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The Most Dangerous Writing App (themostdangerouswritingapp.com)
224 points by maebert on Feb 29, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 109 comments

Here's what I bashed out in a 5 minute session:

What makes a writing app dangerous? Is it the blank space set up before the writer? Is it the notion of using a form of communication without context? Does it have some other type of functional definition or characteristic that makes it dangerous?

Well let's have a look - there's a timer, a generic area for typing that appears to be fully justified, and in the lower left hand corner there is some very faint text illustrating typing speed and some other metrics. I'm still not seeing much of any danger as I would relate to the term. There's a bit of mystery - as in, what is the actual purpose of this other than intrinsic use of the language?

Oh, I see. Taking a bit of time to contemplate the next line and the screen starts to fade away. Is it taking the text along? Where does it put the text if it disappears? Will this be chopped up into 140 character components and spread amongst the world a la E-Horse Books? That could be dangerous, at least moreso than a general sense of foreboding that text will be gone if the writer doesn't keep going, and going, and going, which while constructive in its own right, isn't particularly known as the best approach to writing. Sometimes thought should be given a priority.

So, at the end of this five minute exercise, we discover what's really dangerous about the program. It's clever. The reason the app is so dangerous is that it prompts a person to keep typing and writing with minimal amount of active thought. Yay.

If we're doing that..

Oh, I see.

The point is that you just keep writing.

I actually like this one.

This should be combined with some kind of blogging service? I'd like to see the ones that actually make it all the way to their target goals.

Although, there probably isn't anything worth reading. Do edits count towards my goal?

I'm going to risk it..it looks like they do! But you've only got a few seconds to keep your fingers off the keys, so that's a bit scary.

What if you had to scratch your ass or take a piss? I guess that's sort of the point, you simply don't.

Is this worth reading? I sort of doubt it. It's just an extended internal monologue. Which, I suppose, isn't all that much different from other internet writing services.

WOAH. CLOSE CALL THERE. Seems like "backspace" does NOT count towards the progress! I'm filing that as a ticket. In.. two and a half minutes.

Do arrow key motions count? Probably not.

Another thing I just caught myself doing - I cheated by control-A, control-C'ing. I regret nothing. AH.

Arrow motions definitely DO NOT COUNT towards forward progress.

I like the design of the background fading to red when you're close to the time limit. It's a bit like first person shooter games.

Saving again..

If you keep doing this long enough, I bet a Chuck Pahalniuk book pops out.

Iron Blogger would like this. Turns any given five minutes into a fairly meaningless blog post. If you started with a topic and a few specific thoughts in mind, it'd probably actually turn into something not so shabby. At least something is better than nothing.

Properly lol'd IRL at the Chuck palaniuk comment. Harsh but very funny.

Damn, the anxiety in your writing was palpable. I'm gonna have to give this bad boy a go. There's an exercise I do where I pick a topic and try to come up with one hundred relevant points about it, without stop til it is done. It's like a form of brainstorming or problem solving, and I guess it could even be an associative thought exercise. I'll see if this app works for that exercise.

If anyone wants to read another stream of conciousness post -- mine devolves into shambles about my poor typing skills (a measly 48 wpm and trying not to hit backspace) and constant re-evaluation. http://pastebin.com/vdkupSdy

If I had 5 secs timer, I would have also spelled Chuck Palahniuk's name wrong. But then, I would not have written this much in the first place. I like what you have written.

Here is what I spit out.

jeff is beyond the tallest human to ever kill both a horse and a mouse in one punch. It's actually pretty crazy to think that it was just 3 years ago that he first tried this challenge on for size. As he remembers it, he was walking down a dark path in a forest when a troll jumped out from behind a rock and whispered into his ear, "Jeff, you have the power to punch both a horse and a mouse at the same time and kill them if you really put your heart into it old chap!". Well, Jeff thought about it and decided, what the hell, why not give it a go. So he walked to the pet store and bought three mice and then took them to a ranch and placed one mouse on he back of a horse. He punched and failed. Then he remembered, the troll said that he really has to put his heart in it. So he grabbed a knife and cut open his chest. He then tore his heart out and while still standing he punched a second horse (which also had a mouse on it) and this time he killed them both. Now, you may be wondering, did Jeff survive? The answer to that question is impossible to answer because Jeff was never alive. He was a figment of the forest troll's imagination and that very forest troll went on to change it's name to Jeff. Is it the same Jeff from our story? Well, the only way to answer that is to ask yourself one simple question. Is a horse able to think it's a troll and if so does that horse like mice? The answer of course is yes. Or is it?

O jotun idaho I barely knew thee. What fructose carriest thou in thine womb? Is it not true that the eldenbrecht is your mother and the fruitbat your father? Do you dance alone in the moonshine, leaves leaving dappled patterns on your skin, scintillating aardvarks cavorting nearby, always ready to praise your flanks and rotund tubules?

Let me now speak of soft things such as bread. These things are more easily made than others, being primarily composed of those parts that are with less form than what we have so far observed. It stands to reason that the absence of form in their nature predisposes them towards changeability, yes, truly, they are protean in nature. Bread, so, is the archetype of all things that live. Created, quickened, baked, hardened. Consumed by need. If left alone, it goes stale.

O Ophelia, thine most fruitbatulous tubules excite yet stronger yearnings within my gullet, but shall I be forever warned against the tides of leprosy that even now sweep through this fair hamlet? Isn't all that we see but as bread?

