of them and on the other side, a stack of paper stained with GENIUS! Typewriters share the benefits of pen and paper, once something is typed, it's rather more permanent than words in a word processor on a computer. I have tried to draft stories on typewriter to keep myself writing forward, I dragged out my parents' old electric typewriter and it whirred softly at me when I typed. The trouble with me is that I must fix things, it is a natural part of my
process to misspell words, use backspace and correct sentence structure as I go. I would very much like to achieve better accuracy but in the heat of composition I want to keep my inner proofreader silent. All that said, I recommend borrowing a typewriter to see if it helps you keep writing forward.

The Computer

This is the one we all know, the fact that you're reading this means you're fairly well-versed in your computer's capabilities. Everyone knows about typing in a word processor but I'm going to discuss a few more options.

Word processor.

This is the default tool for modern writers. At some point I will do an extensive article on some tips and tricks for Word and its ilk, such as cutting down the clutter, but for now I will just assume that you're all familiar with the function of a word processor. The drawbacks of word processors are that they are often bogged down with a great deal of unnecessary features. They are fairly good for editing but even when editing the
spelling and grammar check can give a writer a false sense of security. Spellcheck will not catch homonyms such as their/there/they're and grammar check can be downright non-sensical. That said, if you've only ever used Microsoft Word I recommend giving a try. If you're on a Mac I cannot recommend
Scrivener highly enough, it's the best software for organizing story ideas and research. If you have tons of different documents all containing different versions and bits of your stories, you can integrate all of them into one document. You can't go wrong.

AlphaSmart 2000

Now that we've covered the common
options, I'd like to introduce a new one. Consider dialing back your
place on the technology continuum to a slightly earlier era. You
don't need to buy a typewriter, you don't need to buy a fountain pen.
I am talking about the AlphaSmart series of word processors,
particularly the AlphaSmart 2000.
These little machines go for about $30-$40 on eBay and it's the best money I've spent on a writing implement. It is a simple blue word processor, it's like a keyboard with a very small brain. You get four lines of text and 8 different files in which to save your work. It requires no special software, compatible with Mac, PC and any computer into which you would plug a keyboard. When you're ready to transfer your words to a computer for editing, you simply connect the AlphaSmart to your computer just like you would a keyboard and it simply re-types everything that you've typed into any document. Word, blog window, text editor, anything at
all.AlphaSmart have released models since the 2000 but in my opinion they have just added more distracting
features, thus negating the attraction of the originals. Not to mention the AlphaSmart Neo goes for about $300. For the additional $260 you get some PDA functionality and (I think) e-mail. But we don't want those things, we want simplicity. One thing that I forgot to mention, you get upwards of 200 hours of use out of three AA batteries! That alone is reason enough to pick it up just to have on hand when your laptop dies and you're far from an outlet. I love my AlphaSmart 2000, I love that I can take it into a field and write and not worry about losing it or damaging it as I would my laptop. The only somewhat specialized piece of equipment you need is a Male to Male PS/2 keyboard cord. That sounds more complicated than it actually is. While you probably won't be able to find one at your local Best Buy, they usually ship with your AlphaSmart if you buy them on eBay, otherwise Fry's or Micro Center will carry them. The easiest way is probably to get one online, Newegg is a great resource, here's the cable you'll need.

By the way, I have nothing to gain from this, I'm not selling them nor do I work for them, I just think they're a great tool for writers. They're usually available on eBay in droves because one of their primary uses was for schools so there were a lot of these made.

If you have any questions about AlphaSmart ownership or other suggestions for additional points in
the history of technology where you carve your niche, please make a comment or send me an e-mail.

Good luck finding your creative space in the technology continuum.