prompts.jpg

Prompts

How might technology help writers be more inspired? What would happen if the same app a writer uses to capture notes or write content was also capable of providing suggestions, or prompts, as they write?

View in the App Store ⇢

 In 2013 I was working as Director of Content Strategy for a top marketing company, which meant a lot of my time was spent writing content and managing a team of writers.  As anyone who has ever written anything will attest: writing is hard. It’s rife with doubt, uncertainty, and fear. My team would routinely rant about the woes of writing, saying things like:  “Getting stuck is my problem. I never know what to do after that first line.”  And:  “I can write, but only if someone has explicitly told me what to write about.”   I found myself and my team using our phones to write often, so I began to wonder what resources we might be able to use to help us write.

In 2013 I was working as Director of Content Strategy for a top marketing company, which meant a lot of my time was spent writing content and managing a team of writers.

As anyone who has ever written anything will attest: writing is hard. It’s rife with doubt, uncertainty, and fear. My team would routinely rant about the woes of writing, saying things like: “Getting stuck is my problem. I never know what to do after that first line.” And: “I can write, but only if someone has explicitly told me what to write about.”

I found myself and my team using our phones to write often, so I began to wonder what resources we might be able to use to help us write.

 The market of writing apps at the time consisted primarily of two types of helpful writing apps: 1. Well-designed apps built for powerful writing, such as Evernote and iA Writer, and 2. Apps dedicated to inspiring writers.  I wondered what it might be like to have an app that combines powerful, habit-encouraging features alongside built-in inspiration. What might it look like to have a writing app that not only offered you ideas on what to write about, but that offered encouragement and inspiration  as you write .  I envisioned an app that could suggest ideas for you any time you felt stuck. Like always having a writing buddy nearby to ask for a little boost when you run up against writer’s block.  Talking to writers—both on my team and through online communities—I came to believe the idea of a writing tool with built-in prompts might be beneficial; I knew even if the idea was a flop widely, it could be something my team and I could at least use.  So I began sketching concepts, talking about possibilities with fellow writers, and putting a few rough concepts together in code.

The market of writing apps at the time consisted primarily of two types of helpful writing apps: 1. Well-designed apps built for powerful writing, such as Evernote and iA Writer, and 2. Apps dedicated to inspiring writers.

I wondered what it might be like to have an app that combines powerful, habit-encouraging features alongside built-in inspiration. What might it look like to have a writing app that not only offered you ideas on what to write about, but that offered encouragement and inspiration as you write.

I envisioned an app that could suggest ideas for you any time you felt stuck. Like always having a writing buddy nearby to ask for a little boost when you run up against writer’s block.

Talking to writers—both on my team and through online communities—I came to believe the idea of a writing tool with built-in prompts might be beneficial; I knew even if the idea was a flop widely, it could be something my team and I could at least use.

So I began sketching concepts, talking about possibilities with fellow writers, and putting a few rough concepts together in code.

The first version of the app took months to build, test, and iterate on. The design was rough—and over designed with trendy skeuomorphism—but it was eventually enough to put out into the App Store.

Upon launch the app was featured on the main screen of the App Store. A number of prominent publications began writing about the app as well. The app was a success, thousands of writers around the world were finding the ability to use an app with built-in starting lines and writing prompts to be immensely helpful.

 On launch weekend alone Prompts received 42,000 downloads.  I knew the value of real world feedback on the app would be important, so I had built a “Send feedback” feature directly into the app, and the feedback began pouring in.

On launch weekend alone Prompts received 42,000 downloads.

I knew the value of real world feedback on the app would be important, so I had built a “Send feedback” feature directly into the app, and the feedback began pouring in.

 Over the following months I made tweaks and improvements to the app based on feedback: fixing bugs to prevent crashes, adding new and different types of statistics, adding the ability to sync notes to Dropbox (and later iCloud), and including support for hashtags to help writers quickly identify themes or categories of notes within the app.

Over the following months I made tweaks and improvements to the app based on feedback: fixing bugs to prevent crashes, adding new and different types of statistics, adding the ability to sync notes to Dropbox (and later iCloud), and including support for hashtags to help writers quickly identify themes or categories of notes within the app.

 Today Prompts is a top Education app across the globe.  Educators consistently provide feedback about how the app helps students learn to write creatively, and Apple features Prompts at education events (such as this one from March 2017) and in the App Store.  I have some ideas for the future of the app—everything from providing prompts in-line, a kids version of the app, and a desktop version—but at the moment the app is providing value for hundreds of thousands of people, and to me that’s success.

Today Prompts is a top Education app across the globe.

Educators consistently provide feedback about how the app helps students learn to write creatively, and Apple features Prompts at education events (such as this one from March 2017) and in the App Store.

I have some ideas for the future of the app—everything from providing prompts in-line, a kids version of the app, and a desktop version—but at the moment the app is providing value for hundreds of thousands of people, and to me that’s success.