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4thewords 2016 – This is what I wanted!

It’s been a long time since I first tried out 4thewords. Back then, it was commonly known to be a buggy mess impeding a great idea. I took a second look last night. There have been some major changes there, and at first blush, it looks AMAZING.

After signing in, you default to the Write section, where your writing is organised as files that are assigned to projects. They can be left unassigned. The Play section of the site looks AWESOME. There’s an NPC who talks to your avatar, quests and your adventuring equipment, and a bestiary/fight section on the bottom. I was a little worried about use of time limits for fighting monsters, since I have these darned arthritic fingers. I’ll come back to that, though.

First I wanted to see how the writing part of the site worked on its own.

I like the writing interface. It feels really natural. There’s some basic formatting stuff like bold and italics, as well as Headers 1-6 for some reason. You can name the file and give it tags, which is rather nice. There is also a stats window that you can collapse to the side. If you leave it open, you can see how long you have been writing, how many words you have written, and what project you’re working on.

The daily streak word count is 444 words, which made me chuckle. It’s also easy to hit, as well as low enough that only a bad day would stop me after reaching it. The word count tool is super forgiving in how it counts your words written. It keeps track of the number of words you have written EVEN IF YOU DELETED THEM. There were quite a few times that I started to write a sentence, disliked the structure and then deleted it to write it a different way, and I noticed my word count change for the positive anyway. This is really great if you’re having a slow start (like all my starts are) or a bad day.

writing-streak

While listening to Cloud Cult (Love album), I wrote about 800 words for my new story idea. It was one of the most painless story starts I think I’ve ever written. I got started in less than five minutes, and I just kept going without worrying about anything, not even saving my words externally from time to time. I am already loving this story and this main character. My world is clicking into place, I’m getting my ideas onto the page.

This may be exactly what I’ve been looking for. Since you don’t have to assign all files to a project, I made a file with the tag ‘scratchpad’ and wrote about 500 words in the last chapter of סוף העולם שמאלה for a monster battle.

Monster battles work by going into the bottom of the Play area and clicking the Battle button for a monster of your choice. The first area has four monsters. Each monster has a cute picture (seriously, the art in this whole thing is phenomenal), HP in the form of a word count, Battle Time, and item drop information. As I said, I was worried about the time limit stuff. I had to abandon 750 Words, because going fast was so integrated in how I used it, and not being able to type fast anymore just made me feel sad. Not good for productivity.

However, the monster battle limits look reasonable. The lowest level monster calls for 200 words to be written in 30 minutes, the next is 800 in 80 minutes. These are very reasonable word/time sets. They allow for time to think, unavoidable distractions (like children, pets, or keyboard battery death), and in my case, disability affecting typing speed. There are also apparently weapon equips later on that can add damage, taking out HP/words to help you defeat monsters faster. Beating the monster doesn’t even interrupt the flow of your writing very much, which is great if you forgot about the monster and just want to keep writing.

Everything looks good. Nothing gets in the way of writing. The gamification features are well-implemented. They aren’t inconsequential and they don’t overshadow the point. And all of the art is gorgeous. I can’t get over it. Lots of writing sites settle for sub par, boring, or just minimalist visuals. 4thewords does not go that route.

quests

battle

worldmap4thewords

The World Map

I like the forum interface as well, but there are very few posts, and the majority are quite old. I’m not surprised, since I think most writers are shy and/or solitary. I also don’t care about forums, so I don’t count it against the site. I would be more concerned if it relied on the forums too much.

Last year, I said that 4thewords took a bunch of ingredients and promised to make a flan. I have made flan (with help). It’s really difficult and time-consuming. But from the looks of things, they’ve put in the time and the work.

So guys, my final word is: Go sign up at 4thewords, start writing, and enjoy yourself a delicious flan.

homemadeflan

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Old Review of 4theWords

UPDATE Sep 2016: Apparently, I should have kept my eye on this team. I’ve taken another look at the site and everything has changed. New review here.

The other day, I heard about this site called 4theWords. I will not link to it. Not because I think it’s purposely dishonest, and it probably isn’t technically harmful. But it is such an impressive bit of FUBAR that I don’t want to be associated beyond this one time that I will (sort of) publicly state my opinion.

It looks like such a good idea. The phrase they use is something like “a gym for writers” and it is basically 750 Words with more features. There is supposed to be a forum, like NaNoWriMo has, badges like 750 Words has (only more and possibly cooler), levels like HabitRPG, and two kinds of gamer-type currency. Like Duolingo has. So cribbing ideas from elsewhere like picking up eggs, sugar, and condensed milk and making flan.

Yummy_Flan_by_mkirby712Yummy Flan by mkirby712 on DeviantArt

Anything related to flan must be good, right? Wrong. 4theWords is not a delicious flan.

It’s an abysmally buggy site that not only has absolutely no business even discussing money changing hands, it also has no business being listed on the NaNoWriMo web site among legitimate writing resources like Evernote and Scrivener. This is old news (like five months old) but it’s still up on NaNoWriMo’s Sponsor Offers page. My respect for NNWM tanked years ago, but it does not help when they toot a horn for stuff like Zoetic Press and this bullcrap.

