Charlotte: Well, 750words, I’d like your help in writing about how I use 750words as a sort of writing therapist.
750w: Ummmm, a what now? A ‘writing therapist’ do you think you might have lived in the US too long?
Charlotte: Ha ha very funny – and you’ve just alienated all the US members of the PhD2Published community! Besides, regardless of where I live (or whether I say aluminium or aluminium), I know this writing therapy thing works. All I need is a computer, an internet connection and a muddled brain – this last one is easiest to come by.
750w: Go on…
Charlotte: I discovered 750words last year during AcBoWriMo (now AcWriMo). James Smith, a contributor to PhD2Published mentioned it and I tried it out a few times. I really liked several of the features. For a start, there’s the interface. When you write using 750words – which is a web-based writing application – all you have is a white screen. There are no formatting options or spell-check, and all you see as you type is the name 750words (bottom left) and the time and your word count (bottom right). And when I say it’s web-based I mean that you don’t download any software or anything, you just go the website and type, and all your entries are safely stored in a fluffy cloud in the sky – that’s how cloud computing works, right?
750w: Sure! Why not…
So anyway, these two features alone had me very interested. Many writers rave about the benefits of a stripped back aesthetic where all you can do is write and all you can see is writing. But the fact none of this writing is being stored in my own computer, for me at least, adds a beneficial lack of commitment. Not only am I stripped of the task of naming my document and thereby assigning it to some area of my work before it’s fully formed or ready to be categorised, but I can treat it as more of a rough working space. There’s something about not having to directly take responsibility for the work in terms of naming or storing it that is very freeing. And as a result, I’m often a lot more daring in what I try out in 750words. It’s like, I don’t know, taking some kind of a holiday from my own computer and thereby from my normal writing life. It’s very liberating.
750w: Right, so you get a bit drunk and promiscuous with your writing in 750words, is that what you’re saying?
Charlotte: Er, that’s not quite how I’d put it but OK. Although that’s certainly not all that happens. What I find is that it’s also quite a confidence-building tool. If you’ve ever battled with yourself all day for just 300 academically precise words, it’s great to know you can probably bash out 750 rough ones in about 18 minutes (My personal best according to the stats 750words give you. Another interesting feature by the way that brings out just enough competitive instinct to encourage still more writing.)
750w: But a good therapist would do more than boost your confidence, they’d help you work through specific problems. How do I, er, we, do that?
Charlotte: About a month back I read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love as part of a summer binge of reading memoirs. If you don’t know the book, it’s about one writer’s attempts to get over her divorce and find new meaning in life by living in Italy (and eating), India (and praying) and Indonesia (and randomly falling in love). Anyway, early on in the book Gilbert describes a moment of utter despair lying sodden in tears on her bathroom floor as she realised her marriage was over. She explains how in feeling so lost and alone she develops a writerly coping technique. Basically, she writes questions in her note book like: ‘what should I do now’ and discovers is that the answers just sort of come to her. At first the Brit in me bristled at this. I was all: ‘Oh yeah, nice one Gilbert, you’ve clearly happened upon the sensibly minded goddess of automatic writing – not the one the Surrealists used to pen-pray to obviously!’ But then I thought about it logically. She wasn’t saying her pen magically started forming the words on the page, she was saying that the answers just came out that way, which is obvious when you think about the fact she’s a writer; of course she’s going to write her way of all this mess.
750w: But what does this have to do with 750words?
Charlotte: I’m getting to that. Jeez, anyone would think we were being timed here or something. Oh, wait, of course we are.
Not long after I read Eat Pray Love I found myself struggling with a section of the book I’m writing. After a few hours of writing it first one way, and then another, I realised I was at an impasse – although I resisted crying on the bathroom floor. I tried reading for a bit to sharpen up my thinking. It didn’t work. I tried calling a friend. She didn’t pick up. So I thought, let’s try this Gilbert thing and let’s see if 750words is a good neutral space for summoning up a writing spirit.
I opened the application and just wrote myself a question. Something like: ‘So, what’s the problem then?’ and I set about answering it. Something like: ‘I’m struggling to write a section about how new materialism and media archaeological approaches help us recognise the way the physical qualities of an archive contribute to the knowledge they hold.’ I continued by asking myself: ‘And why are you telling us this?’ And I went on: ‘Because I need to show how art history as a discipline has had a strong relationship with print that has naturalised certain ways of thinking about art – ways that are best conveyed through print. And what I need to do is argue that with the arrival of digital technologies we have new ways of storing information that contribute new ways of thinking about, say, art.’ As I went on, I discovered that by asking myself a set of very simple questions I could pull the essential ideas out of the knot in my head. On top of that, I discovered that some of what I was writing was perfectly usable. More exciting than that, it was pretty darn good. Having been shaped by the very questions I needed to respond to, the passages I was writing were neatly pre-empting the thoughts of an enquiring reader.
750w: So that’s it then, it’s not hippy stuff, you just find 750words an excellent space in which to unpack your thoughts?
Charlotte: Er yes, OK then, if you want to put it that simply! Now stick that in your cloud and, um, fluff it!