If you are a writer by trade, or have to do a lot of writing in your trade, you have likely (certainly?) had to deal with writer’s block. You know what I’m talking about. The dreaded staring at the screen blankly while your mind wanders aimlessly or just seems to stop working altogether. Sometimes writers block is just plain lack of motivation. Of course there are things you can do to overcome writer’s block. For me, nothing works better than a good workout or caffeine to clear the cobwebs or a pomodoro timer for a little extra motivation.
I was actually struggling with writers block at the very time I noticed Flowstate, an app that claims to help users fight through writer’s block. That’s a pretty big claim, and I couldn’t resist putting it to the test.
What Flowstate is Supposed to Do
Flowstate’s description in the MAS says, “Flowstate is a writing app designed to subdue the inner critic, and enable writers to translate their feelings and ideas onto the page without over-analyzation”. Because writer’s block is often associated with writers being overly critical of their work, Flowstate tries to force writers to get words on the screen. So how does Flowstate do this? More importantly how well does Flowstate do this? That’s what I hope to answer in this review, so here goes.
Getting Into the Flow State
The first thing you notice after opening Flowstate is that it is a full screen only app. This is, of course, by design, to force the user into a distraction-free zone. At the welcome screen users can choose the options for their writing session. This includes choosing the font, how long the session will be (one minute to two hours), night mode, and page width. That’s pretty much it for options and preferences.
If you are starting a writing session with a new document, you title the document and the app automatically goes into editing mode. All you will see on the screen is the inconspicuous timer at the type right of the screen. Once you start typing, the timer starts and you are now in a flow state.
What Exactly Is a Flow State?
A flow state is basically a writing session that can be slightly scary, or even intensely scary. After you start typing, you can’t stop typing. If you do stop typing, the letters on the screen begin to fade. What happens if the letters fade completely you ask? Let’s get to that in a second. In a flow state, grammar and spell check are turned off. There is even an option to turn off the delete button. I did not like this option, but if you truly want to be forced to keep writing, this option may work well for you.
Now back to the question of what happens if the letters fade completely? All your work is deleted and the flow state starts over again. Okay, take a second to read that sentence again. Yes that’s right, all your work is deleted. And yes, I did learn this the hard way. On another occasion I started a flow state and finished with about thirty seconds left. I panicked and ended up just typing nonsense until the flow state ended. After further experimentation I figured out you can actually hit command-Q to end a flow state if you need to. Warning: if you do quit the app during a flow state, you will feel like a quitter. The author describes the app as brutal, and it is, but it is also good to know you can quit the app if you need to and not loose your work (unless you let the letters fade away, then you are out of luck).
What Happens When a Flow State Ends?
When timer hits zero, the flow state ends and the screen fades back to the the welcome screen. From here you can create a new document by entering a title and hitting enter putting you in another flow state. You can also select any previous document for editing outside of a flow state with spell check and grammar check turned on. Alternatively, you can start another flow state with any existing document. There are not a lot of options in terms of document management, you can delete or export the documents and that’s it.
The export options in Flowstate include: mail, Facebook, message, and export as a .txt file
A Few Things to Keep in Mind
As you are typing in a flow state, any keyboard shortcut for moving the cursor around does not count as a key stroke. So if you are pressing alt-arrow or command-arrow, the letters will fade as you do. This is actually one thing I would like to see changed. The developer may be hesitant to go down this road because the whole point of the app is to force the user to get on the screen, and moving the cursor around is not getting content on the screen. Another handy feature is the ability to add time to a flow state. As a flow state is ending, you can add one or five minutes by hitting command-1 or command-5 respectively.
Flowstate also has iOS versions that sync with the Mac version through iCloud.
Rating this app is difficult. It’s so subjective. Either this method is going to help you push through writer’s block, or it will drive you crazy. Flowstate’s feature set and UI are perfect for what it does, no complaints on this front. So did it work for me? Kind of. The type of writing I do usually requires me to reference a lot of other material, which is not conducive to working with Flowstate.
However, when I tried using Flowstate with my reference materials on my iPad or printed out, I found that it did help me push through writer’s block. Where Flowstate excels is writing pieces where you don’t need to reference other material or just want to get a quick page or two out. If you are really struggling with writer’s block, this app is likely worth a shot if the $10 price tag doesn’t strike you as too high.