Excerpt: Dealing With Writer’s Block

This is an excerpt from The Gigabytes Guide to Writing Second Edition on sale in paperback and e-book on this site.

The first thing to know about writer’s block is that the condition we call “writer’s block” is not unique to writers. When software developers experience the same thing we don’t call it “programmer’s block”.

The second thing you need to know is that is isn’t real. Seriously. It is not an ailment, a condition, or an affliction. You won’t find it in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual as a mental disorder however, you can find a book written 30 years ago called Understanding Writer’s Block: A Therapist’s Guide to Diagnosis and Treatment. The first sentence of the blurb?

“This innovative book explains writer’s block as a symptom of a larger disorder.”
Source: Google Books

Allow me to save you the time reading this 195 page “only to find out you aren’t crazy” book. Yes, writers and creative people can get stumped sometimes and we call it writer’s block because some Austrian psychologist living in New York named Edmund Bergler coined the term in 1947. Yeah, Bergler. Not Hemingway, Bronte, or Verne.
Source: ncbi.nim.nih.gov article PMC7965145

The long and the short of it is that writer’s block is a symptom of a larger issue. While chronic writer’s block may be caused by a mental disorder, your writer’s block may just mean you are tired, sick, or need a new source of inspiration. In other words, rest or do something else for a while. (Incidentally, have you watched the British version of Ghosts? I bet you haven’t.)

Pro Tip: There is literally no rule saying you have to write as the reader will read it. If you are feeling stuck at a certain point, stop writing, create a new document, and start writing a section that you are more inspired with. You can fill in the gaps later. It may even be easier to do so because all you have to do is connect the dots.

The good news here is, not only do you not have to write in sequence, what if I told you that you don’t have to write parts of your book at all?

I often skip parts of the writing and just make notes in brackets like these: <insert yet another joke about Ghosts on Paramount+>. I also use markers like xxx to bookmark the spot where I leave off writing and editing. Those marks are not often used in writing, so you are able to use your word processor’s search feature during editing to search for these sections and fill them in.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (of Sherlock Holmes fame) anecdotally started with the end of his mystery books and wrote the plot backwards. Plotting backwards is a legitimate technique used by mystery writers. So, you are allowed to skip around when writing your saucy romance novel (we all know what parts you really want to write anyway).

Use of “Artificial Intelligence” in Writing

This is an excerpt from The Gigabytes Guide to Writing available on this site in paperback and e-book.

Let’s start off by calling it what it is: a large language model chat bot. Not only is it not artificially intelligent, it is well known for making factual mistakes and outputting terrible writing. “AI” is effectively a marketing term.

The temptation to use chat bots to write some or all of a work is great for any writer – particularly if they are struggling. Without getting into how these systems actually work, my advice as a writer and as a technologist is: Don’t.

The reasons are, quite frankly, both numerous and serious. First off, copyright law is not settled when it comes to chat bots and writing. If you let a chat bot write any part of your work for you, it is entirely possible you could find yourself on the end of a lawsuit over the rights and royalties to your work by the company that developed the chat bot. As ridiculous as it sounds, these companies may legitimately have a case against you.

Second, there are many publishing houses that will ban you if you try to submit a work that was written by AI – even in part. This could limit your audience and publishing options.

Third, flooding the market with poorly-written, self-published dreck – even if human edited – hurts the entire writer / reader community. If readers spend their hard-earned money on a terrible book that isn’t up to standards, then there is the potential to lose that reader forever. One bad book can be dismissed as a fluke, but if book after book is terrible, a reader might wonder why they are wasting their time and money.

Finally, if you can’t write for yourself, put this book down now and find another hobby. For example, I hear this show, Ghosts, is pretty compelling.

Dealing with Hybrid Publishers

This is an excerpt from The Gigabooks Guide to $0 Publishing that was written in a special section called Author’s Aside.

The biggest issue I have with hybrid/vanity publishers is that they will tell you how impressed they are with you or your proposed work and that they would LOVE to publish your work but you have to ask them: “If you like my work so much, where is your investment in me?”

I had one quote for $49,000 for a publishing, distribution, and marketing package. I talked them down to $15,000 for the same package but at that rate, I would have to sell 1700 books to break even and there wasn’t even any sort of guarantee of success. They simply said “our other authors did well with this package”. That’s not a guarantee and a line I have heard many times from other hybrid publishers.

