Writing Tools: #scio12 Pays Off Already!

Jan 23 2012 Published by under [Information&Communication]

Science Online 2012 rocked! Of course, we all knew it would. Old friendships were renewed in real life. New friends were made. I finally graced the Duke Lemur Center with my presence!

One session I attended on the first day dealt with writing tools. While I write a lot for work, most of it has been in that highly structured scientific prescribed format. Standard word processing tools handle that work fine. As I have moved to other forms of written output, I find that these usual text editors often fall short. Based on less formal conversations at #scio11, I outfitted my computer with Devonthink, a Mac-only research tool with artificial intelligence engine, and Scrivener, a writing tool with text editor that allows you to organize thoughts, facts, and other musings, then rearrange them easily. Eventually you can output them to another program for final referencing and formatting. I love Scrivener already, and I have only touched the obvious capabilites of the program. Devonthink has a steep learning curve, and I have not yet mastered it.

Putting the "Prod" in Productivity

The latest addition to my repertoire is Dr. Wicked's Write or Die (this post is starting out on that program). This bargain software (desktop version is $10 and they encourage you to install it on all of your computers) has you fill in how many words you wish to write in a given time frame. You can set it for gentle cues: when you pause, your background color changes. If you fail to resume writing the color deepens, and eventually you get an alarm.

When this software was described at the unconference, the Kamikaze mode also got our attention. With this setting, if you pause too long it starts erasing your work. Yikes! I am not ready to go there yet! You can also set it to disable your backspace key so you cannot self-edit as you go. That will be my next step, since I probably do too much immediate editing (yeah, I have spelling issues).

I downloaded the program to my laptop Sunday while several of us awaited airport transportation in the Brownstone Doubletree Lobby. Usually I get distracted and converse when in a group, even in a group of all strangers. Those visual prods kept me on track, and I finished 800 words in about 30 minutes for a piece due today (OK, technically it was due last Friday, but no one will die if it goes in today). When the word goal hit, triumphant trumpets sounded, a congratulatory window popped up and the whole group turned my way.

I. Felt. So. Proud.

I cannot wait to hit my goal for this current post. I hope someone hears it just outside my office, so I can gloat.

If you have trouble with the "sit down, shut up, and write" command, Write or Die could make you way more productive. It continues to amaze me that even at this level of education and motivation, we still struggle with getting an initial draft written. We still need the carrot and the stick.

By the way, the first draft of this post (500 words) took just under 15 minutes with Write or Die watching. Add another 15 minutes to clean it up a bit and add the illustration and links after I finished my clinic. Oh, and both of the reports that were due today were submitted before I started blogging.

3 responses so far

  • Emma says:

    I prefer "Written? Kitten!" Same sort of concept, but positive reenforcement. Makes the whole process more enjoyable, basically.

  • [...] Ever suffered writer’s block? There’s a number of nifty tools to help keep you motivated and on track to meet your writing deadlines, including one called Write or Die. If you’re prone to procrastinate, this might be for you – allowing you to set a goal (number of words to write), time limit and penalty (ranging from changing screen colour, an alarm sounding, or deleting the text you’ve just written!). Me, I prefer the idea of Written? Kitten! where typing rewards you with a picture of a cute kitten, how’s that for dangling a carrot? (Hat tip to @TravisSaunders for the link to whizbang’s post on writing tools from #scio12) [...]

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