Thanks to a post about it on the excellent blog ProfHacker, I've become a big fan of the freewriting site 750words.com. It's a godsend for people like me who want to write more but have a hard time getting started or getting motivated. You log in and it gives you a blank screen and a daily goal of 750 words or more (about three typed pages), stores your words, and rewards you for reaching goals. If you hit the 750-word mark, a congratulatory message flashes up on the screen. If you hit it for three or five or ten or more days in a row, or write really fast, you get cute cartoon badges.
It's meant to be low-pressure, a brain-dump site rather than a place for polished writing. The total lack of any word-processing features means that I can't succumb to the temptation to mess with formatting, or go into Scholar Mode and add footnotes, or anything like that. It's just plain text, which somehow makes it less of a big deal, which makes it easier to get started and keep going. Today I used it to write my way out of an attack of paper-and-travel-planning panic by listing both the things I still have to do (which, written out like that, suddenly look doable) and scrutinizing my irrational fears about presenting the paper (which didn't hold up to the scrutiny). Other days I've used it to outline a story that's waiting to take shape in my head, brainstorm ideas for blog posts, and, if I'm in a bad mood, whine and vent in ways that I wouldn't do here or elsewhere on the open web. I'm already feeling like I'm getting out of my blogging slump.
I was skeptical at first, because I'd tried various other attempts at daily writing, ranging from pen and ink to Journler (which is nice, but doesn't push me to write in the same way), and none of them really worked. But I've been using 750 Words to get ideas for my conference paper out of my head and into sentences I can reuse elsewhere, and so far I've written 31,583 words in 33 days. When I get back from my travels, I might even sign up for the monthly challenge for August. I might finally write that short story. Or the next great campus novel. I might start turning the research into something booklike. I might even do NaNoWriMo this year.
When I was working on my dissertation and had all the time in the world, I used to write first thing in the morning, after I'd had coffee but before I'd had a shower, so it didn't quite feel like I was officially starting the day yet. And that turned out to be far and away the best way to take the internal pressure off so I could get words onto the screen every day. Now I can't spend my mornings lazing around in my pajamas, but the blank screen, the small daily quotas, and the enforced informality of 750 Words are the next best thing.