Software

Flowstate. The writing app that feels like a monster creeping up on you

Just for the heck of it, I decided to purchase Flowstate, the writing app that forces you to keep writing for a specified time or all the work you’ve done to that point disappears. Permanently. I’ve decided to let the results of my first writing session serve as a review for Flowstate. The review starts below the screen capture.

Screen Shot 2016-08-16 at 9.48.22 AM

Okay, so I am trying Flowstate, the writing app that forces you to keep writing or you lose all the writing you’ve done during that session to the point you quit.

Does this make sense?

I can see the rationale. Whether or not it works for me is the question.

So here I am. Writing.

Writing is an important aspect of my life. But I don’t do enough of it. If Flowstate helps me write more, then the $10 I spent for it will be worth it.

I’m not sure yet how you get your writing OUT of Flowstate and into another writing app for editing. I guess I’ll find that out at the end, assuming I don’t wind up losing all this text.

Another question is whether free flow of text is really a productive approach for me. Maybe I’ll be able to judge that after I see what I’ve produced here. It is really nerve wracking to see the text start to fade away when I stop writing for even a second or two. All my text will simply go away if I stop for five seconds. It feels like one of those horror movies where the protagonist knows that the monster is creeping up behind her. Don’t turn around!!!

So I’m continuing to write. I set this initial session for 10 minutes. I’ve been writing for six, so far. Still four minutes to go.

When you start Flowstate, you are presented with a simple screen. You can adjust how long you must write and what font to use.

If your brain gets stuck, you can just hold down one key for a while then hold down the delete key. Flowstate interprets this as writing. It’s a hack. I haven’t done this yet, but I think it will work.

Having this app is like having a Nazi SS officer demanding that you reveal where you’ve hidden the classic artwork.

I am going to publish this as my review of Flowstate on my blog and you can judge for yourself if the result was worth anything… Twenty seconds to go. I think I’m going to make it… just keep writing… and now….


So there you have it. I’m going to keep using Flowstate for a while and see if the results get better. By the way, you can simply export the results of your writing session as a text file. There are also ways to push it to other apps, like email and notes. I’ve added Curiota as an option for exporting, which basically makes it available on any device I have through Dropbox.

Scrivener for iOS has arrived

It was a long, grueling haul for Literature & Latte founder and programmer Keith Blunt, but for those of us drooling over the thought of Scrivener for iOS the wait has been worth it. In spades.

This will not be a review of the iOS Scrivener. The app is so feature rich that it would take way too long. Also, Keith has done such a great job highlighting the app’s functionality on the L&L blog that a review would just be redundant.

No, this is merely an acknowledgment of the wonderful work done by Keith and his crew. I’m still working my way through the tutorial and testing out features, but I feel confident saying Scrivener is the most well-thought-out and executed software making the leap from OSx to iOS that I’ve ever used. (Ulysses is up there too.)

IMG_0385

Not every feature of the Mac app has made the leap. For now, at least, the binder also serves as the outliner. Good enough for an overview of structure, but without the extensive display of meta-data the Mac app’s outline view supplies. But for version 1.0 this is a remarkably mature app, and is a testament to Keith’s pursuit of excellence with Scrivener.

Make no mistake. Scrivener for iOS is a powerhouse writing environment independent of its OSx sibling. Congratulations to Keith and the rest of the Literature & Latte team.

Version 6.6 of Tinderbox now available

I just got an e-mail notification that the latest update to Tinderbox is now officially released. The update includes a number of tweaks and improvements, though nothing that will convince you to buy the app if you haven’t already been wowed by its power and possibilities.

You can read more about the updates here, and find out about how to save $10 on upgrades for the next week.

Outlinely 2.0 – a quick review

Outlinely 2.0 sports a new user interface, which includes a pretty typical library panel.

Outlinely 2.0 sports a new user interface, which includes a pretty typical library panel.

Updated April 28:

Outlinely is a simple, but elegant outlining application for Mac OS. I have written about the app before, here. Version 2.0 was just released. The big feature addition is the library, which looks like a fairly standard organization panel where you can tuck your outlines into folders. This isn’t the most sophisticated “library” panel you will find, but it looks as if it will be handy.

It is not immediately apparent how to add folders to the library, but if you hover the cursor over the location (iCloud or On My Mac), a plus sign appears. Clicking this creates a new folder. You can’t nest folders, however.

One thing I found a little disconcerting is that the current document remains open in the editor window when you select another folder — it won’t change until you select another document. Consequently, you can be at a loss for which folder the document is actually in. See the screenshot below for an example:

In which folder is this document categorized? Can't tell from the user interface because I navigated off the Website folder.

In which folder is this document categorized? Can’t tell from the user interface because I navigated off the Website folder.

This document is in my Website folder, but there is no way to tell that from the data on screen. This could be a big deal if you have a lot of folders and a lot of outline documents. A breadcrumb trail at the top of the document editor would solve this.

