Sam van Zweden




Two Options: Write or Die.

Dr Wicked’s Write or Die is an online writing tool that promises to “put the ‘prod’ in ‘productivity'”.

Write or Die enforces the above (“two options”) ultimatum on your writing. You tell Write or Die how long you’d like to write for (from 10 mins up to 2 hours) and how many words you’d like to achieve in that time. You then select your “consequences”, which range from “gentle” to “electric shock mode”, each with its own consequences. Write or Die lets your choose a “grace period” too, (“forgiving”, “strict” or “evil”) which is the amount of time the program allows to pass before there are consequences. Write or Die opens a document in your browser, and then you start writing.

Consequences for not writing are incredibly well thought-out. They encapsulate your worst nightmares. They differ in degrees of malice, from a pop-up telling you to keep writing, to “MMM-Bop” playing, to the program actually deleting your work. It deletes it in a really horrible way too, working backwards, you see your lovely words disappearing – the only way to stop this happening is to start writing again.

These things don’t just happen randomly, there is the grace period you nominated, and then the background screen starts turning red, and then the consequences happen.

I’m great with procrastination. And I’m terrified of a blank page or document. This program battles all these things in one place, stops me from staring out windows or just reading a page or two of whatever is in front of me, or deciding that the dishes simply can’t wait until after I’ve written.

There are also a heap of handy little widgets that Write or Die gives you at the end of your session, along with your stats (eg “I wrote 200 words in 10 minutes”), which you can copy the code for and upload to a blog or facebook or whatever you please.

The only thing the online version of Write or Die doesn’t do is save your work. The website contains a warning to writers, asking them to copy and paste whatever they type in the browser into a document they can save so they don’t lose it.

There is also a desktop edition of Write or Die ($10), which looks like it remedies a lot of the issues of its online counterpart. It works on your desktop, so you can’t access all the tempting things that will stop you from writing in the first place. There are also a heap of customizable entertaining and smart bits n pieces: disabling the backspace button so that the only way is forward; making it impossible to access any windows behind Write or Die; not being able to save your work until you reach your goal; and heap of awesome stats things, one of which links to Twitter so you can wage “#wordwar” against anyone in the Twitterverse who may wish  to compete.

While I have a billion things to pay off right now, the next spare $10 I get will be going towards the desktop edition of Dr Wicked’s Write or Die… Until then though, the online version gives me plenty of impetus to write. Or die.

Too perfect = blank pages.

I’ve had this problem for a long time, and I suspect that for a lot of writers this is the root of the “terror of the blank page” problem.

This morning I came across a post by Fiona Gregory of “Bootcampers 101” blog. While the writers who contribute to this blog are all romance writers, they often have something to say that applies to the rest of us literary folk.

In this post, Fiona talks about how her perfectionism often holds her back from writing at all, or at least following through on anything because what’s in her head struggles to match what ends up on the page.

Thankfully, this post isn’t just a whine about how hard it is to get the cogs moving.

Some of the more helpful solutions Fiona suggests include:
– Writing to a timer. Set a timer for anywhere from a few minutes to an hour or two, and don’t move until it goes off. Just write. Don’t edit either – that’s for later.
– Scheduling a time for editing so that it doesn’t creep into your writing time. I certainly find that the more I allow myself to edit while I write, the more that filter gets in the way of my getting anything at all onto the page.

While these are small tips, and almost a bit obvious, I found them helpful. Especially as I sit in front of an impending deadline or five, banging my head against a brick wall.

Dressing Down

When the decorative parts of me
Are forced away from the world,
I am little more than
A shrivelled Christmas Tree.

Am I Hitler?

Papers turn to confetti in my hands.
You tear my words from end to end,
A scritching switching of sympathies
From the days behind us
When you stuck them to your forehead,
Like a game of Guess Who.
Celebrity Heads.
Always the same questions –
“Am I alive?”
“Am I an animal?”
“Am I Hitler?”
“Am I Hitler?”
“Am I Hitler?”
Back then, you never were,
But everything since has changed.
Now my words are confetti, which I throw in some delusional celebration
And there is nothing on your forehead
But creases.

Five Moments

All the blogs I read seem to be awash over the last few days with questions and ideas around writer’s block.

My favorite exercise to move the blockage is an exercise which distills my writing, or anything, into a series of five moments. What results is usually a little poem, like a still life.  I can use this to make a vomit draft into something different, or to move a piece I’m writing onto somewhere new. I always get ideas where my mind is forced to fill gaps, and this distilling seems to create much stronger images between the lines than any large slab of my writing ever does.


Walk in –
Leans into me.
Kiss his dream-sweat head
“Thai food?”

The Terror of Actually Writing

TheReaderCover-SmallToday’s post was prompted by John Pace’s article in The Reader (pictured left), titled “Re-Draft with Craft”. It got me thinking about drafting, something I truly struggle with (and I suspect a lot of people do… like Dan Brown, and Bryce Courtney’s more recent work?)

While Pace’s article is directed at screenwriters, I believe it applies to all forms of writing, or even all forms of anything that requires drafting.

Pace gives some fantastic advice about drafting (obvious, yet helpful – this is how most creative-type advice seems to be, especially the helpful stuff), such as cutting out unnecessary “hangover” words in order to write punchy, economic pieces. What stood out to me most about this article, though, is something that spoke to my constant fear of starting.

I have long embraced the term “vomit draft” to describe that first terrifying committment of word to page. I pussyfoot around a piece, thinking on it for too long, scrapping it before I even get it onto a page. Pace suggests the more apt rule, “be wrong as fast as you can”, coined by Andrew Stanton (screenwriter of Wall-E and Finding Nemo). “Just get it down,” says Pace. “Don’t worry about its merit”.

