Punish the Procrastinator! A Review of the Write or Die App -->

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Punish the Procrastinator! A Review of the Write or Die App


By Kayla Skarbakka and Nik Nadeau, Writing Consultants

You have a looming deadline and are just about to start that paper when you notice the dust bunnies under your desk. A text from your daughter. That new episode of Parks and Recreation on Hulu.

Sound familiar? Oftentimes, “sitting down to write” means “doing everything I can think of to avoid writing.” If you—like many of us in the Writing Center—find yourself in that situation a bit too frequently, you might want to check out Write or Die, a free online application (also available for purchase on iPad or Desktop) that helps writers combat procrastination.

According to Write or Die’s creator, the so-called “Dr. Wicked,” the app uses negative reinforcement to get writers to put words on the page. Using the app is simple: set yourself a time and word goal and get to work. As long as you keep typing into the text box, you are in the clear.

Think twice, though, before pausing to read that new e-mail or grab another cup of coffee. If you stop typing for more than a few seconds, you face consequences ranging from a gentle pop-up reminder to keep writing (Gentle Mode) to an unpleasant sound that persists until you continue typing (Normal Mode) to self-erasing text (Kamikaze Mode). The final consequence level, “Electric Shock Mode,” is, fortunately, not actually a usable option.
Write or Die app screenshot

In the words of Dr. Wicked, “the idea is to instill in the would-be writer… a fear of not writing” (“Write or Die,” 2013, para. 6), giving writers real and immediate consequences for self-sabotaging behaviors. Intrigued by this idea, writing tutors and professional procrastinators Kayla and Nik decided to try the application to help them with their own writing projects.

Kayla Skarbakka

Kayla’s Take

After playing around with the various consequence options available in the Write or Die app, I have determined that I am (a) a speedy typer and (b) an awfully slow thinker.

I simply mean that as long as my goal was to get words—any words—on the screen, then the “fear of not writing” was a fantastic motivator. Do I want to hear crying babies, blaring car horns, or “Peanut Butter Jelly Time”? No thank you.

There’s a lot to be said for focusing on quantity. Ten minutes of madcap typing in the Write or Die app (much of it asides like “Oh geez, that’s bad; obviously I will fix that later”), and I managed to work through a plot problem in a story that has been nagging me – no lie – for 2 years.

However, I soon found myself wanting to slow down and write a bit more thoughtfully. I wanted to be picky and playful with language; I wanted to be accurate, deliberate, and detailed. Turns out I can’t write in that way quickly enough for Dr. Wicked, though, and let me tell you: it’s difficult to concentrate with “Never Gonna Give You Up” blasting from your speakers every 15 seconds.

My take on Write or Die: fantastic for brainstorming, generating ideas, and warming up those writing muscles. It might even be helpful for a first draft if you’re battling writer’s block. But once you know what you want to say and are more concerned with how you say it, you might be ready to move to the word processor.

Nik Nadeau

Nik’s Take

Unlike Kayla, my idea of “warming up” for writing is eating, watching YouTube, or finding one more thing to clean with a Lysol wipe. I will do ANYTHING to not write. And I find that the things I do write that I (and sometimes other people) like are those things that I didn’t really care about. Now let me explain: I care about my writing. Deeply. 

But what I really need more than to care about my writing is to NOT care. To further explain, let me give an illustration:
Nik's writing process pie chart

So as you can see, where Kayla would prefer to avoid getting her ears blasted by crying babies, car horns, and every possible song that should never have been introduced to human culture, I WELCOME it. I need to be shoved off a cliff to write consistently. And, well, if that’s the way it is, I’d rather listen to “Never Gonna Give You Up” over and over again rather than, you know, actually getting shoved off a cliff.

Editor's note: Other writing apps that aim to minimize distraction are Flowstate, Freedom, and WriteRoom. Let us know what you think of these apps. Do they work for you?


  1. Thanks for the info on this. Started working on a new book and somebody mentioned it to me today. Personally, have been using a pomodoro timer with good results, but always looking for something more. Would probably use something like Write or Die if it was built into the word processor I use, but am not sure about bringing another app into the writing process...

  2. That would be interesting to have a procrastination app built into the word processor, David. We've also heard good things about the pomodoro method. Good luck with your new book!