Write or Die

by | May 13, 2011

In those moments of writing my dissertation when words didn’t flow and I was unsure how to begin, I used a website called “Write or Die.” The website humorously equates writing with life and not writing with death, acknowledging what anyone working on a dissertation knows firsthand: you must write to get to the finish line, get the PhD, and get on with your life!

Write or Die offers users a free online tool in which you can set your writing goal in terms of word count or time. Once you’ve decided your goal, you are asked to choose the level of discipline you want the website to use to monitor and regulate your progress toward that goal. (If you take the link, you will see on the right side of the page the tool “Write or Die Online” – you have the option of purchasing the desktop version, but I always used the online version for free and never had problems.)

For example, I would commonly set a goal to write for 30 minutes at the strictest level. I would then begin to write within the designated writing space on the website’s page. The point of website is to push people to write continuously. If you freeze up and stop writing, the page will gradually become red as a warning. The longer you sit and stare inactively, the redder the page becomes until it finally starts to flash as a last and final warning. If you begin typing anytime during this process, the red disappears and the page reverts to the normal document façade. If you fail to type anything and sit, paralyzed and agog at your inarticulateness, Write or Die will begin to erase what you’ve written, bit by bit, starting with the most recently typed words and working backwards. There is no way to recover them. Once they are gone, they are gone. We become prolific under such circumstances.

And the point isn’t that we are producing work that is polished, beautiful, diamond-cut, ready to be signed, sealed, and delivered to our mentors and committees. The point is that we are processing our thoughts, getting the content of our heads onto the page so that we can make sense of what we’re thinking. Much of what I wrote on Write or Die did not end up in my final dissertation. It was an exercise in the iterative process. But it was necessary to break through writer’s paralysis and to know what I was thinking.

What other online tools and resources do you use to write?