Indeed, were we to do the deed, what creed would we bleed? What need would we feed? Let us then retreat and retread instead our oldest and least useful thoughts: bread. Where does it come from, where does it go, where it stops nobody know because bread is ineffable that is to say if you stick your dick into it, you are going to have a bad time.

And that's why you should always wear protection.

I'm much less elegant:

Shit. I've wasted enough time today, but YOLO. I have no idea what the purpose of this thing is like seriously? Why do I need this, I hope the author/screator is trying to get onto techcrunch in order to earn a whole lotta $$$ from YC< Senoqua and Andressen Hortolowolloiz? if thats a thing

Arf! I don't know why there is a wquaetion mark after hororloworitzs. I think its suopposed troo be andresson horowitzz but screw it, sounds like another rich guys name.

I have so manyu fucking grammatical and spelling wrrors that this shit aint worth it anynmore. I'm done, like seriously. I should be working on my blog but na..

ol I'm done with over thrree minuites to spair there, happy noe? I can only type at a pittiful 41 wpm which is super slow, but then again there was an optiob for a whole fucing hour

and now i'm looking at my grammarly extention and I apparantly have 36 fucing errors in this thing. No its 20. Damn, I'm dumn.See, I cant even spell dumb.

I guess I should reside(???) and go back to looking at this AAron fellow. He seems really interesting. It's sad how he got screwed over badly despite him contributing a lot ex

Really, they think that _this_ is how you get into flow?

The last thing I need is an unconscious worry that I must-keep-typing.

It's okay to think when you're in flow. But the whole point is that you aren't aware that you're thinking. You're not distracted. You're wholly in-the-moment.

Context: Professional writer and editor for 25 years.

Okay, maybe you can help me with something.

There's this pattern I've noticed — chiefly, though not exclusively, amongst us nerds — where, when something doesn't comport with our individual, personal experience, it's immediately judged not merely to be wrong, but obviously wrong, and fatally flawed.

It's like another, equally ugly face to the attitude, broadly held by the general population in the US, that "My opinion is just as valid as your facts", except it's "My expertise trumps [1] anyone else's equally valid, hard-earned, and applicable expertise!"

I really don't get it. And it's a thing I still, after years of work on, struggle with in myself.

Any thoughts on why we, a subset of the population that tends to be defined by priding itself on its intelligence and rationality, can be so egregiously head-up-its-own-ass like this?

[1] Word choice very deliberate.

> There's this pattern I've noticed — chiefly, though not exclusively, amongst us nerds — where, when something doesn't comport with our individual, personal experience, it's immediately judged not merely to be wrong, but obviously wrong, and fatally flawed.

I think the interesting point here isn't that it is obviously wrong but technically and factually wrong in a way that moves the subjective into the objective...but hey, I was already beaten about the head on HN over postmodernism this week...

> Any thoughts on why we, a subset of the population that tends to be defined by priding itself on its intelligence and rationality, can be so egregiously head-up-its-own-ass like this?

Hi, I think about this sort of thing often and have come to the personal conclusion that humans' chief vice is stubbornness. Please allow me to explain because the stubbornness is more of an effect than a cause.

Humans couple identity & belief very tightly. For example, people say things like "I am Republican", which doesn't imply that there is a subspecies of humans called Republican as an alien might think, but rather that they generally believe in the republican party's views. This is the start of it.

Somewhere along the line of growing up, identity becomes a very big deal and puberty hits you with "Shutup mom & dad, I believe in [this] stuff cause that's who I am!" This is actually rather healthy as the teenager is becoming autonomous and self-reliant, but is accompanied by the damaging effect of My Beliefs = Who I am. For a teenager that does not know not to believe in self-debilitating thoughts, they can quickly wind up on the road down to depression.

Furthermore in this world, specialness is generally coveted. A lot of the nerds around here might know Enders Game in which a kid kills a civilization that is arguably more peaceful than our own -- the society worked like a bee hive and did not understand personal dogmas or behavior that centered around the individual. While it's scary to imagine a queen bee ruling over all of us, there's still something to be said about if we focused on working together.

However, that's not this world so what you end up with is people equating their specialness (and therefore value, and therefore self-value, and therefore self-esteem) with their identity, which is defined by their beliefs & physical appearance. If they only could stop caring so much about special, it wouldn't matter if you were right or wrong because you would be on a natural hunt for goodness and knowledge in all its forms. Yet, from the competition to be special comes this behavior.

It's not that people want to be stubborn, but in linking their identity with their belief & thought, they now feel literally attacked if they are wrong. Nerds, who many already suffer with self-esteem issues, thus feel good to be a mental champion because it reinvigorates their self-esteem.

For some of us, we hold our identity in spirit and therefore feel detached from the human existence and do not let it bind us in this manner. I'm not perfect and saying everyone should follow me, but generally speaking, I do believe if people truly evaluated where they get their feelings of self-esteem from, they might be a little startled to see how much of it revolves around petty things like the need to be right.

Interesting and well formulated words that are worth being said. But you are addressing (western?) humanity in general, and not the nerd group GP was wondering about. Do you see an emprical link between nerds and stubborness as GP does? If so, I would be interested in your thoughts.

Do you think nerds is a special subset of humans? ;)

Believe me, it's practically the same conversations on HN as a bunch of guys at the bar arguing over who the best player is in the NFL.

