Friday, June 3, 2011

Write or Die

Yesterday I finished my latest work in progress and submitted it to Total-E-Bound. It's a M/F paranormal novella called "Hot Spell", featuring a gorgeous, tanned hero who just happens to be a Fire Elemental. All in all, I'm pretty happy with the way it turned out, but it's a bit of a departure for me in several ways. Most notably, about a third of the book was written in timed "sprints" using the tools at Write or Die.

Let me give you some background. I've been working on this tale since mid-May, and having a terrible time. I found myself editing and re-editing every sentence, as I was writing. Not only was this non-productive, it was also no fun at all!

I posted a blog about my problem, called Dirty Little Secret, and received a raft of comments from other authors. Some were sympathetic, commiserating and confessing they suffer the same malady ("Get out of my head!"). Others offered specific suggestions for improving my spontaneity and shutting off the internal editor.

My Australian colleague Maggie Nash mentioned that she sometimes used something called Write or Die to break through those kinds of blocks. When I asked her what this was, she sent me to Dr. Wicked's site. The next time I sat down for a writing session, I thought I'd give it a try.

So what is Write Or Die? Basically, it's a tool for timed writing. You choose a word count goal and a time limit, then press "Write". You are presented with a blank screen, which you then proceed to fill with words, as fast as you can. The application tracks both the clock (counting down) and your word count. When you're done, you click a button and the tool tells you how much you wrote, and how long it took, then displays the text to you to be copied and pasted into your story document. I gather that in some of the more stringent modes the text will actually disappear if you don't make your count within the requested time. Needless to say, I didn't try that!

Maggie said she couldn't do more than 30 minutes at a time. I was less ambitious. I tried 10 minutes and 300 words. I made my goal, the very first time I tried!

I was amazed and proud. Even more surprising, when I pasted the 300 words into my story and massaged them a bit, I found they weren't bad at all. Certainly they were not noticeably worse than the paragraphs I'd been laboring over the previous week.

So I went back to do another ten minute sprint, and then another. The first day, I did six sprints (interspersed with edits) and produced almost 2000 words. And guess what? It was fun - far more fun, at least, than the self-scrutinizing composition I'd been doing previously.

I found that Write or Die worked particularly well for sex scenes. The prose that came out of my sprints had a rushed, breathless quality that fit the emotional tone of a heated encounter. (Probably wouldn't work as well for slow, sensuous love scenes!)

I didn't write the entire remaining book using Write or Die. But when I seemed to be getting stuck, I'd hop over and pound out a couple of 300 word chunks, to shake myself loose. I found that my ability to produce during the sprints improved, too. By the time I finished the book, I was generating 320 to 350 words in ten minutes.

I gather that Dr. Wicked, the author of Write or Die, created the tool to help him do NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). The objective of NaNoWriMo is to produce at least 50K of a novel in one month. Quantity, not quality, is the focus. You're only allowed to edit after the month ends.

I still don't know if I want to commit to NaNoWriMo, even with the help of Write or Die. I'm not sure I could stand the stress of sprints longer than 10 minutes. By the time I finished one, I felt like I'd been on the exercise bike, my heart pounding, my breathing ragged. I don't know if I could physically handle half an hour or more!

But after my experience with "Hot Spell", I'm very tempted to try!

(By the way, Dr. Wicked also has a desktop version of Write or Die, which he sells for $10. I haven't tried that, but that's what Maggie Nash told me she uses.)


Maggie Nash said...

I'm so glad you found it helpful Lisabet! I love Write or Die :-) I don't use it all the time either, but yes it's wonderful to get over a hump and hitting the goal is great for the confidence.

I use the desktop version so that I can use it without the internet. The plan is to turn all distractions off and sometimes it even works!

I'm not sure I could commit to the 50k of NaNoWriMo either but when life settles down a bit I might give it a try :-)

Oh, and congratulations on finishing your book!

Tanith Davenport said...

I'll have to give that a go - I've been messing about with my latest WIP for ages and need something to give me a kick!

P.L. Parker said...

My time to write is on my breaks at work so I sort of in a write or die situation. I try to write as much as I can in those two 15 minute breaks everyday - and leave time to run to the potty! Great post.

Adriana said...

What a genius idea! I hadn't heard of it before, but thank you! I found myself staring at my ceiling today, and then I did a mental version of the Write or Die tool - you can't take your fingers off the keys until you write 400 words! I didn't much like that, so it worked. ;) Great post, one almost all writers will be able to relate to!

Adriana said...

P.S. Congratulations on your submission!! And good luck! :)

Lisabet Sarai said...

Thanks, everyone!

I think that the fact that I COULD do it, meet the goal, was even more encouraging than actually getting the words to put in my WIP. It restored my confidence, which was sorely flagging!

Thanks again to Maggie for turning me on to this - I'm just passing the suggestion along!

Janice Seagraves said...

Congratulations on your submission. It take courage to sent something out. I wish your the best of luck.

I've done the nanowritmo for five years running and won each year. It's not so hard really. But you do need to be able to write over a thousand words a day and keep it up the entire month without editing your work.


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