Resolutions Review | Write more with fun (free) productivity tools: Pomodoro Challenge Timer, Write or Die, Camp NaNoWriMo & progress meters.Posted: March 31, 2014
INTRODUCTION: A while back, I introduced this month’s series in a post called Resolutions Review: did you get control of your weight, fitness, money, and work issues? (Plus Power Poses.) Tackling this series a bit of a stretch for a paranormal-themed blog, but less so if you understand that I define the word paranormal broadly.
Para- / par-ə / Prefix. ”Alongside, near, beyond, altered, contrary to.” normal / nawr-muhl / Adjective. “Conforming to the standard; usual; regular; natural.”
No matter how far I stray from topics like ghosts, cryptids and mysteries, I am always thinking about how to make life better and easier for my kindred. These articles will become part of a section of the blog I’m developing, dedicated to living a (moderately) paranormal lifestyle. There. That’s out of the way.
BREAKING THROUGH WRITER’S BLOCK
By now you probably know that I fell into a writing slump, in the wake of Halloween 2013, which inspired me to work on better managing other areas of my life.
Despite progress elsewhere, my writing recovery was admittedly slow as I trudged through this tough winter. Now, though, I’m happy to say that I’ve clawed my way up and out of the pit. I’m not yet producing at full capability, but I’m getting there … partly thanks to tools I found on the internet which helped me improve my physical and financial well-being. (Click those links to see the previous posts in this series.) Getting a handle on those stressors freed up some energy and mind-space which I could then muster to attack my writer’s block.
To wage the battle, I again turned to the internet to search for tools and gadgets that would support my efforts and inspire me. I gathered all sorts of things to try, rejected some, and settled into regularly using the best, most effective programs I found. Now, after a significant trial period, I can offer some recommendations to those of you who are looking for ways to streamline and smooth out your own routines.
If the advent of spring is inspiring you to revise, refine and recommit to your resolutions, check out the following list of work-management tools.
OLD RECOMMENDATION: FOCUS BOOSTER
~ a simple timer widget for your desktop, designed to help improve concentration while working on a project.
UPDATE: As of Aug. 2015, Focus Booster has been redesigned. (It now maintains stats and issues reports.) It has also been converted from free to paid by subscription. It has a 15 day free trial, after which it costs $2.99 per month or $29.99 per year. I have not trialed this new version.
NEW RECOMMENDATION: POMODORO CHALLENGE TIMER
~ a cell phone app with an attitude.
For some time now, I’ve been instead using a phone app called Pomodoro Challenge Timer. Toward the end of Focus Booster’s free version, it became buggy, so I went looking for something different. Most of the pomodoro technique apps I found were lacking personality. I very much appreciated the snarky attitude of the Pomodoro Challenge Timer when I discovered it. (You just need to read its description to understand.) As a bonus, it offered more tracking features than Focus Booster did at the time.
This app is free and can be upgraded for even more functionality with an in-app purchase of $2.99.
This timer was built to work with the Pomodoro Technique, which is really a complete productivity philosophy in itself. It involves dividing your work day into 25-minute chunks of focused time, each followed by a 5-minute break. This time segment is called a Pomodoro. After every forth Pomodoro, you take a longer break of 30 minutes.
To learn more about this effective time management system, visit: The Pomodoro Technique.
In short, Pomodoro Challenge Timer is a fun, free app with a reasonably priced upgrade option. Go grab it and give it a try.
WRITE OR DIE (NOT RECOMMENDED)
~designed specifically for writers who struggle with over-thinking and/or over-editing when they should be just getting words on a page.
Update: As long as I’m here in Aug. 2015, I want to let you know that I’ve given up on Write or Die completely. It has not improved since I posted the following review.
(WARNING: I am recommending ONLY the free version–and that halfheartedly.)
I’ve mentioned this program here at The Paranormalist before. When I found it, more than a year ago, I tried out the free version for a while, then bought the desktop version. I still use it on days when I just want to make a lot of words appear without worrying about editing. You can read about my first experience with the program in Write or Die – a productivity tool designed to overcome my personal writer’s faults.
I still believe The CONCEPT is brilliant.
Unfortunately, the execution of this program is less than stellar. I had to find work-arounds to make sure that nothing I typed got lost. (I have to remember to copy and paste my text into a WORD document before I exit the writing window, because I don’t trust the on-board save function.) The badge I referenced in my first article never did work properly. Otherwise, though, the program is both fun and effective so I knew I wanted to include an update and a cautious recommendation for it in this blog.
When I went to fetch the proper link for this post, I discovered that a new version, Write or Die 2, is available.
