Writing Resources: 4thewords

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Last month, I described my early experience with 750words, which I’d been introduced to via social media. I was using the 30-day free trial, and I had many good things to say about it.

I’m not retracting any of it, but I’m also not using it anymore, because a week later, my Tumblr dashboard one-upped itself by throwing 4thewords at me instead.

4TW is a true gamification site for writing, with quests to undertake and monsters to “fight” and rewards to earn. For that, I already like it better than 750words. What’s more, though, it provides a better interface for organization, as shown above by my #spookyromancenovel project. Customizable goal/deadline combos; individual files to write on, rather than “days” on 750words, which are not editable after the day is over; the ability to add a book cover; total word count and total time spent writing.

I’m sure I haven’t even figured out all of its features in the almost-two-weeks I’ve been using it.

Also, I didn’t fudge those numbers. As of last night, I really have (re)written 33K of my novel in 12 days.

Gamification like this heavily relies on the “just one more” principle. Getting started is still mostly up to your own executive function–there are rewards for maintaining a daily streak, of course, but you still have to do the work of sitting down to write. And the daily word count necessary to maintain the streak is minimal–a mere 444 words.

But once you get started, it’s easy to say, okay, I’m going to finish this quest today. And when you do, you realize you only need one more item to finish a different quest, so you fight a creature that drops that item. Then you see you’re only 500 words away from finishing another quest, so you pound that out.

And so on.

If 750words boosted my productivity by existing, then 4TW boosts it more by being reward-driven, turning the worst parts of inhumane game design (I’m looking at you, Skinner boxes and lack of reasonable exit points) on their ears, incentivizing writing instead of pointless in-game tasks designed to keep you playing longer.

(Yeah, I’m bitter, I played World of Warcraft for years after it stopped being more fun than not. Investment’s a bitch like that.)

As I said, and will repeat, I’m not walking back anything good I said about 750words. Those analytics were cool and helpful, and I’ll miss the word clouds. But it’s designed primarily for daily journaling, while 4TW is designed for writing, and it shows in the features and mechanics.

(Also, it should be noted: while I haven’t yet paid for subscription time on either site, 750words is $5/month, while 4TW is only $4, and apparently it’s possible to redeem in-game currency to lower that cost. I don’t know precisely how that works yet, but from a writer’s standpoint, I feel that 4TW provides more value.)

When I ended my post on 750words, I said that I would continue the free trial and decide if I would subscribe. I did not–I switched to 4TW after two days of using them both concurrently. And I will be subscribing to it when my free trial is over.

Writing Resources: 750 Words

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Social media alerted me last week to a new (to me) website for motivating writers, 750words. (It’s actually been around a long time, I almost can’t believe I’ve never heard of it before.)

In essence, it’s really simple–log in and get a fresh blank page daily to write at least 750 words, or about three pages of material. It tracks how long you write, how long it takes you to reach 750, how many breaks you take, and your typing speed. All useful metrics, if you’re into that sort of thing.

And because gamification is a great way to motivate people in general, and especially people like me who grew up with video games, you get rewarded with badges for meeting goals. Who doesn’t love badges?

What’s really selling me on this site, though, is its analytic stats based on the writing you produce itself. While I’m using this (so far) as a way to motivate myself for rewriting #spookyromancenovel, it’s clear from both the website description/FAQ and many of the testimonials that people use this as a daily journal, and based on the language, it tracks how you feel.

Which is really, really cool, from a mental-health perspective. And still helpful for writing fiction! Since I started using the site, I’ve rewritten one chapter a day (which is far more productive than I’d been previously, not gonna lie) and that means my daily analysis is looking at the tone of my chapter for me. I can see what its algorithms think and say, “Is that what I was going for?”

Plus, it generates a frequency-based word cloud, which will be helpful down the road, during the line-editing stage. I already have an extensive list of words to reduce or eliminate in general, but having specific darlings to kill for each chapter? I think it’s going to be amazing to be able to target them so specifically.

So, I love it, and can definitely recommend it based on these strengths.

What’s the catch? …it’s not free. New accounts get a 30-day trial period (that’s where I am) but after that, to become a member you pay $5/month.

Some people are going to look at that and say, Five bucks a month for all this cool stuff! Sign me up!

Others will think, Sixty bucks a year just to motivate me to get off my ass and write! Not worth it!

And still others might want to use this site, but not able to afford it. I’ve been there, I’ve lived so close to the bone at times that even $5 wasn’t a reasonable monthly expense. I can now, but I definitely remember what it felt like, and that makes me wonder if I really need this.

So I recommend it with that caveat in mind. Use the free trial, if you’re interested, and decide for yourself if the site is helpful enough for you to want to pay for its services. I’m in love with it now, on day four, but in a month will I still be using it consistently? Will I have broken my streak already, will I burn out?

I’ll check back in at the end of June and let you know.