Nerds are generally proud of their mental dexterity and cunningness, so this is what they feel defines them. In regular life, they generally are the smartest in a room, so overtime they learn to teach themselves: well hey, I might not be the coolest or X, but everyone knows I'm really smart so I'm gonna be that. They learn how to be the "alpha intelligence" so to speak, and quickly dismiss foolish ideas. This ensures their status as alpha and also increases their pride. How could you believe that?! they think to themselves and chuckle with a hint (or more) of schadenfreude.

Now they bring all this behavior to HN, but HN has some pretty smart people so they are a bit more tame. However, you'll always see in "New Product Released" something along these lines: "Well sure, it's great, but X, Y, Z." This is them just doing what they know how to do best -- poke holes. Also, this is HN and not only is it nerds, but hackers. Hackers are fully trained and employed at being master logicians. We are paid at work to poke holes. After all, it's a real waste of time to code it X way when you shoulda just had the foresight to know Y was going to be a problem!

To try and roughly summarize these rough thoughts:

-- Nerds link their intelligence to their identity more strongly than others

-- Nerds enjoy this kind of conversation because it's stimulating. It's the thrill of the battle especially when one wins it.

-- Nerds might spend too much time in this mode of conversation and just learn to talk that way. Some are really not trying to be jerks at all, but just feel that's the way you talk.

That's a good explanation, especially wrt intelligence being linked to identity. When I was growing up, I was used to being the smartest person in the room, but there was no "thrill of the battle" for me - it just kinda sucked. I grew up able to put that aside, cover it up really well, because nobody likes a know-it-all (like nefitty said in the other comment.) Now that I'm nominally grown, and probably well-adjusted, it's awesome to see people's faces when I break out with brains blazing every once in a while.

Wow, what a great observation. I have this weird anxiety about posting comments on HN that I don't feel anywhere else on the internet. The flip side, though, is when people upvote my comments the feeling of reward is significantly more satisfying. It's like, "These other smart people valued my contribution, yay!" When I get down voted I feel like a real heel. On disqus I've sometimes felt so dominant in threads that it was just disheartening.

This is in contrast to IRL social life, where I dislike the feeling of being seen as a know-it-all, so I pursue laughs much more intently. It's the immediate feedback during interactions that I love/crave.

Author of the app here. I use this daily, mostly for journalling. I like to think of it as a way to shut up the inner editor, and separate writing and editing into two different steps (as they should be) - and it works amazingly well for that.

Love the idea of this app! I agree there is a lot of value in the meditation behind just writing and leaving some of the critical thinking/content editing for later. One thought though: Perhaps there could be an option to include a spellcheck/type-o error counter to encourage more thoughtful and deliberate writing, especially with auto-correct taking over everywhere. I find it quite easy to continue moving my fingers mindlessly, but if this tool could be used as a way to be even just a little more careful about which keys your fingers are hitting it's applications could go a long way.

Question: What are some resources for beginning journaling. I've wanted to start, but I'm blocked at, "Hmmm... these are my thoughts and feelings. Do I really want to set them free?"

Neat app, btw.

Playing with some of the methodologies like GTD and others is a good way to get started. A lot of it just has to do with getting thoughts out of your head and into either a text file or physical media. Personally I use a mix, I use digital for things that are nicer to cut and paste, and a journal that I date every page with.

I found the biggest improvement is having separate journals for 'projects' and 'day-to-day' as the writing for both is entirely different. A project in this case is something that doesn't have a distinct end. Watch and take notes on a youtube video? That goes in a day journal. Watch a series of videos on youtube that is going to take you a couple days? That goes in a project journal.

Trying to merge everything into one is what killed me.

I keep a developer journal. But that one is very technical. I've not yet been able to jump to non-technical journaling.

Ve found that I'm more likely to journal if I don't feel like I'm being heard by my friends and family. Example, SO and I stopped communicating as well for a bit and I journalled every night. Maybe you don't need your thoughts and feelings to be free because they already are set free.

Excellent point! I tell my wife most of what I'm thinking, so maybe that's my hangup.

Have you read 'the Artists Way' (Julia Cameron)?

For me, it wasn't about setting thoughts & feelings free, it was about getting clarity around them.

A good example - Donald Trump. Do I like him? (No! He's racist!) What about him do I respect? Are there better options? etc.

Give it a try!

No, I haven't. I'll try and pick up a copy.

As I said in my main comment, I love this app. I'll be using this quite often from now. A suggestion would be to not consider backspace/delete/arrow keys as typing something? Because I feel that I spend lot of time hitting backspace to correct thing which interrupts the flow.

Thank you for this.

Edit: My bad. It does not consider deleting characters as typing. Apparently, I wasn't hitting backspace for that long. Funny how it feels like 5 secs is like 2 seconds when you are set time constraints.

Have you thought about collecting basic metrics, such as characters, words and time limit? At a win/fail point, grab those numbers along with the win/fail outcome, then plot them and see if anything interesting pops out.

Maybe focus it as a journaling tool then? Writing app may be a bit too broad for other writing styles.

My wife is a professional violinist. If you've seen a recent Australian movie or watched commercial news, you most likely have heard her play.

The way she practices, the way she "gets in the flow" is VASTLY different to a new pupil.

Perhaps if you have been doing (anything!) for 25 years, comparing yourself (and the steps you take) to get into the right head space is different.

That being said, if you've been doing this for 25 years - how do you get in the flow? What techniques do you use? If this doesn't work, what does?

Help us / help me! Seriously, I'd like to know.

