10 Apps to Help You Stay Focused on Your Writing

Photo by Daniel Y. Go / via Flickr

Photo by Daniel Y. Go / via Flickr

Today’s guest post is by Frances Caballo (@caballofrances), a social media strategist and manager for writers, and the author of Avoid Social Media Time Suck, among other titles.


Inspiration is the windfall from hard work and focus. Muses are too unreliable to keep on the payroll.

—Helen Hanson

As authors, we love to read, write, and talk about our stories. But as we sit to string words together, there is always the temptation of a distraction.

Maybe it’s a cup of licorice tea you want—again. Or a podcast from Fresh Air that is tempting you. Isn’t now, when you have this time set aside, the perfect time to tackle those items on your to-do list?

Many of us wedge writing into the tight spaces of our lives. We rise before the sun breaks the horizon, work all day, and interact with our families in the evenings. We promise ourselves that we will write every morning at four, write for two hours, pursue our passion, live our dream, and let the stories run wild on the page.

It sounds doable, right? But it’s never as easy as it seems.

Many of us start with the best of intentions. We set our alarm clocks, awake with little eagerness, and harness ourselves to our computers. Ah, the computer. Now there’s another source for many of our digressions.

Tools to Keep You Off the Net

If Facebook or Twitter easily diverts your attention when trying to write, don’t worry. These tools can help.

1. Anti-Social

It’s said that Jonathan Franzen obliterated the Ethernet card in his laptop and locked himself in a drab room to avoid distractions that would divert his attention away from his manuscript. But he could have used Anti-Social instead. This tool will block you from your own temptations whenever you’re trying to write. This is how it works: Suppose you want to spend the next three hours writing. Just turn on Anti-Social, schedule it for three hours, and you’ll be blocked from distracting social media websites. Presently, this application is available only to Mac users.

2. SelfControl

This free application will block you from accessing the websites that distract you the most for a set period that you determine. Until that timer expires, you will be unable to access those sites—even if you restart your computer or delete the application.

3. Write or Die

First, you configure your writing period, word goal, and your preferred punishment should your fingers stop typing. Once the setup is complete, you’ll need to type continuously; otherwise, there will be consequences. In case you’re wondering what those consequences might be, here they are:

  • Gentle Mode: A certain amount of time after you stop writing, a box will pop up, gently reminding you to continue writ- ing.
  • Normal Mode: If you persistently avoid writing, you will be played a most unpleasant sound. The sound will stop if and only if you continue to write.
  • Kamikaze Mode: You will need to keep writing or your work will unwrite itself. That consequence should keep everyone on track.

4. StayFocusd

This is a free Chrome extension that will help you to stay more focused on your writing by restricting the amount of time you spend on distracting websites. Let’s say you decide that you want to spend a maximum of forty-five minutes on social media day. Once you use your allotted time, you will be blocked from social media for the remainder of the day.

5. WriteRoom

This tool won’t keep you off your social media networks, but it will keep you more focused. Available from Apple’s App Store, WriteRoom is designed to be an alternative to Microsoft Word. The program allows you to write, but you can’t add formatting or insert screenshots. All you can do is write, and sometimes that’s exactly all we need to do.

Create an Atmosphere to Be More Efficient

Now that you are locked out of your Facebook account, maybe all you can do is stare at the blank page in front of you. Some studies suggest that what you need now is some background buzz. The two applications below are designed to help you loosen your writing muscles.

6. Coffitivity

According to research, it can be more difficult to be productive in a quiet space. That is why some people get more writing done in the middle of Starbucks. This app will create a background of coffee shop sounds to soothe you into your sweet spot of writing. It claims to produce the perfect mix of calm and commotion. This app is available for the iPad, iPhone, and Mac in the iTunes store for $1.99.

7. Songza

This website offers an array of music for whatever your mood might be. If you want to chill, try Mellow Indie. If you prefer popular songs, click on Today’s Biggest Hits. If you don’t want to hear any lyrics, click on Cool Jazz for Warm Nights or Ambient and listen to the sound of birds chirping and waves washing ashore. There’s music for every taste here.

How to Beat the Block

The house is empty, you have a steaming cup of tea next to your keyboard, and you’re ready to start writing. But there’s a problem. You don’t know what to say in your next blog post. Or perhaps you don’t know how to start the next chapter of your novel or end a story you started a week ago. Here are some applications that will help you get your writing started.

8. Writing Prompts and Character Prompts

The Writing Prompts app claims that it will come to your rescue with its database of 600 writing prompts. Meanwhile, Character Prompt will offer you 19 profile characteristics, thousands of character twists, and 150 questions to help you develop your characters. Various versions of these two apps range from $1.99 to $4.99 and are available for Apple, Android, and Kindle devices.

9. Writer’s Block Buster

This is another application that will help to crumble your writer’s block into little pieces and leave you with a vision of where your characters need to go. It also has a clever feature that will allow you to keep track of your characters, places where they live or travel to, and other scenarios. In addition, it assists with character and plot development, dialogue, and the mechanics of writing. All these features come for the price of $3.99.

10. Creativity Portal’s Imagination Prompt Generator

The imagination prompt provides prompts for starting a fictional story. This app is part of the Creativity Portal, which will suggest ideas for creative projects. Creativity Portal also has other applications in its portfolio, including The Story Starter and Writing Fix. If you’re a teacher, Writing Fix also suggests ideas for how to teach different aspects of writing.

Do you use any applications to help you stay focused on your writing?

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Posted in Creativity + Inspiration.

Frances Caballo is an author and social media strategist and manager for writers. She’s a regular speaker at the San Francisco Writers Conference, a contributing writer at TheBookDesigner.com, blogger and social media expert for BookWorks, and blogger at Bowker’s Self-Published Author blog. She’s written several social media books, including The Author’s Guide to Goodreads and Social Media in 30 Minutes a Day. Her focus is on helping authors surmount the barriers that keep them from flourishing online, building their platform, finding new readers, and selling more books. Her clients include writers conferences and authors of every genre. Not sure how you’re doing online? Sign up for her free email course.

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