Level Up Your Writing: 3 Ways to Gamify Your Writing Practice

By Leah Washburn |

Let’s play a game. Let’s say that I need to get a chapter of my dissertation done, but I’ve been unmotivated for the last few weeks. Whenever I try to sit down and write something: poof. All the words and ideas vanish like socks in the dryer. I’ve tried goal setting, but that doesn’t quite encourage a productive pace. What can I do? There are a variety of strategies out there to help users accomplish goals, but one you may not have tried is gamification. Like Mary Poppins says...

            In every job that must be done,

            there is an element of fun.

            You find the fun and snap!

            The job’s a game.

[Image description: Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins snapping her fingers and smiling.]

Pictured: Find the fun in writing!

Gamification applies things like point scores, competition, prizes, and play to encourage a certain behavior. Corporations often this to encourage consumer engagement with products. In the same way, graduate students can mask the “work” of writing by surrounding it with something fun and motivating. Here are three ways that you play with your own writing habits and finish that dissertation chapter.

1) Assign Points

Points (or XP) is a staple of many video games. A simple strategy you can try to motivate yourself to write more is assign values to either word counts or amount of time spent writing. After gaining a certain number of points, you can “cash them in” for a reward. If there is something really fun you’re looking forward to—a trip, a family visit—you could also just assign a point goal to reach before that date. Point systems are a fun way to chunk down larger projects and reward yourself for each step of the process.

2) Create Your Own Game

This option is a bit more complicated; nevertheless, it can be just as gratifying. If there is a specific board or videogame you obsess over, you can center your own writing habits around a similar set up. Enjoy combat games like Assassin’s Creed? Create monsters that require a certain level of XP to beat and earn XP by meeting certain writing goals. Enjoy management games like Stardew Valley or Neopets? Give point values to each task and then use that to buy skills, powers, or cool items that you can use to complete tasks or level up. You can even add elements of randomness to these systems by using a deck of cards or dice.

[Image description: A screen grab of the videogame Stardew Valley featuring the inventory boxes used to store items, clothes, weapons, and seeds.]

Pictured: If you're feeling stuck, try turning writing into a game.

3) Use Habit Trackers

Maybe the first two options sound like too much work. There are a bunch of habit our trackers that already exist, and you can personalize them to support your writing goals. Two popular ones are Habitca and ChoreWars. Both require some initial set up time. ChoreWars focuses on task completion, allowing you to specify the task, difficulty, and rewards; Habitica helps you organize your goals, tasks, and habits. There are pro and cons to each website. It might take some finagling to discover which system works best for you.

Whatever strategy works for you, remember to experiment and personalize. Every person writes differently. The goal is to find a system that holds you accountable for your writing while not adding too much pressure.

[Image description: A brightly colored game controller on a black background with the words “Game on!” beneath it.]

Pictured: Game on!