The hideous cloud of productivity now looms over all our lives. It seems that actual writers use productivity apps to get on with their articles and books. Helen Oyeyemi advises writers to download the Write or Die app onto their computer (or does she write on an iPhone?). In ‘kamikaze mode’, if you stop writing for more than 45 seconds it starts deleting the words you have already written. Other writers claimed they use it (‘great for those days when you simply can’t start’) or joined in with advice for getting those words down on the page. Pomodoro forces you into 25 minute slots and five minute breaks, making writing like interval training. Written? Kitten! gives you a cute kitten pic for every hundred words you get down. Stick or carrot? You decide.
So let me join in. First, I have a workaround for Write or Die: don’t write any words, and the bastard app can’t delete them. That’ll show it. Second, wonder if chucking words at a blank space is really what writers have to do to get their work done. The article talks about writers’ block. If you think you’ve got writers’ block after 45 seconds of not writing, you don’t need an app, you need someone gently to tell you that you should consider the possibility that writing is not just about writing, it’s also (and maybe mainly) about the space in between the writing, when nothing seems to be happening, or random stuff is having an incoherent party inside your head. Almost always, you do eventually start to write, and it seems that you’ve been considering after all. It’s not as comfy as writing a thousand words in half an hour, but it seems to work OK, so long as you think of it as part of a process of writing rather than writer’s block.
Journalism is different, I suppose, but maybe it shouldn’t be all that different. Sometimes people phone and ask me to write my thoughts about a current concern, and could I do it by 4 pm? I really can’t. I am slow, I need to think before I write. Actually, thinking usually has very little to do with it, if thinking means some very deliberate, logical analysis. Sometimes I need just to do nothing, or play patience or watch reruns of Dallas, or even think I can’t write this, or anything else ever again, before I write. One day, I suppose, the Dallas watching might extend and extend until I eventually notice that my deadline passed years ago. It’s a risk you take. I’ve come to think that writing is more surprise than certainty.
So is there a geek out there to make a new app for very slow people like me that actually prevents you from writing (forcing on you kittens, Twitter, solitaire, online shopping, hypnotic daydream brain-altering beats, lunch, sex, the Mail online) until you absolutely have to? Not starting isn’t the end. At least, not necessarily.