Straight talk from the sisters about blood, sweat and ink
Writers & Productivity: Do you need an Internet Blocker?
Like many writers, my new year’s resolutions revolve around being more productive during my writing time. And for some people, just setting their minds to this seems to make it happen. Not me! A few days into 2015, nothing had changed. I was still spending too much time daydreaming (a problem I blogged about here) and flirting with The Internet (despite my attempts at setting boundaries, we’re still seeing way too much of each other). Clearly, I needed to get my act together. But how?
So I researched Internet blockers. Some like AntiSocial block social media sites (the biggest distractors), but allow access to other websites so you can still do research, post to your blog, or send and receive emails. Most of these programs let you choose which sites to block (aka blacklist). This is perfect for writers working on research-heavy projects like historical fiction. But this wasn’t enough for me. Even when I blacklisted Facebook and Twitter, I found myself online perusing Goodreads or the long-range weather forecast (it’s a Canadian thing). So I blocked those sites too, but still wound up the web, reading the news or researching where to buy new snowpants. Make it stop! I needed all Internet access gone.
A writer friend on Twitter recommended ForceDraft, which is a text editing software that blocks all other programs on your computer, forcing you to write for a set amount of time or words. In a way, this isn’t so much an Internet blocker as a program blocker. It works because you can’t access your browser or any other programs on your PC when you are writing in ForceDraft. Perfect for people who get distracted by games! This is a good solution if you are straight up drafting prose, but not ideal if you want to write a specially formatted outline in a program like Scrivener or Word because you can’t use those programs while in ForceDraft. Plus, ForceDraft isn’t yet compatible with Mac computers, so that’s a no-go for me.
I have some screenwriter friends who use a program called Freedom, so I checked it out. The best thing about Freedom is its simplicity: all it does is block the Internet. You set the timer for 15 minutes or 8 hours, and start writing! Now, if you have an emergency and absolutely need to get back online, you can do so by restarting your computer. I like this option because I work freelance and if I receive a call from a client who needs me to do something online immediately, I can. However, restarting my computer is enough of a pain in the butt to deter me from doing this just because I have an urge to check Facebook. Note that some blockers have no way of getting back the Internet until the time is up. I decided not to take a chance with those.
NOTE: Freedom has been updated in 2016! Besides a fresh new look, users can now select “Block Everything” or “Block Social” or make personalized lists of websites to block.
So far I love Freedom! You can use the Timer or the Schedule feature. (NOTE: For 2016 the Timer version is free, but the Schedule feature is part of the paid Pro version.) The Timer is simple – you select how long you want to write for, and click “Start Freedom.” And boom! You’re offline!
But my favourite feature is the Schedule. I blocked off chunks of time to write throughout the whole week, and then just hit “Set Schedule.” Now, every day when it’s time to write, Freedom literally boots me off the Internet!
This solves my oh-I’ll-just-check-Facebook-for-another-five-minutes thing. It’s never five minutes. It always turns into an hour. And I don’t have the willpower to stop! Now I have a computer bot to have willpower for me. Thanks technology!
One Week Later…
After only a few days using Freedom, the colossal amount of time I spend online became painfully clear. Even though I had scheduled a total of THREE HOURS throughout each workday to spend on The Internet (checking and responding to email, Twitter, Facebook and blog stuff), I barely put a dent in it. I found myself desperately rushing to get through everything before Freedom kicked me offline (as it should – good Freedom!), but my overflowing Inbox made me anxious. Irrefutably, I had way too much online baggage! So I unsubscribed to newsletters and newsfeeds (I am now relying on the boyfriend to tell me the news at dinner) and started responding much faster to personal emails and messages (friends, please forgive any grammatical errors I may now be making).
All in all, this is a good start to 2015! I’m already more productive and spending much less time online, but I still have other ideas to boost my productivity further that I will tell you about next week.
What about you? Do you use Internet blockers? What are your favourites? Have they helped you write more?
Heather is a freelance screenwriter, game writer, and novelist based in Toronto. For more, visit her website at heatherjacksonwrites.com or follow her on Twitter @HeatherJacksonW
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