I realize that I am behind the ball on Valentine’s Day, but it’s February and I still wanted to post about something I love. One of my favorite new writer things is a website called 750 Words. I learned about this through Cathy Day’s blog The Big Thing. Day writes and teaches an undergraduate novel writing class at Ball State University in Indiana. In her recent post titled Weekly Words, she wrote about her teaching technique of having students turn in 2,250 weekly words – the equivalent of three days or a collective one and a half hours of focused writing on 750words.com. Students don’t have to use the site to write their words, but the format certainly makes it easy to write and keep track of weekly writing.
The 750 words project was inspired by a chapter of The Artist’s Way. I haven’t read the book, but according to creator of the site Buster Benson, the author recommends a daily journal of three pages, which equals about 750 words. Benson created the website as a way to do that writing digitally and have it accessible everywhere, and to build a community around the challenge of writing these morning pages. Users log in to write at least 750 words every day and collect points for doing so. Badges are awarded periodically for writing streaks (3 days, 5 days, 10 days, 30 days, etc. of daily writing), as well as collective number of words written and completing monthly challenges.
I know what you’re thinking: Points? Badges? I’m not in elementary school; I don’t write for stickers. Fine, yeah, I get it. To tell the truth, my second grade students never wrote for stickers either; I had to pay them for their pre-lunch quiet writing time in cold, hard snacks. So I know that the points and badges and the Wall of Amazingness for monthly writing challenges are all silly rewards. But they’re not meaningless, because even a silly reward can motivate us solitary, lonely writers. If you’re like me and you’re trying to write every morning anyway, it helps to have some outside accountability. If I don’t report my morning writing on the website within 24 hours, I don’t get to check off that day in my writing tracker and I blow my streak of writing for however many days straight. If I feel like giving up early one day, I remember that I need to make it to my set word count goal. Having a concrete and achievable goal also means that I’m less likely to give up later in the day: if I have to leave the house in the morning before I finish writing, I can still make up for that time by writing more in the evening.
The site is intended for informal personal journaling a la The Artist’s Way, but can be used for any kind of prose. I use it mostly to work on my fiction. Here are some things to consider about the site before signing up:
- Privacy: Your words on this site are supposed to be kept private, and you can choose to “lock” or “unlock” them with your privacy settings. But it’s still on the internet, so I would advise against posting anything that you couldn’t live with someone else reading. This is part of the reason I choose to write fiction morning pages instead of more personal journal entries.
- Writing Online: This program is set up for people to be writing their words into the actual site. The website saves your work every 10 minutes, and you can force save it using key commands. And it keeps track of your words per minute and number of distractions (pauses longer than 3 minutes) so that you stay on task. But that still doesn’t work for me, because I’ve developed my writing routine so that I stay on task specifically by avoiding the internet. When I get up in the morning I don’t check my email and I usually don’t even use my computer, choosing instead to write on a legal pad. If I’m at the drafting stage where I’m working with a word document, I use Freedom to block the internet while I write. If you ask me, having the program track your wpm isn’t worth being on the internet while writing, so I type my writing into Microsoft Word after writing longhand and copy-paste it in to the website. Yes, it messes up my speed and distraction stats, but it helps me write more in the long run.
- Daily Internet Access: The site seems to be in it’s beta version, so I’m hoping this will change, but it does assume that writers will have daily internet access. I would like to see the site evolve so that writers could report having written on a previous day with or without typing their words into the actual site. After all, we are only competing with ourselves. Right now, if you don’t post or write your words into the site within the 24 hour period, the previous day becomes locked and is tracked as an “oops, missed this day!”. Which is potentially annoying if you were out of town and you did actually write that day, which brings me to my next point…
- Workaholism: There are people who earn badges on this site for writing every day for 365 days straight or 500 days straight. Good for them. I am not these people. I have respect for writers who can have such good habits for so long. And yet, where’s the spontaneity? Why did they have internet access every single freaking day for over a year? I want to take these people camping! They desperately need a day without their computers or phones. Part of being creative is going with the flow sometimes. Taking breaks is healthy. Don’t get too obsessed with your winning streak, and the quality of your writing will probably be better for the sacrifice in quantity.
- Stats: One of the fun features of this site is the statistics it collects about your writing. If you followed the above link to Buster Benson’s page, then you already know he’s a stats nut. Benson uses a couple of text-analysis tools to keep track of your emotions, often used words, writing habits, and subject matter for your daily writing and overall average. The statistics are a little overwhelming for me sometimes, and they should be taken with a grain of salt, but it is interesting to know how often I use adverbs in my first drafts or which of the five senses dominates my fiction.
- Free Stuff: I mean, free writing space. Free silly points and badges. You don’t have to pay to join. Benson does have a note in his FAQs that says he is looking forward to monetizing it in the future, but that writers who already signed up would be grandfathered in. Join sooner rather than later if you don’t want to pay for it.
So, how about it writers? Do you use this website, or is there another tool like it that you use? What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section.