LivingWriter is a new writing app for authors and novelists. It contains a number of templates and other tools that will help you plot and write a book faster. I'm currently testing it for a new book of nonfiction I'm working on.
It's also free to try for a month. I recently caught up with the founders Dominic Chase and Casey Kerbs and asked them how it can help writers become authors.
Bryan: I know there are a lot of writing apps out there, so on this week's podcast episode I wanted to share the story of one of the hottest writing apps that I've come across in a long time. Hi there, my name is Bryan Collins and welcome to the Become A Writer Today podcast. The app in question is called LivingWriter and I recently had the chance to catch up with the co-founders of this app. But, before we get into it, why do you need a writing app in the first place and what makes for a good writing app? Well, here's the thing. You just need to find the right tool for the job in question. Sometimes if you're writing a article all you need is somewhere where you can write quickly and without interruption. You don't need necessarily to worry about how to arrange all of your ideas for your article because it's something you're going to work through quite quickly. On the other hand, if you're writing a book you might need a more powerful writing app and traditionally Scrivener is a book that I've used in the past for writing books and so on because a more powerful writing app would help you rearrange your ideas, your story structure and also prepare it for publication on a store like Amazon.
Of course, the problem is when you have a lot of different writing apps, it can be sometimes a bit stressful when you want to figure out which ones you should use and for what. What I'll say to you is that to put the writing first and that when you put the writing first you will learn how to use the tool and question through the act of doing, through the act of turning up. That said, one of the most interesting writing apps I've come across and which I'm starting to use for a new book is called LivingWriter. LivingWriter is an interesting writing app because it has five templates at the time of recording this interview that would help you arrange ideas for your book or for your story that bit faster. It also has a walk through for these templates and instructions in case you're not sure what they are. The LivingWriter app is currently something that you can use through your web browsers, but the developers are going to release a version for mobile as well soon. LivingWriter is also free to try for a month, so if you would like to try LivingWriter I would encourage you to visit the link becomeawritertoday.com/living-writer and that will take you to a sign-up page where you can try LivingWriter for 30 days without having to pay. Of course, that's an affiliate thing, which means I'll earn a small commission if you sign up.
Now with all of that said, I was curious about why LivingWriter is so different to the other writing apps that are out there and how to get the most from it. I recently had the chance to catch up with the co-founders, Dominic Chase and Casey Kerbs and I asked them to explain why they created LivingWriter in the first place and how to get the most from it. Before we go over to this week's interview, I do have an ask. If you enjoy the Becoming A Writer Today podcast please leave a short rating or review wherever you're listening to the show, it could be in the iTunes store or elsewhere, because more reviews and more ratings would help more listeners find the show. Now, that said, let's go over to this week's interview with Dominic and Casey.
Casey: I guess we kind of have to start with how it all came about. I'm actually a nutritionist. I have nothing to with tech or anything and I was doing private practice for a few years so I wanted to write a book. I started writing the book and I was complaining to him all the time about how Google Docs is really lagging, it's not meant for writing a book. There's nowhere to put my research. There's no notes, anything and he was actually writing a book at the same time so he kind of could commiserate with me on that. We were looking into what is a better app to use and we kind of came across the same thing, which was like Scrivener was kind of at the top, but even with that everyone was complaining about it's so hard to use. There's a lot of good features, but it's so confusing unless you're trying to do something huge and just the interface was just really awful. He was actually in a really unique position because he knows the complications of writing a book, but also he had a small development company already. He was able to make this app that was specifically for writers, like everything that writers have to go through and also make it look really nice and to make the user experience right on point for specifically writers.
Bryan: To Dominic, when I was using the app that's one thing that struck me is there is no learning curve. I immediately understood how it was set up and what I should do in that it presented some templates that I could use and then I was able to just get started writing. Was that your intention?
Dominic: Yeah, so like Casey said I had a development company for a few years so when we got into this ... I went in actually and got UI/UX certified by one of the bigger groups out here. The main focus for me, looking at Scrivener, looking at the other apps there's a lot of features and there's a lot of clutter and the learning curve.
Dominic: In UX training the main thing that you're trying to eliminate is the learning curve. If you have to do too many tutorials that means you didn't do too much of a good job, so that's definitely the route that we took. We were like, "Let's make sure the interface is very simple. Any features that get added are out of your way, but also intuitive enough that you could just pick it up and run," like you said.
Bryan: When you log into LivingWriter, it presents a series of templates based on story structure. Would you be able to explain what those templates are and how they came about?
Dominic: Well, I started writing a fiction book. Hers was nonfiction. I don't know if you've ever done it but once you start writing a fiction book the big thing is plotting and just making sure that you have some kind of structure in your story because you could right forever and write yourself in circles honestly.