Yes, I needed to be told this. I’m not a brave writer.

Later in the reader, Simonne Michelle-Wells, (in “A Letter to my Younger Self (from the time machine)” ) sits her younger self down for a chat, saying:
“You didn’t draft enough. Drafting and editing are not the same things and you happily convinced yourself they are. Editing requires sweat. Drafting requires blood. Tossing out an errant comma and deleting reams of superfluous adjectives is a leisurely jog compared to the marathon of unpicking a rambling narrative arc or killing off characters in the name of expediency.”

For such a long time, I have convinced myself of the same thing. Pace talks about one screenwriter who sits down to re-draft in front of a blank page. No cut-copy-paste, this writer starts again from scratch, with faith that the ideas that count will resurface.

THAT is brave writing.

Monica Wood’s “Pocket Muse” tells writers, “you have to be willing to write badly“… and I think that’s the key here. Without a willingness to “be wrong, as fast as I can,” I can’t even start to get it wrong. I’m too safe, too much of the time.


On the weekend I went with some friends up to a very cool very abandoned house… when I got back I got to scribbling. And this is what came of it.


It was white once, but that was a long time ago.  There are leaves everywhere. Not just on the path and in the back yard, but in the hallways and staircases too. One whole side is surrounded by a massive balcony, which looks like it’s missing some flappers and cocktails.

It’s not locked. We walk around the back and go straight in, like coming home to this dilapidated old mansion.

Tara thinks it was once a part of Kew Cottages. We all picture disabled kids being tied up and pushed down stairs.

We crunch around on the lino for a while, drifting in and out of rooms. Chandeliers have been stolen and cords hang empty from the ceiling. There are NO SMOKING signs on every bedroom door.

The place is huge. At least 12 bedrooms, two big kitchens, three bathrooms. Hidden walk-in bits – cellars, pantries, something that looks like a jail cell.
“Where they were put when they were naughty,” says Tara. Words that could be a joke, but she’s absolutely serious.

There’s a little door at the end of a living room down stairs, which leads to a cold cement landing. More stairs, into a pointless cold room with a bizarre crevice hidden behind another wall.

The downstairs kitchen reminds me of the way RSLs were before they were replaced by the bright shiny things that flash and swallow pensions, telling us about the brave men who fought hard to give us this life.

In this old demented castle there’s little type-written placards stuck around the place.
“ROOM 12- 3 BEDS”
They must have dormed people in these bedrooms.

There’s something written in an Asian script above a heap of switches, which Ollie flicks a bunch of. They do nothing, of course – electricity left this house years ago.

We wander around downstairs, a weird sort of basement with too many rooms and hidden things nd not many windows.

“Maybe it was a student share house.”
“Wonder what the rent on a place like this would be?”
“That room wasn’t that colour last time I was here. It’s been painted. Maybe someone’s doing it up.”
“But its unlocked”

Something hits the floor upstairs. We all stop talking. I’ve heard that kind of noise few times as we’ve been walking around, but I put it down to wind. I was avoiding creeping myself out.

Tara looks at me, wide-eyed and excited, like she wants some hellish crazy thing to happen and scare the shit out of us all.

We had passed a cop car when we were walking down here.
“That’s always comforting when you’re going to break into a house,” Danny had said.

Maybe it’s the cops, one of the neighbours made a call.

Maybe it’s a squatter.

A Bird?


Ollie creeps up the stairs super-slow, making it lookke a farce, but nobody says a word.

“We should probably go soon,” I mumble, and everyone falls over their agreement as we slide out th nearest door and find an open gate.

When we’re safely back on the road we explode into adrenaline-fuelled rants of how cool and creepy that all was. We feel manly and brave.

That night I dream about it though, about a mean Neanderthal-looking man dragging himself around that dirty art-deco villa with its missing chandeliers a awkward rooms.

When we get home I look the place up. It was an aged-care facility, assisted housing. This makes the place both more and less scary.

Part of me wants to go back there, to chill out in its ancient emptiness. But the rest of me thinks of that Neanderthal dude that my mind invented and I’m just too scared.

Asking questions

No post for the last few days as I’ve been away, and nothing too impressive today as I’m in the middle of working on a short story for a comp, which I’d like to post here but only once I’ve got a first draft together.

I realised today though, one of the reasons I’m having so much trouble writing this current story is because I dont know my characters well enough. I can sit there asking, “What does he do next?”…but he should be “what WOULD he do next?”. I need to sit with these characters for a while and discover their logic…

SARA: She’s broken. She’s tiny. She finds animals agreeable, but generally men don’t stay in her life long, they find her too complicated. She never asked Christian to fix her. Her background is blurry, not just for those around her but for Sara too. She doesn’t understand how she came to be confused and confusing, she doesn’t remember. She’s sure she wasn’t always this way.

CHRISTIAN: He’s fat and awkward and nerdy. He’s likeable, gets along with most people… He has a super-man kind of ethos. He’s kind, he can love in such huge amounts. Sara fits in his arms perfectly. He knows she’s broken, and he can fix her, he knows it. They’re both quiet but they find a silent kind of happiness in each other.

It’s where Christian came from that I get stuck on. Why is he so quiet? And why Sara?

Deliberate Practice and Accountability

Every day, I browse for at least half an hour through WordPress, just to see who’s posted something, read it if it’s worth reading. Try to increase traffic through this fair blog… though that’s clearly a winner, as I’ve gone three days with no hits.
I recently came across this fantastic post
There is also has some amazing links there, so thumbs up to this blog!

This blog isn’t intended as a journal. That’s not what I’m here for, I know how hard it is to return to a journal. They’re boring reading. What it is intended to do, is help me grow as a writer. So, I’m bringing some accountability into this thing. I’ll post something every day. If I dont, find me and hunt me down.

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