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.

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