Casey: Yeah. We were doing months worth of research on how to do all that plotting and everything.
Dominic: I wrote a few books and we came across these templates, like Story Circle and the 27 Beat Chapter Plotting. I was using those and so when we started coming up with LivingWriter I thought, "Hey, what would be an easy way to get this out there for people," because right now most of these plot structures that are available in Excel, Sheets and Word documents where you have to just download it and plug your stuff in. We were thinking, "Hey, let's build a foundation for the writer right away. It's like you know what the plot structure is about. You can just click a template and we can get started plugging in right away instead of using Excel and having multiple documents. To touch on that, a core of what we built was to have your story in one place. As soon as you opened that story, that one story that you're writing on that screen everything is contained.
Bryan: Yeah. It's interesting that you mentioned Excel. You reminded me of a book I read a few years ago called The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne where he does recommend taking apart a book and putting it into a spreadsheet so you can see each chapter and where it fits within the story structure itself. Have you had much feedback from users so far about the different templates that you've included?
Dominic: Yeah. I mean, the feedback in itself-
Casey: Yeah. The feedback has been shocking. Everyone's just like so amazed and just really loves the app, which has been amazing. The people they really love the emails that they're getting and they're even asking for advice. We actually started a blog because we were like people really want ... They want advice, they want tips, things like that. We're also starting a Facebook community because people want ... they really just seem so involved and they just ... I don't know, they just love it.
Dominic: Advice even to the level of working on how do I even build up my confidence to even write, things like that. But as far as the templates, we've got a lot of good feedback on it. We see users using many of them and we have the attached videos just to give them a brief interview of what each one is. But, the biggest one that we've seen used that people ask a lot of questions about is the 27 Beat Chapter Plotting. I'm under the impression that's because we give you 27 chapters right off the bat, so it kind of makes it a little bit easier to just jump right in.
Bryan: Yeah. That was the template that I think resonated most for me as well. I think because it kind of builds on the three act structure, but it has almost an act line that's there for you and some guidelines about what to include in each chapter. Is your audience fiction writers or do you find nonfiction writers are using it as well?
Dominic: We find [crosstalk 00:08:15] nonfiction, we find essays being written on it, even bloggers.
Casey: Yeah. I'm blog writing my blogs on it. It's perfect. I wrote my book on it. I wrote my ... Like a how to lose weight, reduce stress type of self-help book, but I have so much research. I'm a health professional. I have a license, so I can't just say something without quoting research, so there was just so much that I had to put there. I found it amazing to just be able to have a place to plug in all my notes and all the research and everything. We've definitely seen both, for sure.
Bryan: There are five templates, at least, in the version that I'm logged into. Are there plans for more templates?
Dominic: There are. We've been getting users requesting things. We're looking into them. Some of them are a little kind of like the snowflake method. I don't know if you [inaudible 00:09:07]. That's something that we really have to look at and say, "How would we build this kind of template into the app?" Because with that you're kind of asking yourself questions and we can't just give you outlines. It's a little bit of figuring out how to make it intuitive enough that it's not just confusing for the user going in not knowing what it is. We have plans to add more ... We're collecting different plot structures.
Bryan: Yeah, I guess it would be good to see some more nonfiction templates. When I log into ... The other feature that stood out is when I login to one of the templates or when I start a new project. There's an interesting feature at the bottom where I can add story elements. Would you be able to explain what story elements are and how they work?
Dominic: Yeah. Funny enough though LivingWriter started off the story elements because we were thinking of a place to put notes. We were thinking of a place to make it actually not just be notes about a character, but actually function within the app. With the story elements, you can add in your characters, your research, your settings, your objects, give them different attributes, give them pictures even. On top of that, they show up in the editor as you type, so we've integrated it into the editor so as you're typing in if you type in the letter H and your character is with the letter H it'll pop up as a notice to just dropdown. We've seen people use it in many different ways. Like with her with the research, she doesn't use the autosuggest feature, she turned that off, but with the research [inaudible 00:10:32].
Casey: Well, I think even like you say autosuggest but what is it it's like say you type in H and you have a character named Hector. Hector will not only ... It doesn't just populate the name, but then you can click on the name and then it has all the information on.
Bryan: Yeah, so it can help you be more consistent about how you describe the character or the story elements.
Casey: And what happened to the character and all that stuff.
Dominic: Yeah, in my writing and I know a lot of the users use it the same way is just to keep tabs on your characters almost. Just having it on the right sidebar as you type. Whenever you want to reference it you can like I said keep track of where the characters are at, even if it's like shifting emotions, shifting visuals and things like that.
