Word Count

Writers Talk About Writing

Welcome to Dr. Wicked

It's been snowing where I live. Okay, I know it's winter and all, and that might not seem like a strange complaint (unless you live in, say, Australia) but I'm in Vancouver -- the wet capital of the world.

Normally, the only weird weather we get here is rain. That's weird in volume, not in appearance. But this winter it's been snow. The white stuff started falling on Dec. 13 and fell on and off for more than four weeks. Turns out the "rain" we're getting as I write this has just turned white, and it's adding to the piles of white stuff already burying our lawn. The only snow on the ground I expect at this time of year is a little white flower known as a snowdrop.

Both walking and driving have been tough and going anywhere outside is a challenge. My city is ill-equipped for plowing and salting, and civic officials tend to take the attitude: "Why do anything when the rain is gonna melt this stuff soon?"

Trouble was, "soon" may have hit other areas of the city, but it's failed to come to my neighborhood. And I discovered this major inconvenience needed some serious planning. As a result, we now have a boot box sitting just inside our front door. I also have black boots, good gloves, a scarf and hat ready to put on anytime I go outside. (A friend of mine even bought a pair of metal crampons for her shoes, which I took as excessive.)

All this planning may sound lame to you, if you live in a cold region, but, remember, the most I usually plan for is to take an umbrella with me everywhere.

Anyway, one day, while putting on my hat, an interesting question popped into my head. If I could relatively easily prepare for the inconveniences of snowy weather, what tools existed that could take away some writing inconveniences? Funnily enough, later that afternoon, I stumbled across a website with something that's just as powerful as a good hat and fuzzy gloves.

The site is known as Dr. Wicked and it features an application known as Write Or Die. Let me turn the description over to Dr. Wicked who says he "encourages writing by punishing the tendency to avoid writing."

The instructions are simple: Determine the word count you want to achieve and your time goal. Then pick your mode (gentle, normal or kamikaze) and your grace period (forgiving, strict or evil). Then click "Write" and start doing it. As long as you keep writing, you're fine, but once you stop producing words, you have a grace period of a certain number of seconds. Then there are consequences.

I've now tried Write or Die several times (in fact, I wrote the first draft of this column in it) and found it as bracing as a face-wash with cold snow. I selected the "strict" grace period ("evil" just seemed too cruel to me) and found that after about seven seconds of inactivity, the background of my screen started turning red. And after roughly 18 seconds of inactivity, I was suitably punished by hearing excruciatingly bad music -- Bananaphone by someone much worse than Raffi. A second time, I heard something called Peanut Butter and Jelly. I suspect Dr. Evil may be a food fetishist.

(By the way, the many references on the webpage to NaNo refer to National Novel Writing Month. This is an annual project that brings together professional and amateur writers from all over the world. If you're interested in writing fiction, take a look.)

But back to Write or Die. If loud music is too uncomfortable for you, you might try the "gentle" mode which offers a simple email reminder that you've stopped writing. On the other hand, if you're a zealot, you might try the kamikaze mode. Warning: this last one starts erasing existing text if you stop writing.

Write or Die is not as gentle as a warm spring day or as fun as a summer's day at the beach. But it's a useful, valuable tool, particularly if you're having a tough time persuading yourself to write on deadline.


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A former daily newspaper editor, Daphne Gray-Grant is a writing and editing coach and the author of 8½ Steps to Writing Faster, Better. She offers a free weekly newsletter on her website Publication Coach. Click here to read more articles by Daphne Gray-Grant.

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Comments from our users:

Monday March 9th 2009, 7:47 AM
Comment by: bluefade (Chagrin Falls, OH)
For the life of me I don't understand some people's enthusiasm for winter and the slippery white stuff. To me winter means car accidents, uncontrollable shivering, runny noses, dry skin, heating bills, leafless trees, birdless trees, dark mornings, dead car batteries and heavy coats. Did I mention shivering, which I hate?

On the otherhand it brings hope...spring is just a few weeks away and the dreaded season will soon be a memory.

As far a writing is concerned, I do fine once I actually start writing. What I need is something that will help me type that first word. Coffee helps but not always. Distractions are plentiful and my lack of discipline is well know by every reoccuring distraction that has visited me in the past.

Show me some software that will prevent distractions and I'll buy it. On the other hand that would probably be a distraction!

Take care.
Monday March 9th 2009, 3:28 PM
Comment by: Dorothy G. (Canada)
Comment to bluefade. The one thing that winter has that other seasons don't is No BUGS.
Monday March 9th 2009, 10:50 PM
Comment by: bluefade (Chagrin Falls, OH)
Comment to Dorothy G...

You are right! Do you know the reason there are no bugs? They hate shivering too!

I agree that the lack of insects is the one good thing about winter. However, I do love looking at fireflies. What a neat insect! A visual delight and they don't bite or scare the heck out of the kids.

Besides winter, I think the only thing they hate is a kid running after them wide eyed with a glass jar and the lid off!
Monday March 9th 2009, 11:37 PM
Comment by: franco Z. (New York, NY)
it's brilliant. thank you making me aware of Dr. Wicked.I passed the information to my writing teacher at NYU.

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