Update: In the time since I made this post, Write or Die has moved on to a 3rd version. The original version that I described in this post doesn’t exist anymore. It still works generally the same way, with even a few more options, but I personally don’t use it anymore, because I don’t like it as much. Now I just write on my Neo (great for avoiding distractions) and set a timer on my phone.
I came across Write or Die for the first time a few years ago. I believe my region’s ML posted it in a list of other tools for writers. I was hooked as soon as I tried it out.
The idea behind Write or Die is that an immediate consequence for not writing is more effective than a far-off reward for writing. The biggest benefit for me is that using Write or Die helps me avoid distractions while I’m writing.
There is a downloadable software that you can buy, or you can use the web app. I’ve only ever used the web app, not because I don’t think it’d be worth buying, but because my family’s budget hasn’t afforded me the ability to buy the software yet. For that matter, I prefer the older web version to Write or Die 2. The older version is what I’ll be using to explain the tool further.
The above is what you see when you go to the link for the web app. There are four choices to make: word goal, time goal, consequences, and grace period. The first two are self-explanatory. You choose how long you want to write–sprint for 10-20 minutes, go for hours, etc. I usually set my word count goal higher than my average for the time I’m choosing, so I don’t quit early. (Edit: I recently discovered that if you leave the word goal at 0, the program won’t let you quit until you reach the time limit. So if you’re wanting to time your sprint, and just get as many words as you get, that’s the way to go.)
Once you start typing, if you stop to think about what to write next, you will start to incur the consequences. There are four modes for consequences: gentle, where a box pops up to remind you to keep writing if you stop for a while; normal, where some sort of obnoxious noise plays if you stop writing for a while; and kamikaze, where your words begin to be deleted if you stop writing for a while. (I’ll let you figure out the electric shock setting for yourself.)
After a few seconds of inactivity, the screen will begin to turn red in increasing shades. The amount of time you can pause in your writing before your chosen consequence kicks in is determined by the grace period you choose.
There is a pause button in the top, right corner. If you push it, a dialog box pops up and gives you as much time as you need to stop writing with no consequences (though sometimes when you unpause, the consequence is going off, so you just need to type something quickly to make it stop). You get one pause per session, so use it wisely. I save them for when my time is interrupted by a family member, or when I spill my water on my lap. I try very hard not to pause it just to think of the next thing I want to write.
When your time is up or your word count is reached, make sure you copy and paste your words to a file in a word processing program. Write or Die does not save your work. There will be a reminder before you leave the page, so it’s not something you should be extremely worried about, unless you tend to have bad luck with this sort of thing.
I love Write or Die when I’m writing on my own, or especially for word wars. The time set by fellow Wrimos can be set in the app, and I can see my time going down and words going up. I use this during almost all of NaNo, only writing without it when I have to write in a notebook for some reason, when I’m warming up for word wars, or when I am just so into what I’m writing, nothing could possibly distract me anyway.
The newer version has its merits, but I like the old version, I’m used to it, and it suits what I need it for well enough to not need to mess with the new one. If you have any interest in using Write or Die for your writing, during NaNo or any time of the year, you can play around with the features, and both versions, and figure out what works best for you, or if it works for you at all.