See [John Cleese's lecture on creativity](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qby0ed4aVpo) for one approach. It has wonderful insights.

A [transcript](http://genius.com/John-cleese-lecture-on-creativity-annotate...) is also available.

First: My thoughts on what it takes people (overall) to get into flow are not wholly from my own experience. I have regular conversations with other writers (of all genres) on what helps them focus. Not all of the answers are the same... but I've never heard someone say that a ticking clock was helpful.

(Other than, "I need a deadline, because I start writing the night before it's due," which is different.)

There are books about the topic, including <a href="http://amzn.to/1T4Nf4H">Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life</a>. It's years since I read it, but the overall discovery is that for _most_ creative people, the way to get into flow is to do something active that you can do on automatic, which somehow gets the hindbrain in motion. That's why so many people "get their best ideas" while they are taking a walk or in the shower. You can let your mind drift... effectively.

What I've learned from conversations with everyone from Hugo award-winners to household-name tech journalists to famous software developers is not that everyone has the same way of getting into flow. It's that every one has noticed what it takes for _him_ to get into flow. To look back at the commonalities of, "When did you figure that out?" and to recognize that process for oneself.

For instance, 30 years ago (when I was still programming professionally) I was listening to a public radio station interview in which the interviewee explained how she worked with people to "reach their inner child." (That meme dates it, doesn't it?) I snorted in derision, but it was a long car drive so I listened to the interview anyway. During which the psychologist explained that she got adults to lie down on the floor, on their tummies, with a pad of paper and crayons... and discovered that _their handwriting changed_ when they did that. And they came up with more creative ideas.

--Whereupon I practically dragged the car over to the side of the road, because I realized that whenever I was stumped, I'd lie down on the living room floor with a pad of paper, and I'd write in just the same way as a 3-year-old with a coloring book.

So next time I was frustrated with what I was working on, I _deliberately_ lay down in that way... and 20 minutes later I had a solution. Eventually I just started an important project by going into that coloring-book mode, and I found that by the time I was physically uncomfortable I had the entire thing scoped out in my head.

It DOES change, however. Originally I found that I wrote best when my first draft was longhand; then I found I could kind of put myself into the same head space. I used to write in silence; then I discovered that (for reasons I cannot fathom) I can get into flow by playing old Cat Stevens albums. But for me... the key is paying attention to what works, and repeating that. I also recognize that I write best at some times of day; please don't ever ask me to get fired-up before 10am, though I'm happy to write email or other general conversation at 7a.

Obviously, "your mileage may vary," and this does not necessarily match the other writers I know. A few (particularly fiction authors) need to completely turn off all distractions. One award-winner has a PC that has NO Internet access on it at all, in a separate room, which is where she does her writing.

Dude, I get it's not your gig but you don't need to be so incredulous like it's a stupid idea. A lot of people think free writing has a lot of value in a number of settings.



Yeah I think the use-case here is more the writing that you have to do, but don't want to do. For me, I have to write up some method sections for a paper. Boring, but easy. This 'app' is nice for that; you don't want to lose progress so you just crank something out as fast as possible and fix it later. You're right though, it's probably not for inspired writing...

I guess the ideas is that the worry will go away once you learn that you need to just keep typing.

I used 750words.com for a year (and hit a 500 streak) and can say that the biggest problem was the ease with which I could switch tabs and start browsing e.g. hacker news. This seems like an interesting stab at a technical mind-hacking "solution".

Would a better variant be to kill the buffer if you actually moved focus from the text area? That way you can pause and think without losing flow, but there's still the threat that if you choose to distract yourself, there are consequences.

The 5 second thing can just halt the timer. So you have to actually spend 5 minutes writing, more or less.

An alternate version would only run the clock while keystrokes are being input. Sort of like watching a professional sports game. The time on the clock doesn't actually reflect the time spent on task (though the setup of this one does correlate, save for the 5 second timer leeway). It probably takes quite a bit more 'clock time' to actually walk away with five minutes of 'writing time' so to speak.

I think you're assuming someone who procrastinates by doing other things on their computer. People also procrastinate by getting up and doing something else. Part of the point is to keep you in your seat, rather than letting you, say, get a reference book to "just look up one detail" and end up reading it for hours.

What happens if a popup steals focus? Google hangouts steals focus all the time.

Completely agreed. I think committing to doing X words a day is a much better system than this. Sometimes you need to pause and mull something over, which is not necessarily the same as going into "editing mode" that I think this is supposed to curtail. I think a similar window that showed just showed # of words and % toward daily goal would be better, at least for me.

I thought it was only going to track time you actually spent typing- so 5 minutes of actual words written. You can break all you want, but when you come back you see that you only have actually typed 3 minutes worth today.

I love the idea, but I'm not sure if I'm using it right.

The premise is your writing session dies if you go 5 seconds without typing as a means to get you in to flow. When your session 'dies', everything you wrote disappears forever (as far as I can tell) so there's a lot of incentive to keep going whatever the cost. I presume there's some sort of congratulatory messaging/saving opportunity if you last your entire stretch (I didn't last the minimum 5 minutes)

Given these stakes, I'd be too nervous to use it for anything I'd actually want to hold on to due to the risk of something out of my control commanding my attention for five seconds.

I'm still glad the project exists - it's easy to picture it being great for somebody.

> it's easy to picture it being great for somebody.

In my opinion, it's very hard that this app is great for somebody - yes I know, just one data point. But I think it's really useless with the imminent erasure of text.

