Write or die: 5 online writing tools to boost your productivity

This weekend marked the arrival of the 2013 Chicago Writers Conference, a local event now in its second year that's designed to help writers of all kinds, and at all levels, hone their craft and further their careers. Held at the Harold Washington Library Center downtown, the conference features an impressive lineup of authors and publishing professionals willing to share their stories and advice.

As much as writers stand to gain from an event like this one, there are times when our biggest professional challenge is simply to write. We've all been there: stuck, unable to move forward. Unable to produce. For one reason or another the words just won't come, and neither a love of the work nor a looming deadline seems likely to help.

This is one of the issues that was addressed by Mary Robinette Kowal in a session titled, "The Medium and the Message." In addition to being an award-winning author, short story writer, voice actor, and professional puppeteer, Kowal is a collector of typewriters. She's spent time exploring the ways in which swapping a computer for a different writing medium, be it a manual typewriter or a quill, can alter one's writing process and rhythm.

Keep writing...or this app will start deleting

Keep writing...or this app will start deleting

When a writer is very blocked, she recommends a newer technology. Can't seem to get that first draft onto the page? Try Write or Die, an app for iPads and PCs that ups your literary output by giving you a time limit and attaching consequences to procrastination. "As long as you keep typing, you're fine," reads the site, "but if you become distracted, punishment will ensue." That punishment can range from a pop-up box admonishing your distraction, to seeing your work "unwrite" itself in Kamikaze Mode.

Will work for kittens

Will work for kittens

If you aren't the type who responds well to pressure, write in Written? Kitten!, a positive reinforcement tool that deliverers a photo of a kitten every time you deliver a set number of words. 750 Words takes a similar approach, rewarding the writer with points for managing to produce 750 words (roughly three pages) of work at a time. There's a social element to this one, too: users can see how fellow site members are doing with drafts of their own.

There are other digital tools at your disposal, like OmmWriter for distraction-free writing with a side of relaxation, and Grandview, a text editing app that blows up words and letters to reduce the paralyzing effects of the blank page. Next time you find yourself blocked, give one of them a try. Take the advice of Mary Robinette Kowal, and mix up the medium to alter the message.

Your writing will thank you.

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