If you’re one of the brave souls planning on writing a 50K novel this November with NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), you’re probably deep into the planning stages at this point. I want to showcase some tools and apps that can push you through to the end of the month, especially on those days where it’s like slogging through the mud just to get anything productive onto the page, and give you the pros and cons of each.
This has been around for a while, but I just discovered it recently. If you thrive on competition, mywriteclub is for you. Join a "sprint" or make one with other writer friends and start typing in the box – it’ll auto-save in your browser and will be there even if you close it, or you can save it to your Dropbox. The program will record how many words you’ve written (but won’t show anyone what you’re writing) and you can see in real time how many words other people in your group are writing and try to beat them. This is great if you’re doing word sprints to get through a huge word count for the day and to stay on track for your NaNo goals, or to finish off the draft in those last few exhausting days of November. You have to sign up for a free account and you have to find a group to join if you don’t have one already, but it seems like a safe, fun way of powering through a ton of words towards your goal.
If you’ve ever had a problem with procrastination on your writing (who hasn’t? if you haven’t, please let me know how you do that!), you’ve probably heard of the Pomodoro technique: you set a timer for 25 minutes and focus completely on the work at hand for those 20 minutes, then take a 5-minute break, and check off that one “pomodoro” has been completed. When you’ve completed four 25-minute periods, you take a longer 20-minute break.
The whole idea here is to take those periods of intense focus and then reward yourself with breaks to recharge and get ready for the next work blitz. Anyone can do it (just use a timer on your phone or computer), but like any anti-procrastination technique, it requires willpower to stay in your seat and focused for 25 minutes without your mind wandering or getting up. Also, sometimes it takes time to get in the zone and when you’re really feeling it, you don’t want to stop at the proscribed time to take a break; you just want to keep going. A highly regimented program like this might not work for everyone.
For inveterate self-editors who can’t help but go back and make sure every word is perfect while you’re writing (one of the most insidious forms of procrastination, in my opinion – I’ve written about perfection and procrastination before here), Ilys might be a great solution for you. You tell it the word count you want to reach, and it won’t let you go back and change anything until you meet that word count. Just write, write, write on a totally blank screen (they show you the last letter that you’ve written only), then edit later. You might have a ton of spelling and grammar mistakes to sort through but you’ll get your words down, and it might also help you refine your editing-after-the-face technique, a valuable skill to develop.
The downside to ilys: it’s a paid app. You can try it for 3000 words, but after that, it’s $10.08/month. But this might be a small price to pay if you can overcome your perfectionist tendencies with it.
Pro tip to get a similar effect: make your page in your word processing software and your font the same colour. It’ll look like a blank page, and you won’t be able to see what you’ve written unless you highlight the text or change the font colour.
If you’re doing NaNo this year, good luck! If you’ve done it before, what other techniques, tips, or tricks have you used to help you hit those word counts?