I was thinking it might make sense for people who have to do a lot of brainstorming. If your job is to come up with new ideas and you're having troubles getting started, you could fire this up. It's like playing a game which might make it a little easier to flesh out new ideas.

Where your text might disappear, the thought work that went in to that forced session can be rebuilt without much effort.

That said, I do agree that it's a niche tool and probably not the right one for a lot of people.

[edit] wording - not enough caffeine yet.

Yeah, I wrote out ~4000 words longhand and filled a whole small notebook for a personal project earlier this month...but it took me a couple of days and a lot of long pauses to think about what I was writing.

It's going to be a case by case scenario. Not everyone is at the same level of writing or able to arrange their thoughts coherently in a timely matter at all, especially given that most people's experience with writing tends to be in incredibly short concise bursts. (e.g., twitter, Facebook, reddit, with the latter having an unofficial max length before you get a tl;dr from most readers).

Some writers are like you; they take their time, think about what they want to say, then they say it. Others tend to be burst writers, where a few thousand words appear in the editor under an hour.

My experience as a TA in university is that a lot people who are otherwise perfectly competent communicators are poor writers simply because they're afraid to commit words to paper. They overthink how they want to convey their ideas or aren't sure how to logically arrange it and spend more time mentally planning and never committing something. It's probably why there's so much dread with paper writing even at the University level, especially given that many courses even within the sciences put a lot of weight on the reports as opposed to the work done. (This, admittedly, comes second hand from observing my roommates and g/f deal with Biology, Chemistry, and Physics papers and getting frustrated because of how heavily weighted the papers were on the class rubric)

The advantage to something like this, if you can muster up the courage to just write, is that it gets you used to just being fine with whatever you put out. It's not necessarily about quality as much as it is quantity and getting you used to putting out bad work and not letting that fear be crippling. I had exercises like this in High School where we were given journals and 50 minutes to respond to a long prompt on the given book we had read. They were difficult exercises, but well worth the effort.

There are times when my mental dictionary/thesaurus goes offline and I blank on a word/phrase or spelling....

For that reason alone - I would not be able to use this app too well.

That's precisely the sort of distraction that this app forces you to ignore. Just insert something like <another word for crap that starts with e> and keep writing.

I like the cut of your jib....

That should be something I should practice. Thanks.

That makes a lot of sense.

I've done pretty extensive writing on an IBM Selectric III typewriter because I love the mechanical sound of the machine. A lot of the fun comes from having a great pace and firing off letters and words to make a percussive noise. That said, I still often 'space out' when trying to collect my thoughts, sort of like in a trance while the machine hums at my fingertips. I like being able to take breaks to consider phrasing a word choice, which this app doesn't allow for at its root, which makes sense based on the type of 'push' the setup is more useful for in general.

Interesting concept, but little more.

Enforcing keystrokes every 5 seconds is a horrible way to facilitate writing.

In fact, this reminds me quite a bit of those algorithmic sites that give interviewees a time limit (ie: 30 minutes) to come up with a solution. As the timer approaches 1 minute or so, the timer turns red, blinks, sometimes increases in size, or beeps. I'm sure if you measured the output during those stressful moments, productivity goes down immensely.

I don't see what's so stressful: you're exchanging "sit and think while not touching the keyboard" for "sit and think while tapping the spacebar." The point is to keep you from mentally context-switching to anything else, not to keep you literally pounding out words.

Many more options here: http://writeordie.com/

oh great, thanks for the link - being able to tweak the config is much better, although I'm not sure I'd want a mobile app for this

I was WTFing about the same thing (mobile?!?) It's mostly a desktop app. There's just ALSO now a mobile app! Woo!

Maybe they should let users pay to recover their deleted writing?

Evil. I like it.

Is there a pro version that gives you electroshocks a second before the time is up?

you could certainly make an extension which could hook into the site and communicate with an arduino and administer these shocks

I'm wearing mine right now. This could get painful...

For those of you that didn't see the tiny, grey-on-grey Help link, it's a writing app that deletes all your work if you don't type something in five seconds.

I remember, when the first Titanium Powerbook was released, having something akin to what I must describe, simply, as a "Writers Moment of Nirvana".

I'd just received the machine, a reward for a schedule met, on a Friday afternoon. Charged, ready to go, I put it in my briefcase (in 2000, this was a phenomenon like no other), and .. left the office. With the power supply, box, etc.

So I had a weekends' worth of "fresh tiBook" time .. a very visceral and surreal moment as I transitioned from "Ops-Center" bound, to "can hack Unix code in the park".

I climbed the hills of Griffith Park, and camped out at the (then-) recently burned-out hills, under what was once some old tree. I wish I'd known its species, but I'll never forget the scene; the entirety of the LA basin beneath me, as far as the Pacific, and me perched atop it. Press the button.


I had nothing much to run on it, so I opened Terminal, fired up vi, adjusted the font to what was then an amazing degree of clarity, and wrote. For as long as the batteries held out, I set up my personal diary, pure text mode, and got it all out.

Still had power for a few mail-checks and touchups over the weekend, powered out on Sunday evening. The next day in LA, Monday morning, I went on the hunt for a power supply.

Hasn't been the same since.

My point? You don't need an app for that. Just vi.

In case someone unfamiliar with vi reads this: do not get the impression that vi deletes all your work whenever you stop typing for 5 seconds.

You had no internet access in the park, I assume. And even then, a large part of that effort was the executive decision to go to the park and stay there.