If they really believe in you or your work, do this: Demand a guarantee of sales within a specified time frame based on the break even cost of the package. I know that is a mouthful, allow me to explain.

If it takes 1000 book sales to break even, ask if they can guarantee – in writing – that you will be able to sell 1000 books in 6 months. If you do not sell the books, the percentage of unsold books will be applied to the cost of the package and that amount refunded.

In other words, if you get a guarantee of 1000 book sales in 6 months to break even, but only sell 800, 20% of the cost of the publishing package should be refunded to you under the agreement.

This is the kind of investment all hybrid publishers should be able to do if they believe they have an effective marketing system. This guarantee is how you get them to invest in you and your book. It will also weed out the outfits simply trying to take your money.

I ask this of advertisers and media consultants all the time.

The Gigabooks Guide to publishing is available here.
Find the e-book here.

What an edit looks like after data loss

the 8 fates of okteveos

The 8 Fates of Okteveos completed its second edit. Then, the SD card that holds the working copy of the book physically broke in half during a routine inspection of the laptop hardware. This could have been a total disaster were it not for an aggressive backup policy in place for the work. In all, 4 levels of backup are in place to protect J. Tordsen’s writing.

Sadly, the first automatic backup of the work failed and he lost about 3000 words of the upcoming novel. Fortunately, nearly half the book was in the hands of early BETA readers after the second edit was completed and the 3000 words lost were in the sections that hadn’t gone out yet.

This meant those sections had to be re-edited. While the original second edit is lost forever, we can look at the word counts and get a sense of how the book has changed since the data was lost.

The following table shows how the book’s word count has evolved through the writing process.

SectionDraftEdit 1Edit 2Edit 2b
4 – 55,2435.4575,8846,443
Okteveos Word Count Table

Section 1: This section was in the hands of beta readers and comprises half of the book. The reason the word count is slightly off is because this section had a slight edit based on the BETA reader feedback. It was essentially a simplification of the introduction that was lost with the other 2nd edits.

Section 2: This is where things start to get hard. As I went through the section again, I would come across part of the manuscript where I knew I expanded a section to add detail, but I couldn’t remember exactly why that was. Then there were other sections that were obvious and I easily filled it in even though it wasn’t exactly done in the same way as before.

Section 3: The process of going through the sections knowing that this edit was not going to be the same as the previous was a bit defeating. I tried to lean into it by making the this edit better than the last. It helped but the demotivating factor was always there.

Section 4 – 5: This is where tracking word counts really helped. This section was always an important section which made it easier to edit. The fact I was able to add much more detail than even the previous edit was very satisfying.

Section 6: The same could be said of this section. I was able to add more detail that contributed to the general quality of the read. I think it was generally improved.

Section 7: This is the climax so I had the goal of getting close to the 2nd edit word count. This was how I measured the success of the new edit in this case. Oddly, despite losing a few hundred words, this section is largely unchanged. The second edit only added more detail from the first but the plot and flow is the same.

Section 8: Whenever there was a loss in word count, it always made me think I missed something. I spent hours going back over this section thinking that I forgot something. I didn’t. The ending changed and was better integrated into the story. It ended up being more succinct with fewer plot holes.

While the book lost 1100 words, some sections were greatly improved. Because I tend not to overwrite, It was a matter of remembering the additions I made in the previous edits. For the other sections, I have to trust the editing process to help fill in the gaps that couldn’t be filled for whatever reason. The third edit I read out loud to myself to help catch inconsistencies in the story. If I added content because of an inconsistency I didn’t catch in this edit, it should shine brightly in the third.

J. Tordsen uses a multi-layered backup system.

Auto Backup: First, Auto Backup is turned on in LibreOffice. This is not the same as Auto Save. Auto Backup creates a second file in another location automatically every time the file is saved. In this case, as he works off of an SD card, it creates a backup file on the main system. This is a feature that must be turned on in LibreOffice.

Flash Drive: A manual backup is also done to a USB drive.

Cloud: If Internet is available (it isn’t always available everywhere he writes), a manual backup is made to Google Drive. This protects against bag theft where someone steals the entire writing kit. A process to automate this system is being looked at.

Server: Finally, the work is backed up to a file server.

