December 3, 2010

Portrait of the artist as an app


(I admit it: for someone who has expressed deep doubts about National Novel Writing Month, I also can’t seem to stop thinking/talking about it.)

The culture of NaNoWriMo is a world of writerly tips, tricks, technologies, and related ephemera. You get pep talks. You get “web badges.” You get advice from well known writers. Throughout the last month at GalleyCat, Jason Boog has been posting daily “writing tips.” There are some very useful bits of advice, even wisdom, on the list. However, I found the list most notable for the proliferation of tech tools for the would-be writer. These technological solutions are mostly notable for being clever, pleasing… and probably not useful to the actual act of writing. I decided to give some of them a test run.

1. The Brainstormer. This beautifully designed webpage and app helps you randomly brainstorm plots. I gave it a whirl and it came up with “Obtaining cockney fairy.” No further comment.

2. “Use Foursquare for inspiration.” It’s a little unclear how Foursquare is supposed to help, but, according to the tip, you can use Foursquare’s “tips” to receive photographs of the place where you already are.

3. Lulu’s Titletester. The site lets you know the percent chance your novel’s title will be a “bestselling title.” The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo has a 10.2% of being a “bestselling title.” Moby Dick had a 45.6% chance. Conclusion: The Titletester, I decided, has a 100% of being meaningless.

4. Write or Die. A downloadable and web program that punishes you in various ways (red lights, annoying sounds) for not writing at preset speed. In its “evil” “kamikaze” mode it even deletes your words if you pause for too long. I wrote the following: “Our technological culture is predicated on a belief that technology can enhance our abilities and potential as human beings… stop stop stop flashing red lights a tmeplease!!!!”

5. Name generators. There are dozens of these. Villain name generators. Trendy name generators. An “anthropomorphic animal” generator. I used this last one and it came up with this: “The athletic titan poses ‘pon balletic limbs, his fervid tegument beige of tone… sapphire spheres shimmering with passion and audreys pricked atop his statuesque bulk.” Thanks, name generator.

6. The cliché finder. The website asks, “Have you been searching for just the right cliché to use?…Just enter any words in the form below, and this search engine will return any clichés which use that phrase…” I typed in “waste” and it came back with “Don’t bother trying to teach a pig to sing; you only waste your time and annoy the pig.”