But all in all, Outlinely is a nice application. It feels like a standard text editor, but with a fairly powerful outline engine under the hood. At $14.95 (U.S.) some folks might find it a little pricey. But I was weaned on applications that cost hundreds of dollars, so it seems like a good deal to me. Update: The developer is offering a version without the library feature for free. Check it out at the App Store. It’s called Outlinely Express.

Outlines and inline notes

Nearly a year ago, I wrote an article about using Tinderbox as an outliner. My conclusion was that the outline view in Tinderbox is a terrific outline application. Just about the only feature it lacked is inline notes. The conversation that cropped up today about this feature prompted me to think about how I might implement a workaround in Tinderbox that would at least approximate inline notes. Before I get to that, I first want to talk a little bit about my opinions regarding inline notes.

This feature mostly only matters in single-pane outliners. That is, those outliners where all the relevant information is presented in one pane. Why it matters is that you want to see the notes relating to a topic displayed “inline” with the topic and not in a separate pane. This allows you to view the notes for all the nearby topics at one time. A little more about why this is important a little further down.

I feel like inline notes are an under appreciated feature of a sophisticated outlining application. That’s probably because most people have never actually been able to use an outline that handled inline notes. Either the app doesn’t have inline notes as a feature, or the feature is rudimentally implemented.

Two definitions before continuing:

  • Heading or topic – Each individual item in an outline is a heading (or call it a topic). That is, if it has a bullet or an alphanumeric label, it is a heading.
  • Note – In some outliners, the note is merely additional meta data. In a small number of other outliners, it can be the main text that describes the heading under which it is associated. Every note is associated with a heading.

OmniOutliner is one of the more fully featured outliners on the market, including the ability to add notes and view them inline. Its approach is pretty standard, so it will serve as a good example of the current state of inline notes.

These screen shots demonstrate how inline notes work in OmniOutliner:

Sample OmniOutliner Document.

Sample OmniOutliner Document. Don’t confuse those long paragraphs as inline notes. They are each a separate heading.

 

To add a note to an OmniOutliner topic, click the note icon.

To add a note to an OmniOutliner topic, click the note icon.

 

By default, the inline note is made to have a lower-level of importance by appearance.

By default, the inline note is made to have a lower-level of importance by appearance.

 

The note now appearing in the note pane. You can toggle this action.

The note now appearing in the note pane. You can toggle this action.

Notes in OmniOutliner are clearly intended to be meta-data and not the substance of the heading the notes are associated with. This is a fine approach for a lot of purposes, but it is not ideal for writers. I suspect anyone using OmniOutliner for writing will take the approach demonstrated here; which is to just write paragraphs in the headings instead of using the notes for the content.

Grandview’s take on notes

The best application of inline notes that I have ever seen or used was that of Grandview, the DOS outliner I wrote about here. With Grandview you created your outline headings and could associate a full-text document with each heading, as demonstrated below:

Document text viewed "inline" in the GrandView outline

Document text viewed “inline” in the GrandView outline

Grandview treated notes as full-fledged documents in their own right, but allowed you to view them in the outliner or not, as you chose. If you wished, you could isolate the text of the document to focus solely on composing. Like this:

Dedicated document window in GrandView

Dedicated document window in GrandView

Here is what I had to say about why I feel this is important for writers:

An important point here is that this text is not a separate headline or node. It is directly associated with a headline and can be viewed inline, in its own window, or collapsed and not visible in the outline. This visual flexibility is a powerful feature for writers, because it allows you to switch from a focused view of your writing to the big picture. You can work on getting each section of the text right, then make sure the entire work flows smoothly with appropriate transitions. Two-pane outliners… force you to keep your writing in separate, discrete blocks. To this day, no other application has matched GrandView for providing this combination of powerful outlining tools AND single-pane, inline text. I have yet to find any outliner that matches Grandview for handling these this inline content.

I wrote that over six years ago, and it is still true. (I hope someone out there can show me I’m wrong.)

An inline notes workaround for Tinderbox

So my Tinderbox inline notes workaround. You can add columns to an outline view in Tinderbox. The columns can display any of the attributes for the headings in your Tinderbox outline. One of those attributes is “text”, which is the notes content.

Tinderbox with outline view selected. I have only populated it with a few notes.

Tinderbox with outline view selected. I have only populated it with a few notes.

If you’ve read my article about Tinderbox as an outliner, you know that you can add columns to the outline view, and fill those columns with data from any of the notes’ attributes. The text within the note is the “text” attribute, so you can add that as a column. So you can minimize the notes pane and view the text in the outline view as demonstrated in the screenshot below:

Outline view in Tinderbox with the "Text" attribute displayed in the outline as a separate column.

Outline view in Tinderbox with the “Text” attribute displayed in the outline as a separate column.