Process: Yes, even the process can be a backup. In this case, sending out to BETA readers saved half of the manuscript.

Despite this, accidents can happen and no system is completely foolproof. There is also no set system for backups. Three locations is the general rule for best practices with one location in the cloud. Regardless, the system that works for you is the best system.

Editing The 8 Fates of Okteveos

The 8 Fates of Okteveos has completed its second edit and author J. Tordsen has been tracking word counts throughout the process.

The following table shows how the book’s word count has evolved through the writing process.

Section Draft Edit 1 Edit 2 Change Edit 1/2/Total
1 24,112 22,098 23,013 -2014/+915/-1099
2 4,392 5,286 6,453 +894/+1167/+2061
3 3,086 3,397 3,471 +311/+74/+385
4 – 5 5,243 5.457 5,884 +214/+427/+641
6 2,789 3,248 3,255 +459/+7/+466
7 11,730 12,602 14,483 +872/+1881/+2753
8 2,517 2,957 3,287 +440/+330/+770
Total 53,869 55,187 59,846 +1318/+4659/+5977
Okteveos Word Count Table

Section 1: The first section is consistently the largest part of the book, however, during the first edit, a massive 2000 word chunk was deleted to move the story along. In the second edit, some detail was added back in but the overall length is about 1000 words down from the original draft.

Section 2: This section grew by nearly 50%. Detail needed to be added consistently as the other sections took shape.

Section 3: It was the least developed story in the draft. After the first edit, very little needed to be added to it.

Section 4 – 5: Section 4-5 are combined for a very good reason in the book. While not a lot of detail needed to be added, it need to be added consistently like section 2.

Section 6: This section was probably the most developed part of the book. Edit 1 involved some corrections but by edit 2, the story was polished enough where it only needed a small edit.

Section 7: This is the second largest section of the book and where a lot happens. It also needed massive edits to tell the story properly.

Section 8: The rest of the book leads up to the events at the end so, any changes here almost require changes elsewhere in the book and vice-versa.

As you can see, the book started out smaller and grew as the story was refined. Most of the time we hear about authors “over-writing” a manuscript and the tug of war that happens between the editor that wants to cut it down and the author who wants to keep every word. This is not how J. Tordsen writes.

“For me, the story has always developed in editing. The rough draft is, well, rough. While I am not afraid to cut out entire sections out of a story to make it flow better, on the potter’s wheel of writing, I only start off with enough clay to make an ashtray before adding clay to build up the story into a vase. I have a short story I wrote decades ago and I have revisited that story many times over the years to re-edit it. With each edit, it got better and more detailed. If anything, I under-write a story.”

How Far Are You Willing To Go For Distraction Free Writing?

Freewrite Alpha

This guide available in video: https://youtu.be/a6guaEdeBVE

A distraction-free technology guide for modern writers.
I suppose we need to start by defining what distraction free writing is because we are often sold on the idea that “distraction free” is the most basic of basics. A pen and paper in the park; a typewriter in a cabin by lamplight; or a computer with all of the computer-y bits stripped out of it and sold for such a premium price it would make Ernest Hemingway blush.

Writing style is a a major determining factor in how we define distraction free on an individual basis. What you need for distraction free writing is not what I or someone else needs for distraction free writing and your technological needs will differ based on where, what, and how you write.

Let’s run down the various options available to writers today as well as the pros and cons of each solution. Let’s start with the obvious.



If you are the type of writer that needs to capture a stream of consciousness in the moment, then getting back to basics is likely what you need. When it comes to this type of distraction free writing technology, Astrohaus practically has the the market cornered with their well-built, well designed Freewrite machines. It has a clickey keyboard that is comfortable and enjoyable with an E-ink display that is easy to see in bright light and is excellent for battery life. With the simplest, most rudimentary interface, almost no editing functions, and such primitive WiFi Fred Flintstone could operate it, this has been the answer for many writers and certainly an upgrade to lugging around a typewriter. At $649, however, this is an expensive proposition for many. Not expensive enough? Not to worry, Astrohaus sells an Ernest Hemingway signature edition in chrome and green for $999.

Freewrite Traveler

Freewrite Traveler
Freewrite Traveler

A sleeker, more portable version of the Freewrite is available in a familiar laptop format called the Traveler. It loses the clickey keyboard for a well-engineered full-size laptop style keyboard. It looks small but is about as wide as a standard laptop but half the height. Same e-ink display, same WiFi functions to sync to cloud storage, and same limited editing capabilities make the lower $499 price tag only slightly easier to swallow.