…an “honour” that a company can apparently buy with $6000 donated to NaNoWriMo. I think I just died a little. This makes it look even more likely that whoever is in charge doesn’t vet the sponsor offers at all. Yay bribes.

Anyway. I wasn’t aware of all of this until I decided to try it out. First warning sign is that even to sign up for the 30-day free trial, you have to set up a recurring payment with Paypal. It doesn’t look illegal or anything, it’s just not always good business practise. Simply because people don’t like it, and it stops them from ever being customers. It’s even worse when you realise that this site is STILL IN OPEN BETA. Oh, and they also missed basically every deadline they ever set. Old jokes about Peter Molyneux start to come to mind.

But the kicker was when I went ahead with the Paypal thing, and lo, I was kicked back to the sign-in page… and upon trying to log in, I found myself at the same page asking me to set up a recurring Paypal payment. Every Single Time that I tried logging in. I gave up. It wasn’t worth it.

From what I gleaned from people who actually managed to log in (many after having the same problem I did, and all of their comments 3-5 months old), the interface is both unappealing and unusuable. The forums don’t work like forums are supposed to work. And worst of all: Core Features, the gamification stuff like fake currency and levelling, literally don’t work at all. The general attitude in the thread that announced the site’s existence to WriMos was disappointment, irritation, suspicion, and even anger.

But since it is such a good idea, a lot of people were kind of cynically hopeful for the stable version. Personally? I don’t care if it does happen. I want nothing to do with any software engineer who ever thought that SHIFT-S was a good Save Shortcut Key in a WORD PROCESSOR.

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Trying out Scrivener

After taking a couple of days to go through the IMMENSE tutorial, I have already forgotten half of it. When people sell courses or books about learning this software, they aren’t joking around. However, it’s like that because it can be used by writers of basically every type, from novelists to lawyers. I’m tempted to use it to do some transcription. Because Scrivener makes that kind of work a million times easier than anything else does.

I’ve tried out a few templates, and just when I figured I’d scrap my current project to make a new template and then start over, I figured out how to make it work within the novel template. I have had some success working with phase outlines, both in testing my commitment to a project and in getting actual writing done. Since Scrivener is all about organisation, it is the perfect place to use a phase outline. Every part of the process can be done in Scrivener.

The last time I used a phase outline, I had to use Microsoft Word, Yarny, and Excel to do things the way I wanted. Oh yeah, and Dropbox. I’ll probably still use that for backing up. So all of this:

mswphase

yarnyphase

phases

 

Is pared down to this:

scrivphase

Even the need for Excel went away after I put in some phase completion tables. No spreadsheet fun, as far as I know, but a table works in mostly the same way I need it to. It’s just nice to have everything in one place, really.

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Writing software – Price and Productivity

Alternate post title: I Like Writing Toys

I have talked a lot about different types of writing software. Usually in comparison, or because I was using a particular program and had it on my mind.

Today, I had a chance to play with my brother’s iPad(dunno if it was original, spicy, or extra crunchy) and it reminded me of the one or two apps that I wish would just get an Android port. I could barely justify a $USD5 purchase to my penny-pinching self. How could I accept buying a $USD300-700 machine functionally similar to something I already own–just to use that app?

The app in question is Novel in 30. I don’t think that I have mentioned it before, except maybe in passing and not by name. All I’ve been able to see are some screenshots and the obvious marketing (i.e., homepage). The fact that I can never use it rankles occasionally. It’s made worse by my rich imagination.

And why does this even bother me? Is it because I think that all software should find some way to be available at least for a price below insane? Novelling software especially so? Or is it just that I like an aspect of gaming/play in my writing?

Truthfully, both. As to the first, I’m realistic, but that doesn’t mean I don’t still want impossible things. As to the second, I love to play. I was like Andy from Toy Story. My toys didn’t stop getting roles in epic stories until I was out of high school. And that was just because I had begun to perfect writing them down.

There’s a sense of accomplishment in the gamification of writing that, when tied to a realistic goal and meaningful achievement, is not just fun, but productive. I barely use Word anymore, because I have so many toys for writing.

But of course, I always want to try a new one. Not just because I have not really found my ideal yet. (prolly never will) But because I have this desire for new things across the board.

However, that can be an expensive habit. So, I balance it out by being a squeaky miser and knowing how to spell “free”.

In my post about whether I thought Yarny Premium-ship was/is worth paying for, I listed a bunch of writing software. I decided for this post that I would find a couple of new ones, try them out, and then report my findings. These are programs that I have not personally used before, so if it’s not new to you, I apologise.

…okay, due to life being incredibly messy right now, I’m going to have to post-pone this to another post. Not entirely bad. This way I can (hopefully) spend a little more time assessing the programs I found.

This would also be a great opportunity for people to leave a comment telling me any particular features they want reviewed/recounted.