September 7, 2013

Writing Apps: Draft and Editorially

When designed well, writing apps inspire writing. I’ve been using two noteworthy writing apps since their debut during the spring of 2013: Draft by Nathan Kontny and Editorially by Mandy Brown. Both approach their own interface design in different ways that fascinate me.


There is a sense of immediacy when writing in Draft. When you open a new document, you’re provided an empty sheet, much like its physical counterpart on a table.

Controls and informational indicators appear in respective corners, creating a frame of perspective that accentuates the space at the center of attention—that writable space. The absence of visual borders of Draft’s interface connects with this passage by author Joyce Dyer:
“If we’ve felt sometimes that the page is too tight for us, it may be because our minds have outgrown it. The brain that propels the mind, after all, is deeper than the sea and wider than the sky, isn’t it? The page may be forcing compromises that the brain, in such close relationship with the mind, must rightly refuse.”
In Draft, a spare and soft surface—at first, a quiet field—invites the user to write. It is literally a blank slate, without visible instruction to guide the user, including the absence of a toolbar, which, in retrospect, I wasn’t missing. In a writing app, the empty state is the call-to-action. For some, this kind of empty state can be overwhelming—it may be met with blankness by the writer.(1) Others may find this approach inviting, more than visually, to composition.


When you open Editorially to create a document, you’re prompted to name first what you intend to write. This echoes a tip given by Jim Coudal, of Coudal Partners, at a SXSW (2011) panel about writing:
“I tend a give a piece a headline before I even know what I’m going to write, and generally speaking, I take a headline from a book or a movie, and it may or may not have anything to do with what I’m writing. But for me, to look at the page with an actual headline that feels like a real thing. If I’m writing a newsletter for Field Notes, I might call it The Sound and The Fury, which has nothing to do with the letter, and the headline will never exist after the draft of the letter, but to look at a page that says, The Sound and The Fury seems like a real thing, and, in a way, I’ve sort of cheated myself that I’ve  actually already started.”
Starting by first naming your piece demands a pause. It could be a general description or an iteration of a potential headline. In total, it’s the essence to write toward, elaborate and make whole.

After giving your document a title—a visual anchor—you’re met by a white sheet, framed by an off-white background. Feels like a collapsed version of paper, set in a typewriter, situated within a space.

This is a midcentury set-up. It envisions an iconic scene focused on an intrepid writer exercising ink on paper. The boundaries of the sheet, in Editorially, hearken back to this era, and it’s a romantic image, evolved: a writer facing the screen in a glowing game of stares and dares(2). In Editorially, the empty state persists for the writer to empty into.

Goal of having written
“I hate writing, I love having written.”
—Dorothy Parker, Author
One of the most striking—and intimidating—characteristics of these Web-based writing apps is that they are inherently depthless, a characteristic that is more sharply sensed digitally. By way of their distinct interface design, both Draft and Editorially exhibit different approaches to influence the desire to write—to steer the act of filling the recurring void with words, which help realize depth.

No app can rule the activity of writing. The same way one can change their physical posture and surroundings (fancily called “context shifting”), one can change the use of writing apps. At times, I use Draft. Other times, Editorially. Because the intent that these apps share and advance is enabling the writer to defy the blinking cursor(3) as an immovable object.

(1) Franz Kafka, Author, believed, “A non-writing writer is a monster courting insanity.” (2) Eudora Welty, Author, from the book On Writing: “All serious daring starts from within.” (3) Speaking of cursors, the blinking speed of which in Draft is slow, while in Editorially, it’s quicker in pace.

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Sources of screen snaps: DraftEditorially; Photos by me.

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Big thanks to Nathan Kontny for making Draft, and to Mandy Brown and her team for making Editorially.