There’s a well known theory that keeping a journal, or at least writing daily, improves your day-to-day life. My anecdotal experience has shown that to be the case for me as well. That being said, it’s not always easy to keep up with it. I can’t tell you the number of blank books and journals that I’ve bought over the years only to fill the first 20 pages or so before abandoning them. Some of that is a lack of discipline, but some of it is just that over the years I come to think of writing anything longhand as a chore. Desktop applications are tied to the particular computer you are using at the time, and it can get tedious to try to sort and manage entries as text files. Let’s face it, any kind of daily task, especially a creative one, requires a process that introduces the minimum of friction into your daily work flow, and provides encouragement to keep you doing it. Traditional publishing tools like blogs are not well suited to this because there is still a tendency to self-filter when you know your writing is going to be published online. For a daily writing practice, the content needs to be private.
There are a number of online services geared towards this model. Each of them has a slightly different approach to solving this problem. Notable sites include, but are not limited to:
I’m not going to go over each of these services, because I want to focus on my favorite of the pack, which is 750 Words. What sets 750 Words apart is that it is geared more towards writing than it is towards pure journaling. The site was inspired by creator Buster Benson’s interest in the concept of “morning pages” which he describes on the site as follows:
Morning pages are three pages of writing done every day, typically encouraged to be in “long hand”, typically done in the morning, that can be about anything and everything that comes into your head. It’s about getting it all out of your head, and is not supposed to be edited or censored in any way. The idea is that if you can get in the habit of writing three pages a day, that it will help clear your mind and get the ideas flowing for the rest of the day.
The 750 words comes from the fact that the standard number of words per page is 250, thus 3 pages == 750 words. The site provides a clean interface for writing that endeavors to keep the process as distraction free as possible. In fact, once you are logged in, the default interface is focused exclusively on the task of completing your writing quota for the day, and providing you a visual indicator of how you are doing meeting your goals for the current month. After creating an account by logging in with either your Facebook, Google, Yahoo or OpenID credentials you will find yourself on the composition screen, which tracks your current word count and will notify you when you reach your goal.
Now, this is a practice I’ve always been interested in getting started with but have had a hard time maintaining a habit of doing daily. What I think is so clever about 750 Words is that while the focus on the site is getting your writing done, it also provides a number of methods of encouraging you to keep up the habit. Users are awarded badges for keeping up an unbroken streak of days where they complete their writing quota, and there is an algorithm that the site uses to award points to users based upon how they complete their writing.
Of course, if you don’t care about this sort of thing you can totally ignore them, but I find them to be helpful to keep myself motivated. In addition, if you’re feeling bold the site has a monthly challenge to complete the quota for each day in the current month. It’s completely optional, but if you sign up you can have your name associated with either the Wall of Awesomeness or Wall of Shame based upon your performance. Users are also encouraged to make pledges for personal rewards if they complete the challenge. That kind of thing is all well and good, and I like to see how I’m doing with regards to maintaining my writing streak1, but what really keeps me coming back are the statistics.
For each entry on 750 Words, the site performs a number of calculations based on the text that you write. It provides statistics related to the rate at which you completed the writing quota, the number of times you became distracted during writing and will even perform sentiment analysis upon the text itself.
The sentiment analysis graphs are really interesting as well, and are sometimes a bit too on the nose. They track mood, areas of concern, focus in time – whether you are more interested in the past, present or future – and a number of other metrics as well. There’s really too much to show you all of them, but here’s an example of the general mood overview.
The site tracks these statistics both for each post, and as a measurement over time for your account. It also provides site-wide comparisons as well, but your personal statistics are private unless you explicitly change your privacy settings to say otherwise.
I like this site a lot and I am a big fan of what it is trying to do. If I have any complaint, it’s that the site doesn’t currently provide an SSL option for accessing it. Admittedly, I’m not storing financial data or anything in there, but it would be nice to have some additional security in place so that I don’t have to worry about some douchenozzle2 trying to hijack my session. The site is donation-based and those that contribute can vote for new features. I’ve already cast my votes towards this feature, so hopefully it will be implemented soon.
If you are at all interested at getting into a daily writing habit, but have a hard time discipling yourself to keep to it, try out 750 Words and see if it helps you meet your goals. It’s helped me quite a bit, and I find getting all of that free-writing out of my system at the beginning of the day helps me focus when the time comes to do the writing that I truly care about.