The Secret Of Productive Writing...

Last week I stumbled upon a small, free, simple but ingenious application - Active Timer, written by a Robert Chin.

What does it do? You simply start it and put it in the background or minimize it. It then will automatically keep a log of all applications you work in (or more precisely, it counts the seconds they have focus, whether you do something with them or not). So, at the end of the day you know precisely how long you have been in which application. Plus you may export the log in CSV-format, so you can open it in any spreadsheet and make your calculations.

I did this for several days and I observe astonishing things. For example, when I have the feeling in the evening that wow, today I almost only wrote on my novel, just peeked here and there into the 'net, had a few minutes look in some forum or on the news… - then my writing time is in fact only at 37%. Or 42%. That means, half of the time I do something else. And the amount of time in Safari is huge.

Next step is clear: Change my habits. If I arrive at 80% writing time, I’ll have doubled my productivity.

But maybe you will not know it. Because reducing forum time is a topmost priority now… :cry:

Oh, I hear you!

I’m notorious for getting on the internet when I’m supposed to be writing! I fear the only recourse I have is to have bells and whistles going off at ear-piercing levels and a good thrashing the second I open my email or Safari.

When I was working on my senior thesis novel, I often found it really helpful to take my laptop somewhere without internet. Got some of my most productive work done in a teashop.


Thanks for the tip on the tool. I dl’d it and ran a few “project tasks” and next thing you know I can see just where time is slipping away. Quite useful in an environment were six sigma is supposed to be king. Now if only there was a windows version…

There is a web-based tool called Rescue Time which does the same thing, even more elaborately, sending alters if you exceeded limits for set for different activities. There’s also a Mac app called TrackTime which shows lots of promise in this area. Active Timer is an excellent bare-bones approach, the others have more bells and whistles.

I can’t say that knowing how much work I actually do has motivated me to be more productive (at least in my case, not all writing is done while physically writing), but it has had a sobering effect. And given me something to think about.


It’s a rapidly-vanishing art. Most practitioners are in their dotage now, myself among them, having already exceeded the traditional allotment. And none or very few among the youth bother to learn it, apparently; indeed, most seem not even to be aware of it. Yet there is this…

hush, draw near, let not a whisper escape to pagan or heretical ears…

there is this other – what shall I call it? – this other THING. It is, if you will, a SYSTEM. Perhaps you will want to label it a PARADIGM.

But I digress. The nomenclature is relative, and irrelevant.

What I refer to is what, in ye oldene dayse, would have been called a manuscript.

A thing, that is to say, quite literally, inscribed by hand, without mechanical or electronic or bionic or psychic intervention. A plain surface, often but not necessarily white, upon which marks are made with some such primitive tool as a pencil, or, in higher-rent districts, a pen, marks which the initiates are able to interpret just as it they had been entered on the screen of a computer.

I mention all this, and warn you all against inappropriate disclosure, only in order to reassure you that, should supervisory tools and systems fail, should Internet sites force their way onto your computers, should computer games implant themselves on your hard drives and refuse to leave, should all these things occur, you still have an alternative.

Viable? Hard to say. It is, as I noted above, vanishing rapidly, which must make one doubt its essential viability. And yet… and yet… it has served me so faithfully and honorably these many years. I want to believe, want desperately to believe, that writing – there, I’ve said it, said the word. Writing. WRITING.

By way of explanation, if such be called for, let us turn to – and I promise, it will be the only time ever I will suggest turning to – Truman Capote, who, when asked to comment upon the writing of Jack Kerouac, said, “That’s not writing. It’s typing.”

Ha! :laughing:


Dare I say that it IS a LOST art, this writing which you hint at. As evidence I hold up my entire staff and our respective offspring. There is not one among us who has readable writing. In an effort to assist an individual offspring in recovering the LOST art an instructor of education was enlisted. This instructor seemed competent as this particular unit had supplied much critical analysis of attempts to practice this art.

It was then that I noticed the notes on the desk. None of which were legible.

So my dear P, I offer this sole apologetical for why some of us rely so heavily on our mechanical, bionic, and in some cases psychic inscribers of thought.


Because we sure as heck can’t remember it all.

That is my excuse and I am sticking to it. :slight_smile:

I don’t mind tooling along with a fountain pen.

The sticking point is typing the dang thing into the machine afterwards.

I’d rather use the dinky keyboard in my Palm.

Hear hear! I haven’t been legible with a pen since primary school. There are doctors with a more readable scrawl than mine. I switched to printing, and when I couldn’t read that anymore, I burned all my pens and danced around them singing ‘a bloo blah bloo’.

…sadly, it doesn`t really come as a surprise :frowning:

Of course knowing how much time you spend writing is no indication of productivity. You could spend two hours writing 300 words. You could spend tow hours writing 3000 words that you spend another two hours reducing to 300 words.

One thing that I have done is to learn to touch type. It has at least produced an increase in wordage/time spent in Scrivener.

You can check your typing speed here:


Picture 1.jpg

I just want someone to invent a pen with backspace/delete and Undo. And Attachments. That can get the Internet. And print out in Courier 12pt. And has a speling chekcer. And word count. That’s all. KEITH: Get on with it.

Don’t get me wrong. I WANT to use pen and paper, but it is a waste of time. My limit seems to be a 3x5 with a phrase or snippet of an idea. Anything the is more than a sentence will take quite a bit of time to decode.

The ONLY exception I have to this is music or lyrics for music. I think there are two things going on there.

  1. The thought that goes into it really slows down the process. Write a phrase, think then write the next. Prose for me is more like a stream of thought.
  2. I tend to do it lefty. I am a righty. I think the use of the other hand forces me to really consider what I am doing. I tried it for prose before I bought scriv, but it is just too slow.

Anyway, I envy you Mr P and Mr. Bywater for your handwriting abilities.

With broad nib, as above! :smiley:

Blimey, I wish my handwriting was that pretty. I resorted to writing in mixed big- and small-caps at school because the teachers couldn’t read my work to mark it…

Sir, what do you insinuate?
[size=50]…having my sanity questioned by a three-legged rodent who may or may not think he’s Napoleon…I don’t know…[/size]

And I thought I was the only one that printed everything.
The beatings I used to take for printing and then for bad handwriting.
I must have been a sadists dream as no matter what I did it was wrong.



With you on that. I was the only person in 5th grade whose parents had to go buy a typewriter so their son could pass. Too bad no one ever taught me to type.

Have any of you tried lefty? I do that when I am being “artistic”. It comes out quite legible, but it is so difficult that it is not practical for more than occasional use.

Yeah, I got berated for it too, but not as much as handing in something illegible. Damned if you do…

As for trying left-handed, ho ho ho. Even I can’t read it when I write southpaw.