Alum creates software to combat writer’s block

by Rebecca Szkutak / Beacon Staff • November 18, 2015

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Worst Draft is the logo of the website.
Courtesy of Heinz Healey
Worst Draft is the logo of the website.
Courtesy of Heinz Healey

Struggling to finish a draft of a fictional story about a teenage boy who learns to cope with the death of his sister by wearing one of her dresses, for over a year, Heinz Healey said that he wanted a way to help himself hunker down and finish a complete draft. 

After sitting at his computer countless times toiling to finish a first draft, Emerson alumnus Healey, 30, who graduated in 2010 from the writing, literature and publishing graduate program, said he decided he needed to do something about his writer's block.

Healey said that while in school, he always had a hard time motivating himself to sit down and write, even when he had a looming deadline. 

“You’re just going through and trying to get the final draft as quickly as you can,” Healey said. “A lot of times you just end up with a final draft that looks like a first draft.”

Now, without the pressure of school deadlines, he said he finds it almost impossible for him to finish a solid draft.

To combat this, Healey developed Worst Draft, a word processor that anyone can download for free. It gives a user a blank document to work with, distraction free. The platform runs in the foreground of the computer, which doesn’t allow the writer to open anything else before closing it. The software only allows for people to delete up to two words at a time so they are forced to write a draft completely before they can edit it, according to Healey. 

He said he finds that revising his work while still writing isn’t helpful, because he’s more likely to remove unique content he might not think of again.

“As you’re writing you’re going into a creative space—you’re going with your first instincts, and usually those ones are the best and most creative,” Healey said. “You lose the opportunity to find that story beat, find that character, that line of dialogue that you would have only come up when you were sitting there in your creative space, in the zone.” 

Robert Meyer, 22, a writing, literature and publishing graduate student, said he has tried out the program and said has already noticed an improvement in his work. Meyer said before the software, he averaged about 100 words per hour, because he edited his work too much. Now, Meyer said, he writes up to 300 words an hour. 

“I wanted something to force me to go faster, especially for fiction and creative writing,” Meyer said. “Those are the times I feel the most uncertain with what I’m doing, and I feel that a lot of fiction relies on creativity that you shouldn’t inhibit in the process of making it.” 

To design the program, Healey said he hired a freelance programmer. Healey said that he wants to keep it free and accessible to every writer, so the website offers a page where users can donate amounts based on the monetary achievements of certain authors. For example, choosing Franz Kafka will donate only $1 because he wasn’t successful in his lifetime.

For the next version of the program Healey said he hopes to add in premium style features such as software that logs when you write the most, such as which day or the week or time, and can tell you when you are most likely to be the most productive. 

Healey said this method of writing would be helpful especially in schools, and that he is thinking of reaching out to them in the future, but not with the version the program is at currently. He said that he hopes students will use it and it will improve their writing. 

“It took me a long time to figure it out, but writing isn’t a linear process. For anything else that you are doing like if you’re building IKEA furniture or cooking you know what the process is and the outcome,” Healey said. “You can still enjoy the process, but at the end of the day you are going to have a crappy piece of furniture or chicken parmesan; but for writing if you go in with a general idea it could change a lot.”