The point of this app, from what I can tell, is to take away the need to exert executive function to remain typing. The computer focuses for you, by operant-conditioning you to focus.

If you have enough executive function to get you over the initial hump of getting-into-flow by just pre-emptively taking away distractions, then by all means, do whatever you like to write. Take a notebook to a cafe. Use a typewriter in your garage. Take a tablet and a bluetooth keyboard on a long flight.

But if you viscerally resist the idea of starting, whether due to a lack of motivation or a strong feeling of perfectionistic anxiety or whatever else—this app (and other similar apps) can help you overcome that. Especially if you set it up in advance so it opens up at a scheduled time with your work from last time already loaded into it. You've got to start, or you'll lose something important. Once you've started, and you're in flow, the app's "game mechanic" isn't all that important—but the point is to use something, anything, to get you over that hump when you can't do it yourself.

I did have Internet access (Ricochet modem) but it wasn't as important back then unless there was an ops issue .. what I really needed was just the mobility to go anywhere, lose the distractions and focus on my writing, with a good view in the background.

I think its an under-utilized means of handling the issues this app attempts to address: go somewhere else with your laptop and focus.

Workaround: Mac speech-to-text app. The timer never starts when you don't use the keyboard. I wasn't trying to cheat, just wanted to save my hands and wrists which have been sore lately from too much typing.

I ended up writing 351 words in 5 minutes (70wpm).

I've been meaning to write a weekly blog post for a while now, and I've set aside an hour for research, but I keep talking myself out of actually writing it. This just forced me to type a blog post length document in 5 minutes. It probably needs 15 minutes of editing now, but this actually got me to write and do so quickly.

I like it. It has its place.

Hello, I'm just beginning to type, and I have no idea what's going to appear here. The concept of writing under the fear of loosing all the progress is fascinating. But I actually need to first see what it means to 'loose progress'. Ok, I see now, the screen begins to turn red, it reminds me of taking damage in first person shooters. But yeh, this concept can be extremely motivating to carry on. When musicians improvise, they also have this sort of pressure. It manifests in the need to keep the music going, maintaining the rhythm, melody, and the form. It's much more challenging than just writing some text. Although I can do none of music improvisation. The parallel to music would be writing poem under the pressure of loosing all the progress. I'm also not capable of rhyming words. But it's Ok though. Being witty, and creative is a skill. Another skill is being thoughtful and persistent, just at different pace.

I'm wondering if this text can actually be read by a stranger...

This definitely did a good job in getting me into the flow, the 5 second timeout forced me into writing something down as soon as I had something in mind, no matter what that turned out to be. In one way, that made me rehash several ideas I had just written, in another way, it forced me to leap into a few weird ideas that I've never thought of before, and that happened because I was trying not to do the mistake of rehashing. Interesting how being put on the spot might even pressure you into getting creative!

I was unconvinced at first, but it's actually fun to try to write a story this way:

"Once upon a time there was a girl who lived in the forest. This was a green bushy forest, full of living trees that would sing together at sunset. It was a good place to live.

One day, an army was passing by the forest and they started cutting down trees to make bonfires to spend the night. It was late autumn, and nights were getting cold and damp. The men felt as if they had icy roots delving deep into the ground, sourcing the humidity and the dampness and the cold up to their bones.

So rather than becoming frozen trees themselves, they had started felling the trees.

Many trees had been felled already, when the girl noticed. She had stepped out for a walk, to check that the little birds had enough to eat in the harsh weather. At first, she didn't understand what was going on. Sections of the forest that had been there for all her life, trees that looked as stable, as permanent, as fixed in place as the hills themselves, were now laying on the wet grass, chopped. It was unreal.

Red twinkling bonfires could already be seen by the encampment. A great tent was set in the middle.

In this tent, there was a great general and his son. The general was old and knotty and ruthless. The son was kind of heart, but had grown up in a violent environment and didn't know much better than his father..."

My first session:

I have to admit that the idea is rather clever. A writing app that forces you to continue writing without pause, and terminates your session if you don't complete. That's a pretty strong incentive, if you ask me.

One of the problems I often encounter with writing is encountering writer's block. I have a general idea of what I want to say, but I'm worried that the way in which I present it will not be ideal, or that the text will be confusing to the reader. These concerns hold me back from writing as much or as quickly as possible.

One thing I've noticed with this app is that it doesn't force you to keep writing as much as possible, as such, but rather that you keep working. Editing counts as activity, and thus going back to revise what you have written is a valid way of keeping the app alive. And although the penalty for pausing too long is that it destroys everything you have written, you can still select all and copy to the clipboard, so you have the text around so it can be pasted into another app.

I think this app is a fantastic idea. It's a great way to put on the pressure necessary to get work done, avoiding the distractions of meandering off to look up references, getting lost reading other material. It really forces you to think hard and actively penalises you for not doing so.

I've now completed the five minutes. I'm pretty impressed with that because normally I wouldn't be able to get this much written without an enormous amount of motivation. Usually I lack the focus necessary to be this productive. Thankyou!

For that problem you mentioned (writer's block because worry of presentation or confuse the reader) my solution was to just write it, then keep iterating over it (reading it myself) and rewriting little parts making it more clear.

Basically, it was a work of polishing after I was done with the draft. What I write are mostly tutorials for my blog and found this approach acceptable.

