The Pomodoro Technique – 8 Timed Writing Methods To Boost Word Count

Three round red tomatoes on a medium-brown wooden board.

You might have seen or heard it mentioned before as a term that gets thrown around fairly often in both writing and business productivity circles, but what is the Pomodoro Technique and how can you either use or adapt it to help your writing?

Coined in the 1980s by software expert Francesco Cirillo and named after the Italian word for tomato — and, in particular, after the tomato-shaped kitchen timers of the same name — the general premise of the technique is simple time management: that spending 25 minutes on a task interruption-free, then taking a short 5-minute break before attempting three or four 25-minute stretches, is better for both you and your creative juices than spending hours flogging away on a task with little improvement. It’s an approach that many swear by … not least writers, for whom sometimes finding the time to write can feel almost impossible.

It also has a secondary motivational benefit for writers — or, depending on your temperament, a primary benefit: that writing for a fixed amount of time will give you a tangible reward in the form of a word count. Even if you’re not usually a competitive person there can be something inspiring about competing with yourself, and whether you time yourself for 25 minutes or just 5, trying to beat your previous word count can be just plain fun.

You don’t even have to do it alone!


The Traditional Pomodoro

Some people swear by using a regular kitchen timer, setting it for however long you prefer, and sitting it beside their computer. This is particularly great for solitary writers who don’t have to worry about the alarm disturbing anyone else, or for groups and write-ins where you can compete with each other — with the added bonus that everyone is a winner, since everyone added more words than they might otherwise.

If you don’t have a stand-alone kitchen timer, the clock or alarm setting on your phone works just as well — or, if even that fails, you can Google the word “timer,” as Google itself has an editable web-based version!

IRC Word Wars

If you have access to the Chatnano IRC system, either via a browser-based chat client or a standalone one, you can log into your regional chatroom and ask Timmy to start a word war. He might be an irritating little sod on occasion, but in this field he excels. Simply type !startwar 5 into the chat window and Timmy will give you one minute’s warning before he counts down into a 5-minute word war, lets you know when you’re halfway through and counts down to the end of the war. If you want it to be longer — or shorter — you can change the number to anything you prefer: !startwar 20 will give you a 20-minute word war, while !startwar 2 will run for 2 minutes only.

If you don’t want it to start a minute from issuing the command but, say, 5 minutes, then !startwar 10 5 will start a 10-minute word war five minutes from pressing return, while !startwar 15 30 will start a 15-minute war in 30 minutes’ time. This is particularly useful if a group of writers in the chat want to write together but need a little time to get ready before the event.

You can find more variations on word wars, including chaining wars together and terminating one you’ve already started, by looking over Timmy’s various commands:

Twitter Word Sprints

Screenshot of the NaNoWordSprints Twitter page showing their timed writing challengesIn a similar vein, you can find word wars on Twitter. The most popular of these during Camp NaNo and NaNoWriMo is the official @NaNoWordSprints account, run by NaNo staff and MLs. The premise is simple: the person running the sprints tweets an announcement of the next sprint, again when they begin, and again when they stop and many writers find these to be an invaluable source of inspiration.

Outside of these events, you can often find other writers on Twitter running their own word sprints. You can search for “word sprints” or follow the automated sprint account @sprintbotwrites, but try not to get distracted by the shininess that is Twitter; it’s far too easy to lose valuable writing time instead. (Or is that just me?)


Screenshot of the first page of MyWriteClub, showing the text 'Crush your writing goals'myWriteClub is a free online word-war tool with the added ability to add friends and track stories you’re working on. Sprints follow the Pomodoro technique and are fixed at 25 minutes per sprint and begin on the hour and half-hour; you can either set up your own or join the global sprint with writers around the world.

You compete by writing straight into the box the sprint page consists mostly of — the contents of which are only visible to you, no one else — and as you write you can see how other writers are doing via the live word count beneath their names.

Sign up and join in at


Screenshot of the battle page of 4TheWords, showing the monsters you can fight with your wordcount for rewards4TheWords is an online game and writing tool designed to make writing fun. The first month is free (ideal for events like NaNoWriMo) and after that the site becomes read-only. NaNoWriMo participants can claim a 25% discount on the game’s financial currency, core crystals, while NaNo winners can claim a 50% discount.

The system works by ‘battling’ various monsters and trying to beat them by writing a certain amount of words in a fixed amount of time, and you achieve daily ‘streaks’ by writing a minimum of 444 words. The longer you keep up a streak the better the rewards —waffle on here—

Sign up at — if you add the code PGCCL01584 into the referral box you’ll receive an extra 20 core crystals if you subscribe. (Full disclaimer: this is Pax’s referral code. Other writers have their own unique codes, so ask around.)

Write or Die

Screenshot of the active page of Write Or DieOne of the more traumatic methods of encouraging a writer to sprint, Write Or Die is a fear-based writing method that some people have even described as “fun.” (I am not one of them.)

The site is initially awkward to get to grips with, but everything you need is on the left-hand side. You can choose your word goal, from a minimum of 12 to a NaNo-friendly 1667, and a time goal from 1 to 30 minutes. You can even set your grace period before consequences set in.

On the reward setting it sets off a little glitter fanfare when you reach small milestones, while the stimulus setting appears to be for people using the full, paid version. Finally, there’s also the consequence setting it’s most famous for, with the option to enable ‘kamikaze’, where if you sit and think for too long the app starts to delete the words you’ve written. Many authors swear by it; some just swear at it.

Try it at

Written? Kitten!

Screenshot of the Written? Kitten! page, showing text and a photo of kittens beside itIf sites like Write or Die work by scaring you into writing for your chosen amount of time, then Written? Kitten goes in the completely opposite direction. For every 100 (or 200, 500 or 1000) words you write, a fresh picture of a cute kitten will appear to the right of the text box.

Kittens not your thing? Then you can choose from puppies and bunnies too.

While there’s no timer to force you to keep writing, the bribe of a cute animal when you meet your word count can be just as motivating on a bad day.

Play with it here:

An hourglass

Image of a glass hourglass with green sand slipping through itFor the ultimate in low-tech chic, you can invest in an hourglass. You can pick up three-minute egg-timer hourglasses relatively inexpensively at kitchenware departments in the city and even if you don’t use them for writing they make good ornaments — or, indeed, soft-boiled eggs.


Have we forgotten something?

Share what we’ve missed in the comments along with a link so we can discover new and exciting ways of inspiring our word counts!

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