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Do you ever delay and procrastinate with your writing? Today’s column provides an excellent (and no-cost) online tool for preventing writer’s block. 

It’s been snowing where I live. Okay, I know it’s January and all, and that might not seem like a strange complaint (unless you live in, say, Australia) but I’m in Vancouver — the wet capital of the world.

Normally, the only weird weather we get here is rain. That’s weird in volume, not in appearance. But this winter it’s been snow. The white stuff started falling on Dec. 13 and fell on and off until, well, right now. Turns out the “rain” we’re getting as I write this (on Jan. 10) has just turned white, and it’s adding to the piles of white stuff already burying our lawn. The only snow on the ground I expect at this time of year is a little white flower known as a snowdrop.

Both walking and driving have been tough and going anywhere outside is a challenge. My city is ill-equipped for plowing and salting and civic officials tend to take the attitude: “Why do anything when the rain is gonna melt this stuff soon?”

Trouble was, “soon” may have hit other areas of the city, but it’s failed to come to my neighborhood. And I discovered this major inconvenience needed some serious planning. As a result, we now have a boot box sitting just inside our front door. I also have black boots, good gloves, a scarf and hat ready to put on anytime I go outside. (A friend of mine even bought a pair of metal crampons for her shoes, which I took as excessive.)

All this planning may sound lame to you, if you live in a cold region, but, remember, the most I usually plan for is to take an umbrella with me everywhere.

Anyway, one day, while putting on my hat, an interesting question popped into my head. If I could relatively easily prepare for the inconveniences of snowy weather, what tools existed that could take away some writing inconveniences? Funnily enough, later that afternoon, I stumbled across a website with something that’s just as powerful as a good hat and fuzzy gloves.

The site is known as Dr. Wicked and it features an application known as Write Or Die. Let me turn the description over to Dr. Wicked who says he “encourages writing by punishing the tendency to avoid writing.”

The instructions are simple: Determine the word count you want to achieve and your time goal. Then pick your mode (gentle, normal or kamikaze) and your grace period (forgiving, strict or evil). Then click “Write” and start doing it. As long as you keep writing, you’re fine, but once you stop producing words, you have a grace period of a certain number of seconds. Then there are consequences.

I’ve now tried Write or Die several times (in fact, I wrote the first draft of this column in it) and found it as bracing as a face-washing with cold snow. I selected the “strict” grace period (“evil” just seemed too cruel to me) and found that after about seven seconds of inactivity, the background of my screen started turning red. And after roughly 18 seconds of inactivity, I was suitably punished by hearing excruciatingly bad music — Bananaphone by someone much worse than Raffi. A second time, I heard something called Peanut Butter and Jelly. I suspect Dr. Evil may be a food fetishist.

(By the way, the many references on the webpage to NaNo, refer to National Novel Writing Month. This is an annual project that brings together professional and amateur writers from all over the world. If you’re interested in writing fiction, take a look.)

But back to Dr. Wicked. If loud music is too uncomfortable for you, you might try the “gentle” mode which offers a simple email reminder that you’ve stopped writing. On the other hand, if you’re a zealot, you might try the kamikaze mode. Warning: this last one starts erasing existing text if you stop writing.

Dr. Wicked is not as gentle as a warm spring day or as fun as a summer’s day at the beach. But Write or Die is a useful, valuable tool, particularly if you’re having a tough time persuading yourself to write on deadline.

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