Can technology help you write?
Whether you’re typing into Novlr, downloading via Kindle, self-publishing through Reedsy or reading on Wattpad — tech’s everywhere. But bar the odd writing app, the process of getting words down remains tech-free. For most writers engaged in writing, tech’s at best peripheral and at worst a distraction. But can tech be more than something you type into, read on or publish through? Can it be integral to the writing process itself?
Over the past few years we’ve been obsessed by habits. How you develop good ones, how you ditch bad ones, why some people have better habits than others. This obsession started when my co-founder Bec Evans worked as a centre director for Arvon, one of the UK’s most established and well-known residential writing schools.
She saw that the main difference between the writers who finished their work and went on to get published and those who didn’t — wasn’t just talent. Published authors have talent in spades, but they also have something else — perseverance. Writing doesn’t come easy, but these people were able to develop a writing practice — a habit — when other people could not. They kept writing and in so doing, became better writers.
There are many theories of behavior change and habit formation but one of the leading centres of excellence is at Stanford University where its Persuasive Technology Lab has been influential in the design of many leading tech products. Whenever a new Tweet or update gets you going back for more by giving you a tiny hit of dopamine — that’s persuasive tech at work. And that insatiable urge you get to flick through the out of focus holiday snaps of a Facebook pal? Yep — that’s persuasive technology too. All these products keep you using them by making you increasingly invested. The more engaged you are, the more likely you’ll check in again.
But persuasive tech isn’t all about pokes, RTs and ad revenue. It can help people adopt new and potentially life changing patterns of behaviour. Both myself and Bec are big fans of fitness products like Fitbit and RunKeeper and through my work in healthcare tech I know how beneficial diet, mood and wellbeing trackers can be.
All these products mix-up technology and behavioural science to help people adopt new positive habits and they all work in a similar way. You set a goal, track your progress against that goal and gain data back on your performance — information which helps you calibrate your behavior. They also involve a system of rewards to keep you moving towards your target and an element of community accountability to encourage you to commit to your goal. These habit-forming tech products help people develop healthy behaviours in the same way that doctors or coaches do but they do so at scale.
We want to test whether technology can help people develop new creative habits — like writing regularly — in the same way it can help them develop new healthy ones. Our question is: can technology be used to give people writing habits who would normally struggle and can we do that at scale?
The answer so far is… probably. But we have a long way to go. To test our hypothesis our first experiment mimicked diet and fitness goal setting products by creating an online community of novice writers who all set writing goals and tracked their productivity over time. Writers joined, completed stories they wouldn’t have otherwise completed, wrote novels they wouldn’t have otherwise written. We even had one writer bag a publishing deal.
Next we’re taking our learning further by mixing together the principles of gamification and behavior change to create a writing challenge which helps writers progress a piece of their own writing over 5 days. Our new writing ‘game’ might be different, but our objective to make technology integral to the writing process remains the same.
How to get the motivation to write — 5 science-backed tips that work:
- Scale down your goal: Setting a tiny first step to start off a project means that you’re less likely to be intimidated (and therefore put off) by your longer term goal.
- Slowly crank up the time: Once you have your small writing goal, increase the time you commit to writing — the trick is to do it so slowly you don’t notice.
- Stretch yourself: Make your goals achievable but don’t make them easy-peasy, the moment they become easy-peasy make them harder to attain — it’s only that way you’ll improve.
- Track, monitor and adjust: If you’re struggling to achieve your goal, don’t get despondent — change your goal. It’s only by tracking and changing your bahaviour that you’ll know what works for you.
- Use other people: Science tells us that peer-pressure and accountability is important in helping us stick to our goals — tell other people about your goal and regularly give them updates.
To find out more about Write Track’s new 5 day writing challenge, check out the blog and sign up to the fortnightly newsletter.
Originally published at www.thewritingplatform.com on May 12, 2016.