I like this app because it gets you writing. The problem most of the times is just start to write something. When I sit down to write, I have no idea where to begin with. This would definitely get me in the flow. Yes, I cannot write stuff that makes sense. But it gives me a way to get everything on my mind out and get me into the writing flow. I can then close this app and take that flow to write something more meaningful.

I also like what others have written using this tool and posted here. It is interesting how we tend to write in simple language when we have constraints. That's the it should be. Not the constraints, but the language. Use jargon or too complex words and most of the times you have lost me as a reader. So, in a way, this app really helps you in writing the way you usually think or speak.

I think we can use this app to write proper stuff too. If we set it to 1 min, we can write much better stuff using this tool. Also, it would be great to have the functionality of not having the choice to delete what we have typed. Probably remove the backspace, delete and arrow-keys. I figure that I spend most of the time hitting backspace and deleting sentences. If I don't like the way I start a sentence, I should only be allowed to hit full-stop and start the new line and edit those things later.

I hit backspace many times when writing this post. It considers backspace also writing something. Another option would be to just not count backspace/delete/arrow keys as typing something.

This was really fun writing the whole thing set to 5 sec timer. I didn't know I could write so much without a 5 second gap.

I had a project similar to this this a few years ago, but it also organized your writing into chapters, save to and load from Dropbox or Google Drive, analyze your text for word usage and phrase repetition, berated you for not coming back to the site more often, and generated EPUB packages[0]. Two friends of mine used it to write and complete book projects after years of not being successful at motivating themselves to write.

I just recently shut it down, because I couldn't figure out any way to monetize it that wouldn't involve destroying the minimal aesthetic, and I didn't want to keep losing money on the hosting costs anymore.

If you're interested in checking it out for yourself, though, I published the code on GitHub: http://www.github.com/capnmidnight/JWD

It's 100% client-side JS code. It was my first SPA project that I put real, significant effort into. Now, I work on virtual reality junk in the browser.

[0] Though Amazon has an effective monopoly on eBooks and they don't support EPUB, there is a converter from EPUB to their proprietary format. I had always wanted to make it automatic, though.

If it's 100% client-side, and it's already on github, why not host it for free on github Pages?

Because you have to register a domain with Google and Dropbox to get the sync to work and because it's time to move on to other things.

Nice idea was my first thought. Later I was looking for the site again, googled 'most dangerous wrting app' & found this:


So here's what I wrote in my 5 minute session. I like the App, it forced me to do a more introspective form of writing I'm pretty sure I would have not done otherwise. It's also a nice way to see just how much stuff can be written down in 5 minutes if you don't care too much (or at all) about content. I don't know if it has any applications beyond the novelty of the concept but it could be an ice way to do some journaling/get some stuff out of your head.

Lets see how this works. It counts my words per minute. Im slow. I guess. I dont know. Jason sneel seems to be faster than me. hmmm. I¿ve run out of ideas and everything is sloooowing down. also id like a nice mechanical keyboard if only for the hipsterness of it all. and maybe i wouldnt get confused about keyboardlayout then. maybe I would, who knows. All I know is that I should really be working right now. Also: Why am I writing in English instead of Spanish or German? Is this really the language I can most comfortably express myself? I guess 8 years of GIBS and a lifetime of consuming american media has taken its toll. Not that I'm complaining. I like English, its fun, its easy. There is no formal way to adress people and there is only a single article. Using the for everything is great. It spares me from a lot of problems. Also not having accents. Thats super nice. Only the occasional ' which I am completely ignorning at the moment. Oh and capital letters, there are none. Except. At. The. Beginning. Of. Sentences. Thats super neat too. Everything that keeps me from thinking too much about how to write lets me think more about what to write. I wont complain. I am seeing that you can write a loot of stuff in 5 minutes if you dont care about the content. This is probably mostly gibberish but there might be something useful in here. Im still slow though, right now stabilizing at around 60 wpm. I can type faster but I am still thinking too much. Mostly about the keyboard and the placement of my fingers on it. its not entirely comfortable. And im done.

LOL, I think I appreciated that more than I should have... very interesting to hear stream of consciousness thoughts on my language from a non-native speaker. Thanks!

I know Spanish and German both have multiple definite articles (el vs. la and... die or der or something?). Is one language native for you and the other learned? Does just the learned one give you trouble, or are you annoyed by having multiple definite articles in your native language as well? Worrying about gender is a constant annoyance for me in Spanish, but I assumed if I were a native speaker I wouldn't think twice about it.

(After a couple of tries)

You can cheat by just typing dsajlfkjsdlfkjhfsdl when the red mist descends and then erasing it.

It turns out that the easiest mode of writing is "conversational observation mode". What do I mean by this?

Imagine that I am talking to you and just describing my surroundings, and my inner states, and my activity.

Surroundings: office, desk, energy drink, laptop. In that order.

Inner state: bit wired (see above-mentioned energy drink), feeling nice after sauna in college gym.

Activity: testing out this new writing app that is meant to help me get "in the flow" whatever that means. But all it has really done is show me that the only kind of sustained writing I can do is this simple narrative observation mode thingy.

The app is interesting in that it has shown me that the only way that I am able to generate a continuous stream of words that have some chance of having logical coherence is

The last app I need to see is one that encourages drivel.

My killer writing apps:

4x6 index cards. For capturing quick thoughts, identifying references, marking items for verification or further interest. Advantages: you can write a fair bit on them (they've two sides), you can continue to another card, you box them for reference, you flashcard them for reminders. You can re-order, shuffle, or organise them however you want.

