750 Words – Private, unfiltered, spontaneous, daily

November 27, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: invention, review 

As NaNoWriMo comes to a close, I’d like to mention a project to keep writers up on their daily wordsmithing practice. For if NaNoWriMo is the marathon of writing achievements, “a little thing called 750 words” (http://750words.com) is the daily training for any distance one might want to conquer.  It’s purpose is to encourage consistent writing behavior.  It meets that goal by making one accountable using a number of interactive features. For instance, one can receive daily email reminders. Yet it’s strongest accountability builds on the e-contract feeling that we need to report in. Many of us check our email, Google Reader, or Facebook account several times a day. This service builds on that tenacity.

The website gives credit to The Artist’s Way and Julia Cameron’s concept of morning pages. This heritage of uninhibited freewriting goes back further than contemporary Zen spiritualism to roots in surrealist automatic writing. But where the surrealist automation was about freeing us from modern mechanization and machine uniformity by knocking us out of our comfort zones, 750 strives for us to be comfortable, and it succeeds in this goal of feeding our writing machines.

The running word count at the page bottom is timed as if one were keeping score in a videogame.  In fact, words translate into a point system if one is interested in measuring writing production in that way. Most successfully in 750 Words, writers acquire badges for maintaining their daily writing streak, and these badges reward the same way as when we loved getting stickers as kids. Furthermore, the fact that the writing may be done anytime during that 24 hours (not a minute before or after), even start and stopped during the day to meet one’s schedule, gives the participant a considerable amount of personal control over what can normally be a burdensome task.  Accomplishing the daily words earns badges that begin with an egg , progress to flighted birds , and extend to mythical incarnations such as the Phoenix, extinct Pterodactyl, and undiscovered Space Bird. Badges claim to be mysterious, and the page on badge taxonomy suggests others might appear at any moment to comment on our writing behaviors and budding abilities for eloquence and fluidity. The promise is that even if one were to achieve the 500 day badge, there’s still more to be gained. The brilliance of this cannot be understated, for this parallels the spontaneity and emergence that freewriting ideally produces.

Another worthwhile feature is the stats provided for the day, month, and eternity.  An algorithm attempts with some success to understand the words we type and to identify our writerly moods and content.  And as one might expect, the website’s designer provides links to a blog, personal settings page, and a patron level, where one has the opportunity to sponsor this free service.  More advanced features include the ability to reviewing one’s past writings according to the day, storing words under secret password protection (the equivalent of a diary lock), searching old entries using a word or phrase that is complete with an export tool, and a monthly challenge that includes a “Wall of Shame.”

Like many Web 2.0 applications, the site provides users the experience of what’s come to be called social presence. That means even solitary writers who like to spend time with their own thoughts and expression are gratified by knowing others elsewhere are doing the same thing. The most individual and isolated among us feel the benefit of finishing with a satisfying visual confirmation, and feel intimately part of something larger when our name appears next to others who just completed their 750 words minutes before or seconds after us. Different time zones add to this global presence when the minutes match those around us but the hours indicate that someone somewhere on the other side of the world put one word and line after another into their own narratives–building talent through the exercise of daily writing muscles.

Any pressure to write bestselling literature is removed.  Sometimes, participation is about nothing more than misspelling words that no one would be able to read even if they were made public.

Personally, I’m going to keep writing using 750 words for as long as I can, or at least until I can earn the 100 day badge. It’s right for me because it supports my writing identity, and the first and last rule to define writers is that they write. It’s a simple dictum, even if it is far from easy to become good at it. But becoming good isn’t the main point of being a writer, and it certainly isn’t the point of participating in 750 Words. The point here is that this 2.0 Web App understands writing is a process of becoming. Or as we say in rhet-comp, “writing is a practice.” And whether writing 1 or 751 words daily, that is the journey that defines our path.

NOTE: this entry was written and revised over three days using 750 Words.