Freewrite Alpha

Freewrite Alpha
Freewrite Alpha

Almost as though Astrohaus reads the comment section of their Twitter account, they are crowdfunding a more budget-friendly Freewrite device. It has a simple LCD display that can display up to 6 lines of text while barely sipping power from a 4200mAH battery. Made from what appears to be white ABS plastic and most likely a high end membrane keyboard, the Freewrite Alpha seems to be courting a market at around the $350 price range. What a bargain!

Tandy TRS-80 Model 100

Radio Shack TRS-80 Model 100
Radio Shack TRS-80 Model 100

The design of the Alpha reminds me of the Tandy TRS-80 Model 100. During its time, it was a favorite among writers and journalists because of its portability and the ability to run off of 4 AA batteries. After all, if you are going to spend $300+ on a stripped down computer, why not just get one with some basic functions and a bit of nostalgia?

Well, there are several reasons. First, the Freewrite can store millions of words / pages (depending on the model). With the the Tandy Model 100’s 32k of memory, prolific writers will quickly fill that up. Add to that no internet or WiFi connectivity, rarity of replacement parts, and lack of compatible ports, even a bargain working Model 100 at $300 is far less than ideal for modern writers.

Vintage PC or laptop
That’s pretty much going to be the case for any other vintage PC or laptop. Components will degrade, break and be difficult to find replacements. Even early internet machines are not suitable to handle modern internet. Best to just move on.

Tablets are cheap and plentiful. You can even get a new one for less than $100. Add a Bluetooth clickey keyboard for another $50 – $100 and you will feel like you have just put one over on the man. Yay you! However, tablets are not terribly battery efficient as they are essentially a big screen. No problem, get an e-ink tablet. Unfortunately, those are priced at $150 or more currently. Now, you are approaching the price of the Freewrite Alpha. Not to mention, tablets (and phones) are the exact opposite of distraction free. Even if you manage to keep from signing in with your e-mail account, the capabilities of the tablet make it all too tempting to install other apps that will endlessly pop up notifications, wasting time you want to spend on writing.

New Chromebook


Ok, as long as we are talking about cheap computing devices that you can buy new, why not a nice, portable Chromebook? Many have decent battery life as they are designed with the student in mind and it really needs to last all day. Plus, used ones are dead cheap – sometimes costing less than $50.

Well, you don’t want one for the exact same reason you don’t want a tablet. Chromebooks require you to sign in with your account and, once you do, forget about being distraction free.

Raspberry Pi Devices

raspberry pi dart case laptop
Raspberry Pi dart case laptop

Well, we’re getting warmer. If you are not opposed to assembling the parts for a little raspberry pi laptop, these devices come in a variety of capabilities. There is plenty of support for those that need it and the operating systems are simple and do not require your e-mail sign in order to work. Plus, they are as distraction free as you need them to be. You can remove the graphical interface and use a basic text editor from the command line if you really want to go hard core. Let’s face it, though, your average user is not going to build their own rig. However, if you do, my best advice is to use a Raspberry Pi 3, Zero 2w or better. Anything older isn’t really worth your time.

Video on how to build a Raspberry Pi laptop: https://youtu.be/K1rjBnM7FoQ

Nerfing” Computers
If you are a writer like me, you need a few more capabilities than just basic writing. You may need to do some research or fact-checking as you go and that also means more than just some stone-age editing features.

So let’s talk about computers you can nerf yourself. The term “nerf” or “nerfed” refers to the dumbing-down of capabilities or features in a game – we’re just applying the term to a computer.

This is really easy to do with any Windows PC as it mainly entails simply not installing or uninstalling applications. Avoid things like games or anything that requires a login like e-mail or social media.

If you want to go even further, you will want to get rid of Windows outright and install a lightweight Linux distribution like Lubuntu or Xubuntu. This will keep distracting software to a minimum and still provide the basics like LibreOffice and a mouse-driven interface. You can then install the software you prefer. You will still want to avoid installing games or signing into accounts like Gmail or social media.