A notebook for longer / temporally sequential writing. I'm working on what sizes I like most, though I'm leaning increasingly to large lab-book sized engineering tablets. Smaller ones for on-the-go work. Heavy enough paper for a fountain pen not to bleed (I've picked up a relatively inexpensive but nice one recently).

For online composition: vim. Increasingly, Markdown, though I'm conversent in HTML, LaTeX, and a few other markup languages. The biggest challenge to composing online is that it's difficult to cut-and-paste in the original sense -- cutting out a segment of text and pasting it, whole, in a new spot. Vim's mark-and-move operators are actually among the better option, along with split-window view.

Various online editors almost all pretty much precisely suck. The notable exception is Reddit using RES (Reddit Enhancement Suite), with its full-tab window (better yet with the browser set to full-screen), offering side-by-side source and Markdown formatted output. It's not quite as fluid as vim, but for up to about 40k characters (6,600 words or so), it's doable.

The biggest problems I have when writing aren't writing. It's organising. My references. My thoughts. The overall structure of the document. Yes, quick jot-and-file systems are handy (a local email account used to file thoughts to is one of the better modes I've come up with -- everything is datestamped, has a subject, and may have additional metadata added), but ... constant pressure to ... just produce for no reason. Is stupid.

As others have noted here, and as a tremendous literature of experience and research on getting-in-the-flow and true creativity supports, the modality of this particular gimmick is pretty much certifiably bullshit.

what an interesting concept: technology as a constraint forcing you to focus. not just focus: focus more than you naturally would. focus more than you're comfortable with. continue going doing keeping on, regardless of whether you're comfortable with how it's going, with what you're keeping. will it all fade at the end? yeah, definitionally it will. fuck: and a word + character + wpm counter at the bottom? really hitting all the unhealthy adictiveness buttons. or healthily addictive in the right quantities? what's the ld50 on a writing app? on an app of any sort? the most dangerous app? i wonder if it'll be entirely different than the most-regulated app, a la chemicals. fuck is that really all i can do? 2:30 worth of content, including rambling digressions? it's a very real possibility. this fades, faster than the normal recession to black/white. ... let's see, what else is on my mind... ... to stay or go? i failed at ignoring politics, in spite of my success since protesting in 'free speech zones' at bush's reinauguration rnc in nyc. (found out years later that many other riders of critical mass got arrested) i'm convinced trump is going to win. it's bad: he's the president the average american deserves. the world doesn't, though; that's nearly narendra-modi-armani-level sad. and likely more negative at scale.

I was excited to use this for practicing writing Korean. Unfortunately it looks like whatever regex is looking at what I type does not like Korean characters... :/

I had the same experience but with Japanese. It isn't the Regex but that it is looking for certain keypresses, which are being captured by your IME. The IME prevents any detection from occurring.

You can test my theory by typing in Korean then pressing Ctrl+C, which isn't captured by the IME, and registers a "C" press on the site, which starts the timer.

I'm not accusing you of anything but this app http://www.theverge.com/2016/1/28/10853534/flowstate-writing... does exactly the same thing but it's Mac native instead of web based. This Verge article also bills it as "the most dangerous app."

Author here. I know Flowstate, which itself was a copy of "Write or Die". I did not know they used the tagline "The Most Dangerous App" though, and now feel shitty - I don't want to steal their tagline! Need to come up with something different. I wrote this for a friend who doesn't have a Mac but loved the concept.

I had no idea what this was, or why it might have been dangerous, so I tried it out.

I typed stream of consciousness stuff about not really being sure why I was typing for about two minutes, and then paused briefly.

I happened to spot the words fading away just as I resumed typing, so I typed some more about how I was curious about what happens when it fades all the way away. Then I paused for a moment again to find out.

I found out.

I never understood the meme "there is an emacs package for that" till now. https://www.emacswiki.org/emacs/write-or-die.el (obligatory xkcd reference : https://xkcd.com/378)

@maebert -- Just tried the app and I love it in every way! I finally wrote a letter that i've been meaning to write for over 2.5yrs!

Yay! Congrats, glad to make something useful (and yet silly)!

So, how do I win? What's the reward, besides inevitable death?

Similar idea, but I created a text editor that simply blocks you from everything on your computer until you reach a goal: http://writersblock.io

Imagine using this tool to create your next webapp. Launch within 5mins or your code wiped from the server.

Sorry to be sarcastic about it, but I doubt if I could write anything meaningful if my writing is under such a risky burden.

I read the most dangerous App Writing... so I tried making a basic Javascript app to see what would happening... Now I read it again I see why everything disappeared...

Or, a more full featured version, that was available a long time ago.


awesome app. just hacked together a desktop version with electron so I don't get distracted by other browser tabs. https://github.com/lukeinator42/themostdangerouswritingappde...

I wrote something really cool and the application failed to register my typing after about three minutes. Lost my work.

The flappy bird of writing apps. Well done.

Must be great training for politicians, sales persons and other professional producers of hot air.

The win condition is slightly meh. I want to see end stats, words mispelled, maybe a leaderboard.

Yes! Even just a green 'ding' to replace the scary red one.

Of course, you can use your 5 seconds to hit Strg-A Strg-C so your typed text is not lost.

Very neat concept. Will probably use again. Thanks for making and sharing!


For capturing your Buckminster Fullerest of notes.

Many of us might suck at spellings and grammars to simply pay serious attention to detail. The dangerous editor isnt for us.

neat idea

The Most Annoying Writing App


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