Casey: For me, for nonfiction with what I was doing I had so many topics in it. Say stress was a topic, so that's a story element and now I have all the research articles I have on it and all the ways that I tied it into cravings and how it affects your hormone levels that affect your weight loss in general, things like that.
Bryan: Okay, so I'm quite curious about that Casey, because I mean I write mostly nonfiction. If I was writing an article about stress and I've come across three different goodies that I want to refer to how would I go about setting that up in LivingWriter or what should I do?
Casey: You make stress a story element and then you can put-
Dominic: Or a chapter, right?
Casey: Yeah. Or it could be a subchapter. To me, I guess everyone organizes differently. I would make stress a story element and then I would put in links to every research article I have on there. I might put in just like how it relates to, like I said, how it relates to cravings and all things [inaudible 00:12:17]. You could make it a subchapter. You could outline it that way and have it be a subchapter.
Bryan: Okay and when I type in stress then into the actual chapter itself do you have that popup coming up on screen or do you turn that off?
Casey: If you're typing in stress and then if you want to click it will highlight itself. If [inaudible 00:12:40] wait, where did I reference this already or let me just pull up that article or I'm writing about this now so let me just add in this reference that I have because I have to put in later. If you click on the word stress, it will come up on the right sidebar and give you everything that you've written about stress so far into that story element.
Bryan: Do you have any tips or advice for how a writer could use the board elements?
Dominic: The board elements, I guess, would definitely be for nonfiction. The reason we did the board was just for plotting purposes. We had a lot of feedback. This is a pretty new feature. I think we deployed it about two months go because we had a lot of feedback from people saying, "Hey, can you actually integrate a board similar to the corkboard in Scrivener?" What they wanted to do was basically just see an overview of their story and for the most part just actually flush out their story before they begin writing. That's what we see most people doing. They'll go in and they'll start creating chapters and they'll start creating descriptions, subchapters, outlines, all of that and then they'll go into the board, organize all their notes, organize all their chapters and the plot in the way that they want it before they start writing.
Casey: I actually could've used that. I published my book well before that feature was in but now that I'm thinking about probably the most annoying part of writing my book was figuring out what should go when. I did a lot of that board feature type of stuff on paper, so I definitely could've used that to just put here's this topic, this topic, this topic and then look at from an overview and see what makes sense to have this as the readers going through what should be first and how does that all line up.
Dominic: You can easily drag-and-drop around on the board, but we're also adding a feature later on, which allows you to see things how often you used a character in a specific section of your story and different statistics as well.
Bryan: Yeah. I've actually used index cards quite a lot, so I find it helpful to write the chapter title in the next paper and lay them out on a desk, but I could actually see how a board would be useful within an app itself. You talked about your background in UX. Many of the writing apps today are minimalist writing apps, at least some of the popular ones. Are you considering a minimalist version of LivingWriter or perhaps a distraction-free version?
Dominic: Yes. On our roadmap right now is a focus mode, which will provide you distraction-free writing, but additionally mobile iOS and Android apps that are coming out are extremely minimal. With the phone, we didn't want to go too deep on trying to figure out how to incorporate the board feature on your phone. Usually when people are writing on their phone they're just trying to write at that moment and not really organize their story. With that, the mobile app is going to look a little like iA Writer. I don't know if you-
Bryan: Yeah, that's an app I use for writing shorter articles quite a lot.
Dominic: Yeah, so the mobile version is going to look just very, very similar to that. For the desktop and browser versions we're going to incorporate the focus mode, which will basically get rid of all the sidebars, get rid of all the toolbars and just have your words and maybe a small thing to just font sizes at the bottom.
Bryan: Do you have plans for a desktop version or do you think people are happy?
Bryan: You do?
Dominic: We do. There's a good amount of people that have emailed as saying we would like a desktop version because they're traveling a lot. With the desktop version, it would also come with offline support. You'd be able to actually write even without internet and once you get internet again it will just completely sync to the cloud.
Bryan: Yeah, I think for me and for some writers I know the appeal would be that you can write while you're not getting distracted because you're online and something pops up on social media or the news or email. You can just plug out your internet cable and just focus on the writing project, so that would be great to see. What about markdown which is a way of formatting text to the web quickly?
Dominic: You mean as far as exporting or?
Bryan: Actually using markdown within the app itself. For example, you put two hashtags next to a heading and then it's formatted as H2.
Dominic: Right. We haven't gotten a lot of feedback on that, I'm not going to lie.
Bryan: Okay. It could be a niche, use case or a niche request for me, I guess.
