About Writing

Back on the Bloghorse; Habits of Writing

Almost two months since my last blog entry — ugh. But it’s June now, and classes are over, and although there many administrative cats yet to be herded this month before my stint as English Department Chair expires, I’ve assigned myself the work of doing at least 750 words a day at, yes, 750words.com. So far it’s been pretty rough, just buckets of junk, but the words are coming. This morning a faculty colleague from meteorology, to whom I had testified earlier this semester about the usefulness of 750words when tackling big writing projects, reminded me about why the daily practice is a good thing. I don’t think she’ll mind me quoting her a little bit:

“….I was doing the 750 words every day to get the writing momentum going. After walking through Providence and visiting hurricane related sites, I sat and wrote something like 3000 words about what I saw and what I felt and what it all meant and went a little philosophical about the whole thing. Last month, as I put together the bookends (preface and epilogue), I reread what I wrote then and I practically used the whole thing as my epilogue after just some proofreading and a bit of fixing. If I tried to do this now and revisit the feeling and the details of the trip, it would have never come out as good as it did in the moment…. I was struggling with finding the right voice, the right level (balance between technical and general) and just typing 750 words without worrying about being perfect, quickly helped me find my voice.”

Of course, she also admits to wanting to earn cute bird-themed writing achievement badges. Hey, whatever it takes, right?

Also yesterday I spoke with one of my best friends ever, who is also a poet, and who is reading Twyla Tharp’s book The Creative Habit: Learn it and Use it for Life. He says it’s really speaking to him — so of course I’ve added it to the Goodreads pile. We spoke briefly about this idea of committing to routines or habits that, themselves, don’t crackle with artistic intensity at every go, but which establish, over time, a literal and psychic space, a state of mind, or mindfulness, or readiness, so that when things spark up, you’re ready to have at it. You know what to do and you’re primed to do it.

I don’t get a kickback from 750words (the guy basically runs it for free), but I happily endorse it as a helpful writing tool. It definitely encourages maintaining a daily writing habit. And I WILL write every day in June, even though I forgot to sign up for the formal “monthly challenge” on the site. I wonder if I could go all summer….

I have a writing retreat scheduled for the end of July & beginning of August, and I’m hoping to have at least a month’s worth of 750’s to cull through for new draft-fodder. It’s a great gift to have my schedule shift during the summer so that I can devote some longer chunks of time and attention to free-writing, drafting and revising. I am still struggling to muster the discipline that seems to come so naturally to a few of my writer pals. I’m sure they’d tell me there’s nothing “natural” about it. And I’d agree. I think I’m just lazy. But not this month!

About Writing, Writing Tools & Tips

Badges? We don’t need no stinking badges. Or….do we?

It turns out that the internet, all the while distracting me from writing with clever cat-in-box YouTube videos and Ryan Gosling memes, would also like to help me keep my nose to the writerly grindstone by offering several writing apps.

This month, I am taking the January “challenge” at 750words.com, a site devoted to helping people develop a practice of writing regularly. They provide a basic platform (a screen for writing and space to save it all), all kinds of metadata (what your moods are when you’re writing, your most commonly used words and themes, the pace of your writing, etc.), and a pretty simple system of incentives and rewards, including various cute achievement badges. There is also a social networking dimension to the site — you can “follow” other writers, leave notes of encouragement and support, sign up with others for monthly challenges — but you can be entirely introverted/solo if you like. I like. And what you write isn’t posted — it’s just archived and analyzed. I like that, too. I am not a year-long devoted user of the site, as my stats reveal, but every once in a while I’ll try to take on a challenge, go on a tear. It has, at times, helped me achieve the drafting portion of certain writing tasks — and I like the idea of getting “credit” for much of the writing I’m doing, even if it’s not poetry. (One flaw of 750 words is that line breaks don’t remain intact). 750 words per day is, I think, a pretty great number — three double-spaced pages, more or less. Enough to be a respectable chunk of work; but not so much that it’s too daunting or unreasonable. Slow and steady.

After learning about 750 words, I’ve become aware of a few other sites devoted to promoting regular writing practice — with varying degrees of encouragement/accountability. I’ve found that 750 words is largely tilted towards friendly encouragement — cute colorful badges, and upped stakes only if you want to sign up for a challenge. I have already failed January’s challenge (missed three days at various points) so my name is now on this month’s “Wall of Shame.” Still, the whole enterprise seems fairly gentle. “Write or Die,” on the other hand, is designed based in part on the premise that “a tangible consequence is more effective than an intangible reward.” In other words: “negative reinforcement.” At Write or Die, you pledge to write a certain amount during a limited duration of time. If, at any point after you have commenced that day’s writing, you STOP writing for a given length of time, the consequences are implemented. There are three different “modes” at which you can set your consequences — “gentle,” “normal,” and “kamikaze.” If you’re set to kamikaze, and you stop writing, your work starts erasing itself right there on the screen until you start writing again! There’s the regular web app version, and also a version you can buy for the iPad.

Just today I was introduced to two other sites: One Page Per Day and One Word. One Page Per Day is a little too stripped-down-minimalist for me. “A web typewriter for authors.” You write one page a day. As with 750 words, you get a daily reminder to write. No rewards or punishments other than what you already had going. I guess I just don’t see the appeal of this one — especially given that for me, part of the satisfaction in having completed “a page” (as opposed to a certain number of words) has to do with a physical artifact I like to call paper. Anybody out there using One Page Per Day regularly and have a testimonial they’d like to make?

One Word takes a different tack than these others, in that it seems to focus more on the small moment of creativity rather than the regular generation of a set number of pages or words. No special rewards or consequences, either. Each day, there’s a new word. You click in, and you’re given the word, a text box, and sixty seconds to write something inspired by that word. And then you post it (or not) and get to see what other 30,000 users posted. Yesterday’s word was “hinge.” I like the hit and run quality — it reminds a little of the thrill I got as a high school student competing in speech and debate tournaments. My event was “Extemporaneous Speaking.” (We just called it “extemp.” Because we were So Cool.) They’d spring a topic on you, give you an hour to research (no internet!) and prepare a persuasive speech. What a rush that was! I think I’m going to try to keep up with One Word — it feels like a great way to keep the poetry muscles in shape. I certainly can’t write a poem every day. But between the encouraging badges and embarrassingly fascinating metadata 750 words and the impromptu challenge of One Word, as well as the lightly competitive (with myself and others) tone of the whole enterprise, I feel like I have no excuse not to write SOMETHING every day.

Are you aware of sites like these that I’ve overlooked? I’d love to learn about more.