I sort of enjoy the end-of-semester craziness. I think it lends an air of community to any campus and its neighborhood coffeeshops, even if it's of the manic exaustion/"I haven't slept in three days and I have an exam tonight and tomorrow and a paper due the day after that" kind. (In the interest of participating in this alongside my students, I woke up from my post-THATCamp haze and decided to write my dissertation prospectus in the next three weeks! Why not, right?)
But it occurs to me, as I near the end of my HASTAC tenure, that I have never seen mentioned on HASTAC the single online* tool that I actually used the most this past year: Written? Kitten!
Gentler than those sites that start deleting your writing if you aren't continuing to produce it (see Write or Die: Putting the "Prod" in Productivity), Written? Kitten! gives you a pic of a kitten everytime you've finished writing 100, 200, 500, or 1000 words. (Your choice.) You type in a no-frills text box, the only goal being to keep writing. It was perfect for writing 300- or 350-word annotations: as it turns out, 200 words is easy to produce, and as soon as the kitten appears, it's time to finish your thought and start wrapping it up!
And even the overly-cutsiness helps: once the kitten appears, you want to *finish* that annotation so you can cut-and-paste it into a word doc and get the kitten tab closed before someone else sees it, so you can maintain your self-image(/delusion) that you are a proper, serious academic. (Er... well, that might just be me.)
Maybe this sounds overly simplistic... but then, how to start and keep writing is definitely a major topic for any academic, so every little tool helps, right? For whatever reasons, I found myself particularly prone to procrastinate annotations, and this helped. I use other tools like setting a timer for longer pieces of work, particularly when I'm in a rough writing phase, but for annotations... Written? Kitten! is the best thing I've found.
I have a class session every semester with my students in which I start by acknowledging that writing can be hard to get into. I recommend trying this: acknowledging that even experienced academics can struggle with what can be quite draining work, and turning this difficulty into a collaborative discussion--I think it helps students claim ownership over the difficulty. They come up with lots of great suggestions for each other--it's surprising what a long discussion it can become. (And it's a good reminder that lots of students work really hard at their writing.)
Anyway, I always throw Written? Kitten! into the mix, and although it does come across as a bit silly, I think it emphasizes the "find something--anything!--that works for you" element of the discussion.
Do you use any sites like this to get yourself writing? Or are there any other sort of similar, throwaway online tools that you use regularly, in a behind-the-scenes way, to get work done?
*In the non-online category, Structured Procrastination is by far my most productive tool. (Did I mention I have a prospectus I should be writing?)