Over the last couple days I thought of, and built, a site that I think serves a single simple purpose: to encourage a kind of writing that is in danger of being neglected in this age of public, edited, thoughtful writing on the internet. Here’s the very basic statistics page from it:
The site’s called 750 Words, and the premise is simple, to write 750 words a day. 750 private, unfiltered, unplanned, words full of tangents, spelling mistakes, inconsistencies, repetitions, lost trains of thought, etc. It was highly inspired by a thing called Morning Pages from The Artist’s Way (read a PDF excerpt of the Morning Pages passage here.)
I think this kind of writing is different from the kind of writing that we’re doing more and more of on the internet. Different not only in audience (yourself instead of someone else) but also in character.
I think public, edited, thoughtful writing is self-expressive in nature. It condenses ideas, it summarizes thoughts, it explains complications, it offers opinions. It takes the world and creates a lens that you can see it through.
Not so with private, unfiltered, unplanned writing. This kind of writing is entirely different. It’s self-investigative in nature. It opens up messy drawers of thought and lays everything out on the table, it takes a 99% completed thought and tears it apart into its inconsistencies. It is short on manners, etiquette and practicalities. It dismisses entirely valid trains of thought for no reason, and dwells on nit-picky details that seem to be entirely solid.
We need both kinds of writing. They go well together. The private writing becomes fodder for later public writing. Just like our secret inner thoughts are fodder for our more simplified public personas.
Of course, writing used to be private by default. The entire world couldn’t read the notebook in the bottom desk drawer. But they could read that blog post that had as as little thought put into it. But, after 10 years plus of writing online, and going through the first dozen major lessons of writing online, I feel like I’ve slowly edited out the crazy spontaneous and unruly voice of my subconscious from my writing. And, through neglect, I’ve slowly given it less and less attention, all the while hoping that it would produce the same gems of thought and creativity that it had back when it was given more fuel.
So, 750 Words. Yes, online, because that’s the only way I can write anymore, given that I’m on any of 3 or 4 different computers at a given time. And because my hand has forgotten how to write long hand. But, private. Because it’s more about writing than reading, I’ve used a few tricks to make the writing process more enjoyable:
- Break open the text box. Let it take over the whole page, like a Word document sorta, but I like to think of it more like a typewriter. The page automatically scrolls as you get near the bottom of the page.
- Let it auto-save. No need for a save button… you didn’t need one in you paper journal, why do you need one online?
- Count the words. Paper has a size, the internet page doesn’t. So, count the words, and know when you’ve gotten to 3 pages (the magic number).
- One entry per day… no need to title it, tag it, open it, close it, categorize it, preview it, post it, date it, or anything. One entry a day, no more no less.
- Motivate. We all need motivation, even for things that we want to do. Even more so for things that we know are good for us, but that take work. So I added a bowling-inspired point system that rewards writing several days in a row, but not so much that it breaks your heart if you miss a day. 3 days in a row is a turkey.
I’ve been doing my version of 750 words in a private wiki for the last year… and at current count only wrote on 81 of the last 300 days. Even that has been a great benefit to me though. I hope to continue the practice for the foreseeable future, as long as it continues to benefit my days.
I thought of building this little tool (let me check my wiki) on December 11th. I was still thinking (and writing) about it on December 12th, so I bought the domain. On December 13th I used one of my stub Rails site bundles to get the basics up and running (Facebook Connect, jQuery, Compass) on my shared server, created a few models, and looked up a few jQuery plugins I’d need. Tested it on December 14th, launched on December 15th. When the idea’s there, and the tools are there, things can happen fast. But having those 1.5 days to brainstorm about it before taking action were what really made it happen and made me confident that I could build it without distracting too much from my other work.
Anyway, I’m going to use it. If anyone else finds it useful, that’s great! I’d love to hear any feedback that people have, too.