GPD Ultra Portable

GPD Ultra Portable
GPD Ultra Portable

This leaves a lot of options – including new PCs. As long as we don’t need a ton of horsepower, let’s go ultra portable and GPD makes some of the smallest laptops on the planet.

Cool. We have a tiny, ultra-portable PC that fits into your front pocket. Problem is, the keyboard is cramped and unpleasant. Bonus, it cost us even more than the Freewrite.

Old Laptop

Old Laptop

So, let’s get cheap. Like, free cheap. You may have an old PC moldering in the back of a closet somewhere that you could fix up and use for this basic purpose. As a bonus, re-purposing electronics is much greener than throwing it away.

The question is, how MUCH repair is this thing going to need? If the screen is OK, you may need to have the laptop itself cleaned out. Is the hard drive in decent shape? Even if it is, you will want to replace it anyway. That will give it a performance boost and you don’t really need to spend more than $35 on a small SSD drive (64Gb is more than enough for this purpose). Oh, and let’s not forget the battery. That’s probably gone the way of the ghost as well. If you haven’t used it since the Bush administration, it may need a few extra things to make it compatible with today’s technology.

It may seem like a lot, but it’s not that it can’t be done. It’s just going to get expensive fast if you can’t do all the repairs yourself. Then you could end up with a giant laptop with a dim screen and limited battery life at the end of it all. The reality is that it might not be worth it.

Low Spec Used and Refurbished Laptops / Netbooks

Low Spec Refurbished Aspire One
Low Spec Refurbished Aspire One

Ok, ok. So you aren’t going dump a whole bunch of time, money, and parts into a computer that might not last the day. Now what? Time to hit up Ebay! But what exactly are you looking for and where do you start?

The first thing you want to consider is a recent, low-spec machine. Why low spec? You won’t need or want the performance of a full laptop because you just want to write, edit, and maybe upload your work. Let’s take a look at some prime examples of machines that not just work for this purpose, but are very inexpensive.

EDU Spec Windows 7-10 machine
Let’s start with Lenovo. You are looking for old school laptops. The screens are about 11.6 inches so if you search Ebay for 11.6 Lenovo laptop, they are all less than $100 for a good one. Some have even been refurbished with Solid State Drives (SSD), but stick to ones that either have Linux or Windows on them. If they are Chromebooks, there is a chance that they are incompatible with other software.

With these Lenovo laptops, you are looking at school notebook computers – particularly the ones with the ‘e’ suffix (11e, x131e, etc.). They are semi-rugged PCs that were bought by the hundreds or thousands by schools and rotated out after a few years of service. As a result, there are some truly decent systems to be had for CHEAP. Parts are really easy to get as well. In my opinion, Lenovo keyboards – especially the more rugged EDU keyboards – are also some of the nicest laptop keyboards to type on.

Acer Aspire One

Acer Aspire One Laptop
Acer Aspire One Laptop

If you are looking for something a little more portable, you can hardly go wrong with an Acer Aspire One Netbook. They are slightly more compact but still have a 10.1” LED backlit screen and excellent battery life. The later ones (with the 10.1” screens) had much improved performance, but when considering the limited purpose this PC will be used for, processing power is the least of the considerations. The keyboard is a little flat but the keys are large and it is decent to type on. You can always plug in a small mechanical keyboard if you wish as well (which is what I do when using it at home).

These netbooks have been largely panned by critics since they were introduced but that just means they can be picked up for a song. $30 can get you a decent used one. $60 can get you a refurbished one with more RAM and an SSD.

Two of my favorite features on the Aspire One is the ability to disable the touchpad with a Fn+F7 keypress and the ejectable SD card slot. The entire SD card is contained entirely inside the laptop rather than part of it sticking out to get caught on things and is a standard feature on the D270 series netbooks. I save all my writing to the SD card rather than the main drive and just leave it there.

Detailed Video on the Aspire One build: https://youtu.be/1GNwgUqIoOg

Both the Lenovo and the Aspire One were built with serviceability in mind. In other words, if you have to change a hard drive or pop in an extra memory stick, even if you are a gym teacher in rural Saskatchewan, you’ll have little difficulty in doing so.

So, there you have it. A distraction free writing device guide for every budget. Happy writing.

This guide available in video: https://youtu.be/a6guaEdeBVE

Bonus Writing Software Guide: https://youtu.be/HxESdhcwpkE

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