July 4, 2013

Is EdTech Startup BoomWriter the Future of Literature?

During my years as an educator, there were few activities that my students actually enjoyed. One was a writing workshop in which students took a pre-written opening sentence and added the second sentence for a creative writing story. As the stories were passed from one classmate to the next, the tale usually grew into an epically absurd yarn. The kids found the activity fun, all the while learning about plot development, narrative voice, and so forth.

Local edtech startup BoomWriter Media has taken this concept to another level altogether with their story creation web platform.

BoomWriter, a free service, allows teachers to teach creative writing through an interactive web platform in which a class of students writes the second chapter of one of the site’s “story starters.” The class then selects the best version through an anonymous vote, and sets out to write the third chapter. The process continues for a preselected number of chapters until a conclusion, at which point a collectively written a novella-length piece of fiction has been collaboratively created.

BoomWriter publishes the book, in which each class member is individually acknowledged as an author. Student’s families can then purchase multiple copies of the bound paperbacks through the BoomWriter website.

The key to the entire activity is the competition that drives students to write increasingly better in order to win each new round of chapter voting. Although one might expect the higher-ranking students in a class to entirely dominate an activity like this, it rarely happens. BoomWriter has found less than a handful of these projects where a single student has more than one chapter selected.

Based out of the CIC, Boomwriter was started by Zapoint founder Chris Twyman, Ian Garland, and former public school teacher Ken Haynes. Twyman came up with the idea while thinking about ways to promote the skill of writing.

“I’ve always had this idea around collaborative creative writing,” Twyman said. “I hate the idea of writing a novel,” he added, “not because I don’t want to, I’d love to. It’s the commitment it takes to write a novel, the time, the heartache.”

The concept for BoomWriter comes from Twyman’s belief that breaking up a work of fiction into workable sections and having multiple authors contributes to the cause of writing in two ways. First, he believes that competitive, collaborative writing can lead to better writing. Second, collaborative writing opens up the opportunity for a multitude of authors to achieve the goal of publication, something many strive for but few achieve. As he Twyman said, “There is a stat that one in 96.000 novelists are published. That’s just rubbing salt in the wounds.”

The company published over two thousand books since it first started last year. Most shockingly, BoomWriter published more books in the month of May than publishing giant Penguin Books, as founder Chris Twyman told me.

Read that again. Boomwriter was a more prolific publishing house than one of the biggest book producers in the world.

So what does that mean for the future of BoomWriter?

Right now, the company is focused on education. Later this month, they are working in conjunction with PBS/WGBH on BoomWriter Storytellers Camp with Diary of a Wimpy Kid author Jeff Kinney. The online writing camp features story starter inspirations from the best-selling author as well as writing lessons, peer review, and other feedback. At the end of each session, “camper” receive a finished book that they helped to write.

Additionally, BoomWriter is looking to expand their reach into more schools nationally. They recently finished a very successful project with both the Boston Public Schools and the Chicago Public Schools and had a celebration for a session that concluded in Milton earlier this month.

However, it seems that BoomWriter may have a larger opportunity on their hands than what is an already admirable goal of increasing writing literacy.

One sign of the company wider appeal, outside of the normal edtech circles, was last month’s win for “Most Innovative Digital Creative” at the MITX Innovation Awards.

With an ever-increasing catalog of co-authored books, BoomWriter could one day have a highly successful novel on their hands. Moreover, there is not a single limitation to transitioning the current platform to one aimed at a more serious, publication-focused, adult audience.

Who knows, within a few years, the creative writing teaching tool could evolve into another outlet for aspiring authors in the constantly changing world of publishing and literature.


Dennis Keohane is a staff writer for VentureFizz.  You can follow Dennis on Twitter (@DBKeohane) by clicking here.