It’s supposed to have improved functionality and more options. The new version not only provides consequences in the same way the original did, it offers two additional modes: reward and stimulus.
Because I’m about to start a big new project, I was very excited. I purchased the desktop version immediately. (There was a code available for use by teachers, students and people who had purchased the first version, so I only paid $15.)
I should have read around the internet a bit before surrendering my money. This new version is not just a little buggy sometimes – easily half of the features don’t work properly or consistently. The good news is that I seem to be able to use it in consequences mode just about as reliably as I am able to use my desktop version of the first edition. (It seems to save a little better, though it won’t let me name the save file, even though it indicates that doing so is an option. I still don’t trust it.)
To make matters worse, it appears that the developer has abandoned both products – except for accepting payment, that is. It turns out that I’m a lucky one … most folks who are trying to purchase version 1 these days are not receiving their download links despite having made payment.
It’s a shame because, when it works, this program can help you generate huge blocks of text. Though I use it to create rough draft prose, I imagine it could be an effective tool for any kind of stream-of-consciousness brainstorming or journaling. I hope the developer decides to support his products and sends out bug fixes, but I’m not holding my breath. I will be staying on top of the situation and will update this post and make note in a future blog if anything changes.
In short, DON’T BUY EITHER DESKTOP VERSION ON THIS PROGRAM, at least not right now. In the meantime, it seems safe enough to use the program in its FREE, web-based incarnation. Go to writeordie.com, adjust the controls, and hit “try.” As long as you have internet, it works. To be safe, copy and paste your text to another program before quitting out of the writing screen.
~ a more flexible and self-directed version of November’s traditional National Novel Writing Month program.
This is great way to try NaNo if you’ve not had the courage to do it before. You set your own goal (between 10,000 and 100,000 words) which can be about writing a first draft, or revising a previously existing one. (Or about creating an outline for a new project, or anything, really, as long as you can figure out how to equate it to a goal word count in a way that makes sense to you.)
The camp sessions happen in April and July. (This post was written when I was gearing up for the April 2014 session.)
Aside from the motivation provided by the word count graph that is integral to NaNo, there are other perks to becoming a camper. I’ve signed up to be in a “cabin” and I’m already enjoying the enthusiastic messages left by my camp buddies on our message board. (If you don’t want the distraction of social interaction, you can opt out of encabinment.)
I know I’m not giving you
very much any notice about this, but I would welcome companionship on this adventure. Because you can set your own goal, it’s entirely reasonable to spend the first several days of camp organizing and developing the project. (That’s what I’ll be doing.) If you want to see my camper profile, or check on my progress, you can visit me at: campnanowrimo.org/campers/theparanormalist.
I’ll be immersing in that project I wanted to tackle last November, before the slump set in so completely. (Yes, it is possible that the very contemplation of that project contributed to the writer’s block itself.) Now that I’ve had some time to think about it, and now that I’m doing better in general, and now that it’s spring, I think I’m ready to dive in.
If you aren’t ready to do camp in April, but are intrigued by the idea, you’re in luck — there will be another session in July. Maybe we can meet up then.
In short, this is a fun, lower-stress introduction to the world of intensive writing and goal-meeting zeitgeist and you should come play!
PROGRESS / WORD COUNT METERS
~ a fun way to visualize and acknowledge your accomplishments, and share information with supporters.
I’ll be doing A LOT of self-monitoring in this upcoming month and into the foreseeable future. It really seems to help keep me focused and on-track. I’ll be using both Camp NaNoWriMo and WriMoProg in April. Camp NaNo will help me with drafting the beginning of my new novel, and WriMoPro will help me with staying on top of my blogging and other writerly tasks. Each challenge has its own way of tracking progress, but it never hurts to add on a pretty graphic widget as well.
One particular progress meter – the word count meter from Critique Circle – can be used for both challenges. This is another gadget that I’ve shared with you before, but it merits another mention for multiple reasons:
- unlike other widgets, it can be displayed in a post or sidebar here at wordpress.com
- it’s a beauty – simple, elegant and customizable
- it’s easy to update, in that you click the image wherever it appears and update your count in a dead-simple form, then copy and past the generated code wherever you want it
- during the month of November (but not during camp months) the meter can be directly linked to your NaNoWriMo graph
- though it’s intended to track word counts, you can enter any number range which means it can be used to track hours
This is what my word count meter for April’s Camp NaNoWriMo looks like:
In short, if you have need of a progress meter that will work where others won’t, get it at Critique Circle.
Now it’s time to get back to full-on writing. Wish me luck, Folks.