Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Just Write: An Artist's Way Inspired Web App

In Jenna Fischer's The Actor's Life - A Survival Guide she heaps praise on The Artist's Way. She describes this text as being useful for re-connecting with your inner artist. I was intrigued, so I checked out a copy from the library.

The Artist's Way is setup as a workbook and self-paced class, and I'm not quite convinced as to whether I'm going to play along. Yet, I was impressed with tools described in the opening chapter: Morning Pages and the Artist Date. The latter one is interesting, but I'll save discussing it for another day.

Morning Pages work like so: every morning you sit down and fill 3 pages of text. The writing is intended to be stream of consciousness, and does not call for coherency. And that's it. Don't know what to write? No problem, write "I don't know what to write." for three pages and you're done.

On the surface, this exercise seems to parallel one you might find in a photography, drawing or any book teaching a skill. The directive might read like so: Every morning you should [insert skill], where the skill may be snapping a picture, drawing a sketch or composing some music. The author of the Artist's Way, however, makes it clear that while you're writing, this isn't really a writing exercise. It's much closer to a form of meditation. Perhaps it works like so: rather than trying to empty your thoughts through relaxation, you do it through the act of expelling them. I know that when I'm running, I'll often find clarity by just letting the thoughts flow.

While this exercise is useful for writers, it's just as useful for photographers, dancers or anyone who can benefit from exercising their creative muscles.

A typical person who was inspired by the concept of Morning Pages might go out and buy a notebook and start the practice. But where's the fun in that? My first thought was: I should make an app to power my own take on Morning Pages!

I quickly worked up a plan: I'd make a simple web app that encouraged you to enter N number of words. When you hit this quota, you'd have the opportunity to save your work. After 7 days of repeating this process, the system would start e-mailing you the text that was a week old. This would initially focus you on a write-only mode of composing, yet with time, you would get exposure to the content you've previously created. I can't take any credit for this flow: it's just automating the strategy described in the book.

Today I built out part of this app. You can check out the source code here. Right now, the app does little more than give you a space to write and count down from 500 words:

You can try out the app here.

Next up, I need to add support for logging in with your GMail account. That will give me access to the user's e-mail address, which I can use as the destination for archived entries.

Did I have time to actually do Morning Pages this morning? Oh no, I'm to busy building an app to do Morning Pages.

What can I say, Morning Pages, like public transportation, are perfect for the other guy.

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