As you can see, the result isn’t exactly “inline” notes. And, sadly, the text doesn’t wrap to multiple lines so you can only read the contents as far as you can stretch the column. But this does provide an overview of content in a single pane, so it might prove useful to some.

My conclusion, however, is the search goes on for a single-pane outliner that can handle inline notes effectively for writers.

Day One 2 – The best journal (for Mac) just got better (I think)

Day One 2's main screen.

Day One 2’s main screen.

For the past few years I’ve been keeping a sporadic diary in an application called Day One. I have liked several aspects of the software:

  • It has an elegant, uncluttered interface.
  • It has versions for OSx and iOS, and these have sync’d flawlessly
  • It allows me to write my journals using markdown if I wish
  • It has an effective, but not intrusive tagging system to organize entries beyond dates

There are many, many other features, but those are the ones that matter to me most.

One of the reasons I had not used Day One for more than a casual diary is because it only allowed for one journal, which had to store everything.

Today the developer of Day One has issued a new and improved version called Day One 2. There are several improvements in this version, but the one that matters most to me is I can now create multiple journals.

Day One 2 has multiple journal capability. To edit an entry, you need to be in edit mode. You can use markdown for formatting.

Day One 2 has multiple journal capability. To edit an entry, you need to be in edit mode. You can use markdown for formatting.

I’m not doing a full review here. If you’d like more information about the new version, you can get the details here.

The screenshot above shows the five journals I’ve created (three of them are empty, one has one entry, and the other has imported all my entries from the previous version of Day One). In that screenshot, my entry is in edit mode so I can do my writing. Note that I’m using markdown to add some formatting.

Day One 2 with my entry in view mode. It converts the markdown nicely.

Day One 2 with my entry in view mode. It converts the markdown nicely.

Having to switch back and forth from edit mode is a very mild annoyance, one I can live with. It was that way in the previous version of Day One, too.

The other significant change, at least for me, is that I now need to use the propriety Day One cloud service to keep my two MacBooks and my iPad in sync. In very limited testing, this has worked fine so far. This is what the iPad version looks like (notice it is sync’d):

Day One 2 for iPad. Keep all your (Apple-based) devices in sync.

Day One 2 for iPad. Keep all your (Apple-based) devices in sync.

The developer claims moving to the proprietary service is necessary for additional features they are planning. I hope one of those features isn’t a subscription fee for using the sync service — right now it is free, but I’m not sure if there is a guarantee this will always be the case.

Switching journals in the iPad version of Day One 2. (Note: I could not stand that hideous pink color any longer and changed it to gray... that was my doing, not a flaw in the sync.)

Switching journals in the iPad version of Day One 2. (Note: I could not stand that hideous pink color any longer and changed it to gray… that was my doing, not a flaw in the sync.)

The developer is charging even current users a fee for the new versions on both OSx and iOS. For the first week, the price is half the normal price, so you can get the OSx version for $20 and the iOS version for $5. Some people might gripe at that, but to me $25 is a bargain for a useful application like Day One. I am happy to support the continued development of this fine software.

Anyway, so far, so good. If I run into blips, I will update this article. But I wanted to get it posted as soon as possible since the special pricing is for a limited time.

Circus Ponies closes shop, gives its customers the finger

[see update at the end]

Circus Ponies gives its customers the finger on the way out the door.

Circus Ponies gives its customers the finger on the way out the door.

Notebook by Circus Ponies was one of the applications, along with Scrivener, that lured me back to the Mac platform after 15 years. Its outline-centric approach and notebook metaphor appealed to me, but once I began using it, I found it a bit too restrictive. While I updated to each new version, paying the upgrade fee a couple of times, I really never relied upon the app. I might have more if the iPad version worked well-enough. But it didn’t and the long-promised upgrade never appeared.

Now word comes (via outlinersoftware.com) that Circus Ponies has, without warning, shut its doors, leaving its users in the lurch, with no support but this vague statement:

If you need a copy of NoteBook 4.0 (3.x and earlier don’t run on OS X El Capitan) or need technical support, you can try sending an e-mail to support@circusponies.com. There’s a chance someone will respond but no guarantees.

I know that software companies can’t be expected to stay in business if they’re not profitable. But when they decide they are going to shut down they owe it to the people who’ve purchased their product to exit a lot more gracefully than this. There should be some warning. An e-mail sent, well in advance of the day to their customers. If they are an information warehouse, like Notebook, a FAQ on the best ways to port information to other apps should be posted. A sincere thank you would be nice too.

Instead of any of that, Circus Ponies chose to make this their final remark to their long-standing customers:

Best of luck with all the turd note-taking apps that are left.

I say, if you’d spent more time making a better product, you might have stayed in business. Good riddance to you and don’t let the door hit you in the ass on they way out.

January 6, 2015 Update: I checked the Circus Ponies site this afternoon and found that they had removed the reference to “turd note-taking apps.” It just says “Best of luck” now. I’m glad they re-thought that send off.