Sunday, November 15, 2009

Write or Die

I never wrote in the pre-internet era. (Unless you count the Narnia-derivative talking horse stories I produced in elementary school or the teen romances I started and never finished in high school, in which the heroines were NOTHING AT ALL LIKE ME because they played clarinet or flute while I played saxophone, they were petite while I was tall, they had naturally curly red or black hair and blue or green eyes instead of standard-issue straight brown hair and dark eyes like mine, and above all because the hero NEVER played the same instrument in the band or position on the football team as whatever boy I had a crush on at the time.)

You know, I still tend to give my heroines better and more unusual hair than my own, though I now realize that straight hair is easier to manage, and am so wholly reconciled to its brownness that I actually dye it a few shades darker than its natural hue. But that's fodder for another post.

So. Writing. Internet. In the years I've been writing seriously, I've always had the net there to help me with my research or provide a link to a supportive writing community. E.g. just last week I needed to describe a French hussar's uniform from 1805, and I found a print of one from 1804 in less than five minutes using Google. In a world without an internet, I would've had to wait for interlibrary loan, because neither the Seattle Public Library nor the University of Washington library system has a large Napoleonic collection. Or else I would've spent even more on research books than I already do.

But one site I've been using more and more lately is nothing but a simple productivity prod: Write or Die. You give it a time limit and a word count and tell it how cruel you want it to be. It gives you an empty box to type in. If you stop typing, it gives you a virtual rap over the knuckles.

I usually set it for 500 words in half an hour, and on a good day I can make that in 15 minutes. Maybe that sounds like a bad thing to you--as if I'm valuing quantity over quality--but I don't think that's the case. Using Write or Die forces me to plan out what I'm going to write instead of rambling, so I'm more focused.

If at other times it takes me an hour to write 500 words, trust me, it's not because I'm carefully pondering each word and producing deathless prose. No, I'm popping over to Gmail every time I see a new message, or else I'm stopping to research as I go along. Sometimes you can't write any farther until you've looked up that detail, but most of the time it's more like what happened to me last week: I needed to confirm a half-remembered biographical detail about the first Duke of Wellington's father, who was titled the Earl of Mornington. I googled and got what I needed, but also found several photos of and articles about the current Earl of Mornington (the current Duke of Wellington's grandson, and one of these blog posts I'll explain why the titles work that way). I promptly clicked on the links and spent a good fifteen minutes reading what amounts to celebrity gossip. While it's sorta nice to know his wife is pregnant with twins after years of trying, and since he's just a few years younger than me it's vaguely interesting to imagine how my life would've been different if I'd been born to English old money and old blood, all that has exactly ZERO relevance for my manuscript. And if I'd been using Write or Die, I would've just made a note to myself to confirm the detail later and wouldn't have been sucked down that particular rabbit hole.

Plus, I have a full-time job and a five-year-old. Anything that makes me write faster is a Good Thing.

1 comment:

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