A version of this story on the Two Little-Known Writing Tools to Help You Get Unstuck appeared in Total Annarchy, my fortnightly newsletter that helps you be a better writer, storyteller, marketer. Get it in your inbox; you’ll love it.
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I don’t believe in Writer’s Block.
House framers don’t get 2×4 Block.
Dentists don’t get Root Canal Block.
Accountants don’t get QuickBooks Block. (Babylonian accountants didn’t get Abacus Block, either lol.)
But I do think Writer’s Wilderness is a thing (no inspiration for miles).
And I subscribe to Writer’s Perfectionism (we stop before we start because we act as Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor to our sweet creative souls).
And of course I am Team Captain of the League of Procrastination.
Writing is a matter of showing up to work, day after day, with the right tools and materials: the timber; the QuickBooks subscription; the tooth-grindy thing that dentists use.
So how do you assemble all the parts, the tools, the materials—the words, the inspiration, the ideas?
This week I’m sharing two little-known but uber-practical writing tools that help me when my creative wheels get stuck in the mud.
Both of these writing tools are also quirky-fun. Because writing shouldn’t feel like doing your taxes.
ilys is a distraction-free writing tool. But now I really want to edit that sentence because while accurate… it’s also too clinical.
ilys is Disney’s Space Mountain for writing: It’s pitch black and you have no idea where you’re going and it feels like maybe you shouldn’t have agreed to this ride because GET ME OFF NOW.
But you can’t. All you can do is buckle up. Hang on. Keep going.
How it works: At ilys.com, input a number of words you want to write. (Be brave. Don’t say like 10 because you are Not. A. Softy!)
Start typing. All you see on the screen is the letter you just typed flash in front of your face. Then—poof—GONE.
If you know you made a mistake and reflexively hit the back button, you get a punitive buzzer sound that you KNOW wishes it could deliver an actual shock to you.
You can’t see the text in its entirety until you reach your word goal. Only then does ilys deliver your document. It’s a frakkin mess.
But your first draft is THERE.
And that feels pretty great.
How you might use ilys:
- For first drafts when your inner judge-critic is in a particularly feisty mood
- To limber up atrophied writing muscles
- To lighten up because this tool is wild and writing shouldn’t feel like you’re the one in the dentist chair getting that root canal
Cost: $0. ilys is generally a subscription tool. But at the start of Covid, creator Michael Gurevich made ilys free in an effort to give our collective creativity an outlet. So it’s free through the end of 2020.
Fun fact: ilys stands for “I Love Your Stories.” And if that isn’t the positivity 2020 needs, I don’t know what is.
Splasho’s Up-Goer Text Editor
The Up-Goer Text Editor challenges you to explain an idea using only the dictionary’s 1,000 most-used English words. Part game. Part puzzle. Weirdly useful.
The Up-Goer Editor is a kind of writing mullet: mostly for fun, but with a business utility to simplify your writing. To quote Einstein: “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.” He wasn’t talking about writing… but let’s pretend.
How it works: Type your text in the box. The editor boots out uncommon words, kicking to the curb anything that whiffs of jargony, buzzwordy, or high-falutin’ writin’.
How you might use the Up-Goer Editor:
- Straight-up fun: It’s a great exercise to reframe your thinking in the simplest, most straightforward terms. For example: Guess this movie.
- To combat the curse of knowledge. The tool is especially fun if you work in tech, science, or any complex industry. It helps you frame your writing in common language for readability and SEO.
- For short descriptions or teasers. I sometimes use this tool to get out of my own head when I write descriptions of my talks and speeches.Like this speech description from a recent talk on brand newsletters. The words underlined in red were booted out by the Editor. The second sentence says the same thing, but more simply.
Fun fact: Splasho creator Theo Sanderson was inspired by an xkcd diagram of the Saturn V rocket. To explain how the complex rocket worked, Randall Munroe labeled the diagram using only the 1,000 most common words.
Give these tools a go! Let me know how you find them useful.
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