Dominic: Yeah, for sure. I mean, we do have people asking for more keyboard shortcuts and I guess it would be a similar situation with markdown. I guess I'll look into that.
Bryan: I also noticed the app has some export options, the have Word and PDF. I haven't actually tested the Kindle or the Amazon export option. Does that actually create a ready-made file that you can publish straight on Amazon?
Dominic: Well, Casey is the only one that's published a book here.
Casey: Oh, yeah.
Dominic: I mean, I guess [inaudible 00:17:27].
Casey: Oh, that's why we did ... I don't know.
Dominic: Yeah, so once she was publishing on Amazon you have to create certain file sizes out of the Word documents.
Casey: Amazon would give you these files, these Word documents that you could then copy all your work into that template, but it was just really cumbersome and very annoying, so I think that's when [crosstalk 00:17:51].
Dominic: Yeah, so I saw that and I said, "Okay, let's make it easy for anyone who's ready to publish and so those templates that Amazon gives you, you can export your entire book from LivingWriter just with the margins and everything that Amazon has requested for self publish.
Bryan: Is that print as well or is that-
Dominic: Print as well.
Bryan: Print as well. Oh, fantastic.
Dominic: [crosstalk 00:18:13] It's mostly for print. As far as the kindly, we're doing MOBI export, which is like eBook exports and that's coming in the next two weeks, but with that we have this feature called send to Kindle and with that you can basically export your book to a MOBI and click the send to Kindle button and actually send your book to your Kindle. Not published, but just so that you could see it on your Kindle at any point.
Bryan: That's a great feature because I think currently it's quite convoluted to preview your Kindle book on a Kindle without actually publishing it.
Casey: Yeah, it's really annoying to do that.
Bryan: Yeah. You have to download a special app from Amazon. I'm also curious, how are you getting word out about the app, about the writing app? What are you doing to promote apart from podcast interviews?
Dominic: You know Casey just started the reach out campaign around the same time that we contacted you, but we just started just Google advertising and stuff and we've seen such a really, really good amount of feedback. We have other review sites and things. They're reviewing us. Even ProWritingAid, Grammarly is doing an article on us so that's our main source. Just finding those communities and people like you that have a base of writers and readers that would be interested in the product.
Casey: Yeah. Talking to people on Facebook Groups, because people are always asking like, "Oh, what do you use," and this and that and I've just been having some conversations with people about LivingWriter and they actually ... A lot of people sign up just from those conversations and they love it.
Dominic: It's in the last couple months, we've got a lot of Tweeting about it. We even had a New York Times best-selling author just voluntarily Tweet about LivingWriter.
Bryan: Oh, wow. Congratulations.
Dominic: Saying that she's going to use it for next project, which was pretty huge. I mean, the thing is I want to say, "Build and they'll come," but it's not that way anymore really. With our app, I feel like we've just done ... We've gone above and beyond and we're maintaining a consistent pace in the feature updates and making sure we listen to our user base. We get unsolicited emails all the time from our users saying, "Hey, I just want to let you guys know that I love this and I see that it's a labor of love," and et cetera is a real nice feeling.
Bryan: [Chase 00:20:30], are you actually developing the app or are there other people in your company?
Dominic: Yeah, I have ... There's three developers working on LivingWriter. We have an AWS technician as well. I don't do any development anymore, but I do oversee the UI/UX.
Bryan: I presume Casey, then you're handling the outreach and promoting the app?
Casey: Yeah. I'll also ... I'm constantly taking a look at it and be like, "I don't like this button, do this differently," or I'll mention a certain feature. I think I hopefully mentioned the template. I think that was me.
Bryan: Yeah, the templates are great. Do either of you still find time to write?
Casey: Yeah, you've been.
Dominic: Yeah, I've been writing. I mean-
Casey: I published my book already, so I was kind of like taking a break from that. Actually, when he did the templates I was like, "I really want to write a fiction book now. I want to put something into that template." It was [crosstalk 00:21:22] inspiring to me.
Dominic: Yeah, but we still get time to write. I mean, this is ... I had a company for a while, but LivingWriter has become just the main focus and we're moving pretty quickly so I find time wherever I can in between just management.
Bryan: It's actually free to try as well for a month, is that right?
Dominic: Yeah, completely free trial for a month.
Bryan: If somebody wants to try LivingWriter, what's the best step or best place for them to go to?
Dominic: Livingwriter.com. Hit the trial for free button and you'll be right in. We don't hold back any features or anything like that. You get the full experience 30 days.
Bryan: Oh, well, thank you Chase, thank you Casey, it's very nice to talk to you today.
Casey: Thank you, you too.
Dominic: Thank you, Bryan.
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