Write or Die, and Freedom

Elizabeth Bluemle -- February 19th, 2010

Computer attackHere are two programs to help you best your worst self. Or at least your most procrastinating self. This post is for the writers (and editors, booksellers, teachers and librarians) who want to tame the Internet beast and get some work done.

Write or Die iconThe first one is called, somewhat alarmingly, Write or Die.  This nefarious, effective program was created by a developer who calls himself “Dr. Wicked,” and he really is. Wicked, that is. I doubt he’s a doctor.

Write or Die (cleverly subtitled “Putting the ‘Prod’ in Productivity”) basically has you choose a time goal or a word-count goal, and then holds you to it. If you stop typing before you meet your goal, you get a warning that leads into … a consequence. I won’t tell you what it is, but you can choose Gentle, Normal, or Kamikaze mode. You can also lengthen or shorten your grace period (the time it takes for a warning to turn into a consequence) by choosing Forgiving, Strict, or Evil. And let me tell you, “Evil” is truly evil. You will gasp at Dr. Wicked’s diabolical genius in devising that particular consequence.

Write or Die main“But what if I have to go to the baaaathrooom?” you whine. Well, Dr. Wicked has that covered. You can pause the program, but you only get to do it once per writing session. He’s good, that guy. He also has a podcast called Dr. Wicked’s Write or Die Podcast, a collection of stories and/or poems by writers on a theme.  This month’s topic is “Dark Lullabies for Strange Children.” I haven’t listened to all of it, but what I have heard is pretty good. Of course, I’m ready to like it for the title alone. By the way, I discovered Write or Die through YA writer Stacey Kade. I thank her. My agent and editor thank her. I’m pretty much going to have to buy her coffee and a giant cookie if we ever meet in person.

Dr. Wicked's PodcastYou can use Write or Die for free online, or pay $10 and download the program. The download version has some perks: customizable font and font color, a fullscreen mode, the ability to keep the window on top of all other windows. You can also choose to disable certain functions on your computer—like the backspace button—to further motivate you to keep writing. No backspacing! Ack! That’s great for those endless line-by-line polishers who never seem to make it to the second chapter, or the ends of their novels, not that I personally have any experience with that. Ahem.

You can also alter the consequences. Oh, okay, I’ll spill a little here. Let’s say you stop typing for more than five seconds. You can either stick with the violin skreeks or crying babies Dr. Wicked has programmed into Write or Die to annoy you back into writing, or you can set up something even worse: for ecample, an mp3 of a song you hate, or the kind that becomes an earworm and drives you crazy. (Wait, is that Miley Cyrus I hear? So I put my hands up, They’re playing my song, And the butterflies fly away, Noddin’ my head like yeah, Moving my hips like yeah….).

Writing WarMy favorite download-program feature is the Writing War — you and that favorite writing buddy you moved away from two years ago can now get together to write. You can watch each other’s progress bars as you work, viewing them either companionably or competitively, depending on your flavor. The download version has one major advantage over the online one, too; as Dr. Wicked says, it offers “[a]ll the features you know and love (or are deeply vexed by) from the online version now available without the gigantic kitten of distraction that is our modern internet.” Snort! I love that phrase, “gigantic kitten of distraction.” So terribly true.
Freedom iconWhich leads to the second program: Freedom. I don’t know if there’s a similar program for PC users, but for you Apple folk, this is great. It practically strong-arms you into staying offline for as long as you choose, or can stand. (Thanks to Sascha Zuger for reminding me of the program!)
Freedom screenshotHere’s the developer’s description: “Freedom is an application that disables networking on an Apple computer for up to eight hours at a time. Freedom will free you from the distractions of the internet, allowing you time to code, write, or create. At the end of your selected offline period, Freedom re-enables your network, restoring everything as normal. Freedom enforces freedom; a reboot is the only circumvention of the Freedom time limit you specify. The hassle of rebooting means you’re less likely to cheat, and you’ll enjoy enhanced productivity.”

Freedom screenshot 2This is a bare-bones, extremely simple application. No bells and whistles—which is the point. You turn off the internet and get your work done. Or take the dogs on a walk. Or communicate with, say, your family members.

It’s a strange world when adults have to set limits for ourselves as though we are our own children—but the fact is that our work machines have also become our toys. Programs like Write or Die and Freedom help us leave our virtual worlds to get back to something the head of Google refers to as the p-world (for “physical world”) and my bookseller friend Leslie Reiner refers to simply as “THE world.”

Writers, booksellers, editors — what keeps you on track? (Or, if you are a contrarian, what are your favorite procrastination sites?)

8 thoughts on “Write or Die, and Freedom

  1. Amy Timberlake

    I use Freedom and it’s great. After I finished a huge project, I voluntary paid the $10 to Freedom because that programmer earned every bit of it (and then some). I like the simplicity. I don’t need a game — I need to get offline. (Yeah, like I need to get offline right now. It’s true, I shouldn’t be here. Get back to work Amy!)

  2. Moss Green

    Thanks for the insight. A quick review of my out put this morning indicates that I should immediately follow your recommendation and sign up and go for Kamikaze mode. This may enable me to catch up a little on what was not achieved this am

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