[Note: NOT A PAID REVIEW, so pardon the preamble]
So I received a comment on one of my older articles about alternatives to 750words. WriteNext is the brainchild of Diana and Stefan Neculai, previous creators of Froala, a WSYIWYG editing tool built to integrate with web applications. If you’ve had to deal with TinyMCE then Froala Editor from my understanding pretty much works the same.
WriteNext is their next project, built apparently to help Diana write her book. It is at a glance, a lightweight, full focused web-based writing app. Here’s a quick review:
The nice: Gamifying the writing experience
There’s a lot of things I really like about my first 1.5 hours (including the time taken to write this!) with WriteNext, and it’s pretty much:
Stats at a glance
Part of the reason why I do Nanowrimo every year is for the endorphin hit of reaching my milestones. This was also the reason why I signed up for a trial account of 4thewords (the more words you write, the more you progress in the story!).
WriteNext does this but in a less-fantasy kind of style (compared to 4thewords). As you can see from the interface after you create your account, it’s the kind that invites you to start writing almost immediately so you can begin filling up all those spots.
I really like the idea of being able to see my stats at a glance, and I like how they’ve implemented it here. Word wars are one of my favourite features of Nanowrimo, and well, I like the ability to see my progression. Also the fact that they have a leaderboard brings up the competitive streak in me.
WriteNext’s blog, the Writing Facilitator (yes it does sound like an attempt to rank in SEO and no that is NOT a bad thing) says that one of their biggest struggles is “butt in chair” aka building a daily writing habit (I have thoughts on this particular habit too but that’s a post for another day).
When you look at WriteNext, this is pretty much their main focus. It’s to help writers, particularly new writers who are making the initial time commitment to writing, start by creating a habit to dedicate time or effort to writing. They obviously reward daily check-ins, but they’re pretty flexible in whether you choose to make that commitment in either time or words.
Nice big button to start writing
All this is also underscored by the fact that when you first log in, you see this really nice big button that tells you to start writing, and then it’s a matter of clicking on it and seeing the actual writing screen pop up.
There’s a few things going on in this screen that I am currently a fan of. The writing area is a nice creamy white, which is gentler on my eyes than the usual stark white (which is also the main reason why I use Dark Reader on Chrome for my Google Doc stuff), and the buttons are very small and discreet.
The orange “No Distractions” button basically turns the app into full screen (which is nice) and the Done Writing button ends your current writing session with a quick stats summary. And yes I do appreciate the subtle “write” message on the left side.
The wordcount meter at the bottom is also really nice and a great way to track how much you’re writing without being obstructive. It’s certainly much better implemented compared to some other websites I’ve seen (basically having it at the corner means I need to make an effort to actually look for it but it’s there if I want to, rather than having it at the bottom of the screen within eye reach).
Under the My Writings section, you can find the various documents/writings you’ve worked on, AND you can export them either as TXT or PDF, both of which are options I really like. Theoretically this means I think you can export for Markdown which would be quite awesome to see.
The cons: Brand new website
If I am going by the Facebook page alone, WriteNext is new. It is very, very new. This is not a bad thing, but there are things I feel they might want to include/improve in the next update they push to the site.
Now this may seem very petty, but while I really like the overall modern design and very pleasing aesthetics, I would have also liked a brief tutorial/introduction to the entire website and how best to use it.
For instance, it didn’t occur to me until I clicked on “My writings” that there would be where my previous documents/articles would be stored. Instead, if you were like me and you pressed on “Start Writing”, you would trigger the creation of a new document.
A quick tutorial would have made the process much smoother and prevent panic from users. My preference is for those grayed-out overlays with single buttons/highlight that show step-by-step where everything is, but of course this depends on how WriteNext wants to take it.
Autosave is nice, but saving yourself is better
I love Autosave, don’t get me wrong, but I am also the kind of writer who instinctively presses CTRL + S to save constantly. Having the ability to do that would be quite nice and cool.
This also brings up the question of what would happen to your document if you lose connection/power. Will it be like GDocs where your latest copy is saved offline? Or is it gone forever? An answer to this question is nice.
More like bugs than anything else
I feel like this is an oversight in their rush to launch (and therefore for me not a deal breaker) but the links to the Terms and Privacy sections when you are accessing them from the app.writenext.io pages basically just refreshes the page you’re on.
Same goes with the FAQ. For me I feel those should have been updated within a few days of the page being launched – a number of those questions are what I would call dealbreakers, so writing the answers to those immediately when the functions are released (such as the “No Distractions” button function) would be good practice. Additionally they can also add a short text at the top for “Last updated” so people would know that this is an ongoing, living project.
The lack of answers in the FAQ about Privacy and Ownership is also one that should have been a pretty easy win, in my opinion. Based on just what I read in the Writing Facilitator blog, it feels like these are areas that can be answered quickly and reassuringly without needing to go into the areas of how it’s actually done (which I assume is the main reason why it’s not written yet). Less is more in this case.
My biggest wishlist feature is the expansion of the writing screen itself. Right now, it is a bit too narrow on my screen (see screenshot below) and the view doesn’t center itself when you get to the bottom of the screen.
I also feel ergonomically speaking, it makes more sense to there to be a gap when you reach the end of document. Basically assume you’ve written all the way to the bottom of your current viewing screen. Then you use your mouse to scroll down. I feel that when you do so, the mouse should reveal more space below, but your writing cursor itself should stay where the last line does (unless you press enter). In summary if I should be able to view a bit more than just the last line written.
I really, really like WriteNext and I really want it to succeed. As a free writing tool I think it’s great if a little unpolished. It is still very brand new and in its early days so I’m excited to see how it will grow.
Also I feel it’s better to launch now and get all its kinks worked out before it gets highlighted during a big event like Nanowrimo.
And in case you still need links, you can find WriteNext here.