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?

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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[…] 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.  […]

Stacey Shubitz

Great suggestions! I can’t wait to try some of them out. I’m going to download the StayFocusd Chrome Extension right now! (Though I never would’ve found out about it if I wasn’t on Twitter, which led me to your piece. Just sayin’!)


Stacey, I’m so glad you found the post helpful!

Sarah Brentyn

These are fantastic. As a newbie in the social media world, I appreciate ways to escape the black hole of online networking. Thanks for sharing. I especially love the title (and consequences) of “Write or Die”. Beautiful.


That particular application is scary to me. I don’t think I’ll ever use it.

Porter Anderson

Hi Frances – Thanks for this piece. I’d like to suggest our readers might also like RescueTime.com — I’ve been very happy with it, myself. Its basic edition tracks and collates the time you spend online and what you do with that time. So you get a full and highly accurate (to the second) picture of how you’re using your time – incluidng writing on programs like Word. Anything on your computer. And then its FocusTime function allows you to set your own amount of time — from minutes to hours — during which sites and activities you’ve marked as… Read more »


Thanks so much for letting me know about that app. I need to make a note of that one and check it out. Thank you!

Nina Amir

Yes, Rescuetime.com can be quite an eye opener.

Lexa Cain

Great tips about the apps, Jane. Thanks!

Melissa Sugar

Fabulous article filled with a plethora of apps for me to try. Many are new to me and number four “Stay Focused,”‘sounds perfect for me. I like that I can choose the amount of time, e.g. Forty-five minutes or four hours, to block myself. Will definitely try that one. Thanks for sharing these useful apps.


Yes, Melissa, being able to choose the amount of tie you want to stay off the ‘Net is a really great feature.


Thanks for the suggestions! I really like Freedom for Mac as well.

Robert Falcó

Very useful post! I find the combination of Self Control and RescueTime works best for me. I like how Self Control allows me to choose how much time I want to spend away from the blacklisted sites. And the data provided by RescueTime (even the free version) can be very revealing.


You sound experienced at using these apps. I’m looking forward to checking out RescueTime.

Robin Coots

For Firefox users, there’s Leechblock. I use it alot (Have banned myself from Facebook for a while. What a time suck!). Plug in the sites you want to block, and you can then set the times you want to be blocked, the duration, or even manually turn them off with Lockdown. Not that I don’t find other ways to get distracted 😉


Frances, nice post. I think I better download Write or Die! The Character Prompts ap sounds interesting, but can it work with Scrivener? I’m learning that. My real problem is just not getting around to writing, but not because of social media–you know me! I don’t even (still) know my LinkdIn password. I shared the post with my writing writing. Thanks! Thanks to Jane, too, for having you.

Michael M Dickson

Holy cow, this coffivity app is awesome! Haha, I’m laughing like crazy over this thing. It’s 5 ish a.m. I’m drinking coffee in my home office trying to ear drop to an app! haha


I love Coffitivity, Michael!

Becky Povich

Such fun things! But for now, I’m still doing things the old-fashioned way….I use my own self-control. 🙂 Sometimes it works, sometimes not so much! I also write much better with a little music playing, and what genre just depends on my mood at the time. P.S. In Number 3, Write or Die, I literally laughed out loud when I read “Kamikaze Mode.” 😀

Stephanie Diamond

I find it easiest to just turn off the wi-fi and silence the phone.

Nina Amir

Great suggestions, as always, Frances! I also use a simple timer…you can find many of them online. I just set the timer and write for 30-minute blocks. But all of these tools are wonderful for those not getting their work done. I think I need to try Write or Die.


That’s what I need to do, Nina. Good idea!

Joe Kovacs

It’s too bad Anti-social is only for Mac users since I happen to use a PC. I don’t suppose, Frances, you can do anything about this, can you? LOL! Thank you for this great list…without question, I can use more than one of these apps.


Well, Joe, it may be time for you to purchase a Mac! I made the conversion in the fall and I’m never going back to the PC!

Joe Kovacs

Give up my PC? Blasphemy! 😉

Kathy Higgs-Coulthard

I also love 750words.com
It provides a forum for writing each day and rewards you when you reach your 750 words.


I use WriteRoom on my Mac. It’s a good clean environment in which to get the words down. There’s also Ommwriter. I’m in many minds about it. It’s almost too beautiful to allow me concentrate on the words.

[…] 10 Apps to Help a Writer Stayed Focused by Frances Caballo on janefriedman.com February 25, 2014. Writing craft. […]

[…] writer has his or her own process–but many of us struggle with focus. Frances Caballo shares 10 apps to help stay focused on your writing. Nathan Bransford says you don’t have to write every day; Seth Fishman tells us how to write YA; […]

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[…] Caballo, F. (2014). 10 Apps to help you stay focused on your writing. Retrieved from https://janefriedman.com/2014/02/26/10-apps-help-stay-focused-writing/ […]


I use Stayfocused application on PC which is based on the Pomodoro Tech.

Rachel Maree

Wow! Once again Jane Friedman I am blown away by your blog. Such great suggestions! I think I would have to add your website and blog to the list of sites that distract me!

[…] Check out Lifehacker’s guide to choosing the right writing app for you, featuring Editorial, Write, and RedNotebook. Also try Anti-Social, Self-Control, Write or Die and other tools to beat procrastination. […]

[…] 10 Apps to Help You Stay Focused on Your Writing – Jane Friedman […]

Andreas Brinck

Write away.

Matt Hanlon

Personally I like Writer.app (http://supertart.com/qisoftware/Writer.html ), a horribly named, intentionally crippled word processor to help you turn off your inner editor. I’m a little biased, since I created the app, but it might be worth a spin for you, too.

[…] You can use apps to limit these distractions and maintain focus. Check out 10 recommended apps from JaneFriedman.com, all designed to turn off […]

[…] You can use apps to limit distractions and maintain focus. Check out the 10 recommended apps from JaneFriedman.com, all designed to turn off background […]

[…] are many apps out there that are designed to de-clutter your digital workspace to make it easier to focus solely on your writing. Some of these apps make it impossible to browse social media websites, while others help isolate […]


Thanks for the suggestions! I really like Freedom for Mac as well.

[…] 6. Another thing that might help me be more productive this year: this list of apps to help stay focused on writing. […]

[…] Jane Friedman curated a list of 10 Apps to Help You Stay Focused on Your Writing. Some of her top choices include Anti-Social, an app you can set to block you from social sites for […]

[…] an effort to keep internet users focused,  Frances Caballo offers help on how to keep oneself from becoming […]

[…] 10 Apps to Help You Stay Focused on Your Writing | Jane Friedman […]

[…] know I should disconnect when I’m sitting at the computer or use a distraction blocker to keep my focus on the screen, but I don’t. I allow the allure of whimsy to attract […]

[…] as fully as possible with our own work. Log off. Sign out. If necessary in the beginning, use apps designed to block digital distractions. This is a relationship between us and our words, between us and our life’s calling. It […]


Great suggestion. Your post helped me so much. With your apps I imagine I could really stay focused (at least for some time :). Before I found your site I read another blog post about inspired writing. For a blogger or a freelancer (like me) are these tips https://www.writeree.com/blog/category/writing/creative-writing-how-to-find-inspiration-for-an-exciting-text very helpful. One of them said I should turn my Phone off. I never turned it off because I didn’t use it that much. But with your article it may change. I should use it for my work and try the apps you recommend and maybe it will help me to… Read more »