I love, love, love Habitica.
The usual disclaimers: I have absolutely no affiliation with Habitica beyond being a satisfied user. I get nothing if you join. I got nothing for writing this blog post. Habitica's owners have absolutely no idea that I'm writing it at all. But it's one of the three things that got me from writing a 4,000 word short story every year to finishing a novel draft in seven months, and I want everybody else to have that kind of progress. (The other two things are a regular writing partner who can hold me accountable and a supportive spouse, but those are a lot harder to find than useful apps. More's the pity.)
If you haven't heard of it, Habitica is a general productivity app and website that applies the Skinner-box addictiveness of online games to your to-do list. You make your list of daily or weekly chores, as well as some to-dos that don't have a specific deadline. Every time you check off a chore or a to-do, you get experience points and gold, which you can spend on armor and weapons to dress up your cute little customizable avatar. If you don't check off a chore that you were supposed to do on that day, your avatar loses hit points. The more daunting the task, the more damage you take and the more gold and XP you earn. It lets you get that same little dopamine rush that you get from something like Candy Crush--but you get it after you've checked off your writing goal for the day.
I'll write about the way that I maximized Habitica's usefulness for myself next time, but right now I want to focus on why it was the absolute best app for me as someone who was barely writing and who had two kids who were still in diapers--and why I'm still getting use out of it as someone who's made a habit of writing every day.
You can use it if you write longhand. This, for me, has always been a major stumbling block with online writing tools. I write my rough drafts longhand; I've tried typing them, but I just haven't been able to make it work. That cuts me off from a lot of tools that monitor how much you're typing. I love everything I've heard about Write or Die, for example, but I would only be able to use it for revisions, not for the rough draft--and rough drafts are where I need the most motivation. With Habitica, though, you aren't typing directly into the website or app, so you can use it to monitor your progress no matter what medium you use.
(By the way, if you use Write or Die and have been able to make it work with longhand writing, PLEASE let me know in the comments. It looks awesome.)
It isn't just for writing. Because Habitica is a general productivity tool, I put all of my daily chores on there, from writing to cleaning the litter box to practicing my German. That may not sound important, but it was actually crucial because it meant that I couldn't just avoid going onto Habitica when I wasn't writing. I don't know about you, but if I have an app for a single habit that I don't track as well as I should *coughweightlosscough*, I eventually just avoid using it altogether because I don't want to confront how badly I've been letting my that habit slide. With Habitica, though, even when I wasn't writing, I was still logging on every day so I could get my XP from doing laundry and making the kids' dentist appointments and remembering to take my meds . . . and I was seeing exactly how much damage I was taking from not writing, and imagining how much gold and XP I'd get as soon as I checked that sucker off. It got to the point where I would write a single sentence every day just so that I could check off that I had, in fact, written. And that made it easier to write another sentence . . . and another . . . and another.
It's (mostly) free. I played Habitica for over a year before spending a dime. It does eventually get a little repetitive at the higher levels if you don't change classes or start buying quests (or both), but both are incredibly cheap; I currently spend maybe a buck fifty a month on quests and particularly adorable extras like black and orange Halloween pets.
It allows you to have accountability partners who aren't writers. If you create a party on Habitica and go on quests, your unchecked chores will do damage to your party members as well as to you. My husband isn't a writer, so I can't set up writing dates with him, but I know that he'll take damage when I don't write, and that makes me want to write something so that I can check it off.
Unfortunately, this is where the "mostly" free part comes in; you need quests in order to have accountability with your party, and only a handful of quests are free. That said, they only cost a dollar and only one person in your party needs to buy the quest, so it isn't going to be a huge money sink. Our three-member party only gets a new quest every two weeks or so.
It's scalable. As mentioned, when I started using Habitica, I had very poor writing habits and two kids in diapers. If I wrote a page a week, it was an improvement. By the time I started my second novel, I was consistently writing at least five pages a week. Since I'm able to manage that, I'm planning to increase my quota to seven pages a week, then ten. Habitica lets me do all of that. Whether my goal is a sentence a day or three pages a day, I can use Habitica to help me reach it.
But how do you start in on those higher goals with Habitica? If all you have on your to-do list is "write," how do you avoid just settling on a sentence a day for the rest of your life? Next time, I'll get into the nitty-gritty specifics of what works for me.