Tool Review: 750 Words

Friday, December 17, 2010 at 1:01 pm
Jennifer Dick's picture



The tools that we use to write have changed greatly over time — where pen and paper were once the standard medium, now we use computers and smartphones to do much of our writing. While there will always be a place for pen and paper, word processors have made it possible for ordinary people to produce sophisticated-looking compositions. Enhancements such as boldface, inset pictures, and color are no longer conventions restricted to print professionals. We can liven up our documents with as many bells and whistles as we desire. But like any toolset, sometimes it’s easy to get distracted from the core content by the large number of options available to us — and every author knows that distraction is a writer’s greatest enemy.

There are a number ofdistraction-free writing applications available, but I’ve been using 750 Words for about a month and have found it very helpful. It’s premised on the concept of Morning Pages, a tool developed by author Julia Cameron in her book The Artist’s Way as a means of unlocking creativity. The idea is that writing three pages (on any topic) every single day without editing or self-censoring helps silence the inner critic and make it easier to generate ideas. Youth are like the rest of us — easily distracted and, in my experience, easily discouraged because writing can be a really difficult task sometimes. Many of my students would prejudge their content before even getting it out on the page, making them shut down, become frustrated, and worst of all, feel like bad writers. An application like 750 Words gives them a private space where they must produce a lot of content, but without the pressure of quality or “rightness.” The idea here is that they learn to self-censor less, making getting started on more formal writing assignments easier. Because they do more writing and more often, it’s no longer a “big deal” to be asked to put their thoughts down on paper.

Features
750 Words allows you tocreate an account and sign in using a variety of possible preexisting accounts: Google, Yahoo, Facebook, or OpenID. There’s a good chance your youth have one of these already, although I might advise against their using Facebook given its recent and ongoing issues with the security of user data, especially in regard to third-party apps. Another caveat: when creating your account, the system will prompt you to use your first and last name. To keep your youth as safe as possible, instruct them not to use their last name. They can skip it, use an initial, or make up a pen name instead.
Once logged in, you’re faced with a nearly blank screen. You’ll see your points for the month, based on how much and how regularly you’ve written, as well as a row of rectangles representing each day of themonth. For each day you complete your words, an X will appear in that day’s rectangle. As you write, the application auto-saves your progress, which is very handy in case the writing gets interrupted by something like a bad network connection or a fire drill. Once you reach your goal, a pop-up box appears congratulating you.

The rewards don’t just end there, however. You’ll earn badges for various achievements: how many days in a row you’ve completed your words, when you write, how long you’ve been writing, etc. These badges appear on your profile page. Even more interesting is that after you’ve finished your words, you can check outthe metadata the app has gathered on your day’s writing. While not always accurate, it’s very amusing to see which emotions your words communicated, what topics you talked about, and what your mindset was. You can also look at the metadata for all of your entries combined on a page called “Enter Your Subconscious,” which also provides some quantitative stats: average words per day, time it takes to complete your words, etc.

Sample Classroom & Youth Program Applications
  • All Subjects: Youth keep a journal reflecting on what they’ve learned, what they find interesting, what they still have questions about, social situations, etc. This becomes a place for them to make meaning of the flood of information they receive throughout the school day, as well as to process the sometimes confusing social interactions that they must navigate.
  • English Language Arts: 750 Words can be a great prewriting and/or first draft tool to help students get out of their own way. Once they have something written down to draw from, the first draft is much easier to create.
  • Health: After keeping journals for a week, students examine their metadata reflecting on the accuracy of the report and how their emotional state may have influenced some of the choices they made.


Breakdown
  • Pros:
    • Incentivizes writing
    • Extracts fun and interesting personalized metadata from writing and presents it in an easy-to-understand, visually appealing format
    • Provides a clean and minimal interface (can be customized!)
  • Cons
    • Log-ins can be confusing; users must employ the same method (always Google or always Yahoo, for example) in order to access all of their writing
    • Enter Your Subconscious page has Maturity section with words that are generally not school appropriate, which may cause concern in more conservative environments
    • Log out is hard to find (located under “Settings”)

Do you use 750 Words or a similar app with your youth? Do you have any activity suggestions, tips, or tricks to share? Comment below or contact us!