by Sara Mills
Since the dawn of time students everywhere have had to write things. Most of the time, you begin your paper with phrases like “since the dawn of time,” feel a sense of purpose and self-satisfaction, then realize that there has to be something else after that first sentence. It is usually at this point that you go out for a snack, take a nap, or just stare at your computer in confusion. Why won’t your paper just write itself? And then at that point you remember that you can go on Facebook or watch endless YouTube videos of kittens playing with babies. It is only then, after about four hours have gone by, that you realize that all you have to say for your paper is that you have written a vague introduction. And no one likes a vague introduction.
“Write or Die” provides a terrifying solution to this problem. As its name suggests in very blunt terms, “Write or Die” is a website that literally scares you into writing. There is a word count meter in the lower right hand corner and a time clock that ticks down in the lower left. Write, it seems to whisper to you. Or die.
I decided that I would try out the site by writing this column. I set my goal at 500 words in ten minutes, and then I was prompted to select what kind of “consequences” I wanted. The options were gentle, normal, kamikaze, and electric shock. I wasn’t able to select the electric shock option—it seemed one had to have special privileges to be electrically shocked into writing. I settled on mere kamikaze, and then selected “evil” as my grace period, which means that I would have very little time to pause and think before I died.
The site then took me to a page where I could begin writing. I noticed a little disclaimer in the lower right hand corner (under the word count meter) that kindly suggested that I copy and paste anything I should write into a word document so that I wouldn’t lose my work. I shrugged it off, confused about why I would need to back up my work; however, as I paused my writing to think, the screen suddenly turned progressively deeper shades of red and the words I’d written slowly started to disappear. It was as if they were being eaten. My jaw dropped and I felt a cold sweat start to work its way across my body. I began writing furiously, my fingers pounding at the keys. I soon realized that it didn’t quite matter either to the site or to me whether I wrote my column or simply typed in random song lyrics, as long as I was writing something. Then, at the end of the ten minutes, the redness suddenly disappeared. I was free.
What did students do before websites like “Write or Die”? Did they just pressure themselves? Ask their friends to stand over their shoulders with a timer and an eraser? I found myself scrambling to write just about anything so that this website would stop bullying me. Was I really writing anything of use? I suppose the real beauty of this site is that it forces you to write—and writing something is better than writing nothing at all. While you write, your mind makes connections. Every thought, every sentence leads to a new idea. That’s why the first draft of any paper is so important. It is often at the end of your draft that you find an idea worth arguing; it is through the process of getting your thoughts down on paper that you arrive to a final claim. It’s like the verbal equivalent of having an ideas conference at the Writing Center (though the latter is thankfully without penalty of death).
Not everyone can handle this sort of pressure. But at the very least, even if you don’t achieve your word count, Dr. Wicked lets you print out a badge. And everyone likes a badge. So check it out here:
Sara Mills ‘11 is the head tutor at the Writing Center and concentrates in Classics.