I need help with my addiction to the backspace key.
March 8, 2012 11:48 AM   Subscribe

Habitually editing while I write, want to try free-writing and getting it all out, having difficulty: can I temporarily disable my backspace key in Microsoft Word?

I constantly microedit while I write, and it has gotten to the point that it is super, super annoying. When I try to, say, set a timer and free-write to get ideas onto the page, I end up backspacing to chose a better word and see how that looks there, then think, "Hmm, no, maybe this one...? Hmm, no... *backspace backspace*..." over and over again, to the point that I end up having written zilch in 30 minutes+. Not sure how/why this habit has gone into overdrive right now but it is driving. me. crazy. And seriously delaying my work. I think indecisiveness and a lack of self assuredness/self-confidence in my writing plays a part. And it's THAT strong that I can't stop reach for the backspace key.

The other day the habit was driving me so crazy that I actually tried to pry the backspace key off the keyboard in frustration, thinking I could pop it back on later. Not only is it really, really stuck on there such that I couldn't get it off, but, since I don't know how easy it would be to get it back on, even if I did pop it off, this is probably a bad idea to potentially destroy work property.

So I'm wondering if there's a way to temporarily disable my backspace key in Word, to prevent or at least make me aware of my reflexive backspacing habit. For this current case: this is a work computer (PC - looks like MS Word/Office Prof. 2010), and I'm probably limited in installing new software. However, I welcome ideas for my home computer (Mac - MBP) too! I don't know much about coding and macros, so if it involves that, some hand-holding-y detail would help too. Otherwise, all is game: disabling its function, assigning loud beeps, delivering punishing electric shocks,....

Thank you in advance from me and my sad abused keyboard.

(fwiw, the backspacing issue wasn't as bad while I typed this post (because, see? text!), BUT it was definitely present/an issue -- I think I took an unnaturally long amount of time to write this, though I didn't time it and can't tell for sure.)
posted by NikitaNikita to Writing & Language (22 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Not a specific answer to your question, but you might try write-or-dying for a while to break the editing habit.
posted by gauche at 11:51 AM on March 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

I don't know about a disabling option, but what if you just put double-sided sticky tape on the backspace key, which would feel gross and be an immediate reminder to STOP IT before you start?
posted by Scram at 11:51 AM on March 8, 2012

Could you...remove the key? Like, pry it off? I pried a key off an old keyboard and replaced it with an "Any" key from the Simpsons.

If not having a key there doesn't work (you keep trying to hit it)...maybe you could put something unpleasant there? Like something sticky (but not gooey that would go all over your keyboard...more like one of those terrible mouse sticky-traps)? Or, if you're really serious, put a thumbtack there business-side up?
posted by Elly Vortex at 11:54 AM on March 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't know how to disable the backspace key, but I solve this problem by switching my screen off.
posted by PercyByssheShelley at 11:55 AM on March 8, 2012 [13 favorites]

In Windows, you can do it via a registry edit (or, in Linux, via xmodmap). Those approaches might not be practical on a work computer, though.
posted by box at 11:56 AM on March 8, 2012

have you considered taking your first drafts offline? pen and paper and a room without monitors or tvs or whatnot might be just what you need.
posted by nadawi at 11:58 AM on March 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

(Though, for what it's worth, I'm not sure that disabling your backspace key is the best approach to this problem.)
posted by box at 11:59 AM on March 8, 2012

Some older keyboards have a remapping key, where you can remap any key to any other key. I would think that remapping software would be around today.

I thought you might find the USB Typewriter useful, but it looks like it has a backspace key. Would a real typewriter work?
posted by Melismata at 12:00 PM on March 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

In regards to your mac - you can use a tool like text expander to remap the backspace key so that it instead inserts "do not use this key" every time you press it - a pretty effective way of weaning yourself off it, and less destructive than permanently removing the key!
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 12:10 PM on March 8, 2012

I'm with Nadawi. I've found that gripping a favorite pen or pencil and scribbling on some good paper for a while is soothing and somewhat primal.
posted by THAT William Mize at 12:23 PM on March 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

Tape a couple of thumbtacks to the backspace key, points upward. You'll soon learn to avoid it.
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:24 PM on March 8, 2012

Tape a piece of paper up over your monitor. The problem isn't the backspacing, it's the compulsive rereading of your work.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:28 PM on March 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

You could get a cheap USB keyboard and pry off the key there, and then use that whenever you want to write. Cheap keyboards almost always have the membrane switch keys which are easy to pop on/off.
posted by thewumpusisdead at 12:28 PM on March 8, 2012

White text on a white background will help, or a just barely readable font. Or even typing into a window that is so small you can only see a few words at a time.
posted by advicepig at 12:38 PM on March 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Taking nadawi one step further, use a pen and paper to do stream-of-consciousness writing.

Give yourself a starting point ("What is my protagonist's worst fear?") and a minimum time/page count. Start writing without pause, reflection, hesitation or stopping. Keep the pen moving, ignore everything else. Whatever comes out, comes out, it doesn't matter.

Most of it will be useless but as you start trusting the process you'll begin to get some real nuggets.
posted by trinity8-director at 12:49 PM on March 8, 2012

If you like the suggestion to turn off your screen, but you can't because you need to see your screen for other things, change your font to wingdings.
posted by to recite so charmingly at 1:35 PM on March 8, 2012 [7 favorites]

Rather than turning off your monitor or fiddling with the font, you could just make your word processing window really small so you can't see what you're typing. Then resist any urge to backspace to fix any typo you 'feel' yourself committing.
posted by DarkForest at 5:13 PM on March 8, 2012

I also turn my screen off for free writing. Works great with the light-dimmer on some laptops.

I occasionally use the "make the window too small" method, when I need the screen for other things, but I tend not to free write when I need to be doing other things.
posted by MuChao at 5:36 PM on March 8, 2012


Best advice ever. You'll go crazy at first, but don't turn it on until you try it for a week. The next thing you have to do is turn off the monitor in your head. Type a word, then leave it alone. Don't allow yourself to stop and think of another word. Don't allow yourself to think of anything except THE NEXT word you're going to write.

Good luck!
posted by BlueHorse at 5:50 PM on March 8, 2012

AutoHotKey is free as in beer and will give you pretty much total control over anything keyboard-related in Windows.
posted by flabdablet at 10:11 PM on March 8, 2012

Write longhand. No backspace key. Then you can edit the text when you type it up. Thereby you separate those two functions of writing. I'm someone who rewrites as I write my first draft, which works for me, but the way I do it is write longhand first and then edit while I type up my text.
posted by Kattullus at 6:17 AM on March 9, 2012

Response by poster: These are all great! For the screenlessness idea, I used super light gray font, and also a horizontally split Word screen with my notes on the bottom (in black text) to get over the fear that someone would pop by, see me typing on an off/covered/completely blank screen, and be even more weirded out by my continued displays of quirkiness. (conservative/traditional office here). Thank you!
posted by NikitaNikita at 7:21 AM on March 12, 2012

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