No matter how much preparation you do for National Novel Writing Month, nothing can quite prepare you for the feeling on Day One when you find yourself faced with a totally blank page. Sitting at your cramped desk in a dingy apartment, it can feel like inspiration is never going to hit. How are you supposed to write your masterpiece while your neighbors are fighting again about whose turn it is to do dishes? I bet Shakespeare never had to put up with this crap.
But you're not alone. Every single NaNoWriMo participant will be going through the exact same inner turmoil on November 1: how to get started, how to keep focused, and how to stop checking your ex's Facebook every three minutes. The idea of reaching the 50,000 word goal seems almost impossible when you can't even fill a single page with ideas — but all is not lost. The Internet is full of wonders far beyond all the memes threatening to break your concentration; it's also full of apps and resources designed to burst through your writer's block, and set you on the way to writing the next big NaNoWriMo bestseller. Here are 11 of the very best.
Sometimes silence can be the most deafening sound of all. When you're getting in the mood to write, many aspiring novelists prefer the hustle and bustle of a busy coffee shop — but can't afford to splash out $10 a day on overpriced lattes in order to keep your table. With Coffitivity, you can work in the privacy of your own home (and drink your own cheap coffee), but still benefit from the background noise you're craving. You can even choose your perfect setting: would you prefer to work in a Texas teahouse or a Parisian paradise?
2. Rainy Mood
If the sounds of a cafe are a little overpowering, but you still don't want to be left in silence with your own thoughts, Rainy Mood is a wonderfully calming alternative. Not only is the gentle sound of raindrops a soothing backdrop for your work, it also sets a gorgeously romantic mood for your love story, or a dark and spooky atmosphere for your thriller.
But what if your characters are traveling on a midnight train, or trekking through a forest, or relaxing by a stream? Noisli lets you choose the exact background noise to get your creative juices flowing: whether it's the sound of wind rustling through trees, the dull buzz of an office fan, or the steady rhythm of a train's wheels turning along the tracks. And if all of that is too distracting, but you still can't tune out those pesky neighbors, you can even try listening to plain old white noise.
Once you've got the ambience right, it's time to start writing — and OmmWriter is here to make that experience more enjoyable. It's not free, but you can choose how much to pay for it, and it's worth every cent you choose to spend. OmmWriter transforms your computer into a distraction-free zone by covering up all your hundreds of open tabs with one picturesque full-screen background. You can choose from a number of options, including the standard snowy white scene, a limited number of simple fonts, and any background sounds or music you might want to add. Relax into it, forget everything else that's been on your mind — and write.
5. Hanx Writer
I already suspected Tom Hanks was a creative genius, but this app that he invented really proved it. Throughout NaNoWriMo, you'll often find yourself resorting to writing on your iPad — and you might feel like something's missing. Agatha Christie never wrote on an iPad, after all; it's just not very glamorous, is it? With Hanx Writer, your iPad or phone is transformed into an old-fashioned typewriter — and your manuscript will be transformed right along with it.
OK, so you've got your writing conditions just how you like them. All that's left to do ... is actually write something. The website Written? Kitten! provides the purr-fect (sorry) motivation for you to do just that: for every 100 words you write, you get a new picture of a kitten. If you're not a cat purr-son (really, I'm so sorry), never fear: you can customize the settings to show you pictures of dogs or bunnies, and you can even change the word limit if you really want to stretch yourself.
So maybe you're not an animal person. (You monster.) In that case, perhaps growing your own forest will do the trick. This app works on your smartphone or Internet browser to encourage you to keep to your work without distractions. For every 30 minutes that you keep working productively, you can grow your own virtual tree — but the second you pick up your phone and exit the app, or start browsing any of the websites on your blacklist, your tree will die. Tree-killer. The longer you stay focused, the bigger your forest will grow — so you can feel good about yourself for making progress on your NaNoWriMo project and for saving the (virtual) environment.
But don't beat yourself up if you're struggling to keep your focus; most of us can't concentrate for long chunks of time without needing a break. Pomodoro will be your favorite app through the month of November; it's the app that encourages you to take breaks. The idea behind it is the Pomodoro technique: work for 25 minutes, and then take a five minute break. Every four "Pomodoros," you get a longer 15 minute break — to walk around the block and clear your head. When each burst of writing time is so short, keeping your focus is easier than ever.
9. Self Control
Despite your best intentions, procrastinating on the Internet is just so easy. If you find yourself refreshing Instagram or scrolling through Twitter more often than you type a new word of your NaNoWriMo novel, you might need to get Self Control. This genius app blocks all the distracting websites that are holding your attention, and even you delete the app and restart your whole computer, you won't be able to access them. That's tough love for you.
NaNoWriMo is an intense month, and you need to be able to work to your own schedule. Of course, if you're a regular night time worker, you risk losing sleep by staring at a laptop screen too close to bedtime. With f.lux, you can control the lighting on your laptop at certain times of day, softening the harsh blue glare of a computer screen into a gentle orange glow after sunset.
The NaNoWriMo mentality is generally to write first, edit later. The goal is to hit your word count; you don't want to be faffing around with second and third drafts before you've got the first one down on paper. But with the Hemingway app, you can do both at the same time — without wasting any precious writing time. The app highlights common writing errors in various colors, such as yellow if the sentence is too long, or green if you've slipped into the passive voice. The app will set you back $19.99 — but you'll easily make that back once your bestselling NaNoWriMo novel starts flying off the shelves.
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