Got writer’s block? Want more power in your prose? Looking to spice up anemic assignments? The Poynter Institute’s Help! For Writers app summons your inner Shakespeare, thanks to the advice crafted by the school’s leading experts on writing.
Whether you write for your profession, for pleasure or both, coming to screeching halt when penning that next masterpiece can be crippling. Will this app help move things along and make you a better wordsmith in the process? Find out after the break.
Pick Your Problem
Help! For Writers sources its content from a book with a similar name. That was penned by Roy Peter Clark, the vice president and senior scholar of reporting, writing and editing faculty at Poynter. His bio says he’s taught things to Pulitzer Prize winners, so it’s a given that his techniques presented here will be beneficial to your craft.
But how you get to them is the highlight of the app. Help! For Writers will roadmap you forward with your writing, no matter what stage you’re at with your project. The predetermined problems are:
- Getting started
- Hunting and gathering
- Finding a focus
- Building a draft
- Making it better
These cover the main barriers of fleshing out a written piece, but do you want to get more specific with a hurdle? Each of the bulleted stages goes into a separate menu featuring a tightened list of problems. For example, let’s say you’ve chosen the Getting Started menu. You will be lead to these conundrums:
- I am totally blocked.
- I am out of story ideas.
- I keep getting bad assignments.
From there, get ready to hone in and knock down your barrier.
Find a Solution and Get Inspired
Upon selecting one of the above or other conundrums, depending on your stage and problem, you’ll be taken to the first of a number of tips. These tips range in numbers between a handful and up to a dozen or so for each issue. If you come across one you don’t want to try or that simply isn’t helpful, tap “Another Tip, Please” to get a second, a third and so on.
Found an approach that you really like? You’re in luck, because Help! For Writers will let you save the best recommendations to your Favorites.
Un-Favoriting tips is a challenge. It looks like the only way to accomplish this involves deleting the app entirely, so “star” them wisely.
While most tips are displayed in text form, audio options abound from the app’s author. Roy Peter Clark himself speaks in pre-recorded, inspiring addresses that deal with topics such as writing collaboratively, writing as a form of discovery, living within the English language, among others. Sadly, these brief and encouraging bits cannot be added to your Favorites. Instead, they can be readily accessed through the Inspire Me icon.
Form Over Flash
Help! For Writers instantly reveals something about itself: it was definitely created and probably designed by writers. The organization is great — it’s much quicker to reference than a book and more to the point of your specific problem. But the imagery is, well, nonexistent, and the color scheme is a bit bland.
Though the More button offers snoozy yet respectable facts about the app and Poynter itself, the Training button is what truly disappoints. What could have been filled with surely complex lessons does nothing more than lead users to various pages of Poynter’s website.
No vocabulary tests for those looking to become more verbose, or grammar tests for those who like their challenges technical. Folks looking to beef up on those skills will have to look elsewhere.
But if you do want to extend your writing education online or in-person, Training is a good place to go after exhausting the app. But it won’t be a good source for gaining further tips and experience right away. And the book it leads to may not be of much help if you get the gist from the advice already offered on this app.
Helpful or in Need of Rescue?
Admittedly, I have not read Roy Peter Clark’s Help! For Writers: 210 Solutions to the Problems Every Writer Faces, which inspires much of the information provided in this app. I assume that most of the advice here takes the form of bullet points from that text. If that is indeed the case, then the Help! For Writers app succeeds in condensing these points into easy-to-navigate stages. Not only is this resource easier to carry around in your pocket, but it saves time that would be spent thumbing the pages and instead lets you focus on your own words.
Though some of the tips may seem basic, they can be difficult to recall — no matter how intently you’re staring at a blank screen. Help! For Writers streamlines these tips in a way that will help writers of all kinds. If you do find yourself stuck in a writing moment that you can’t get out of, the app can instantly get your wheels turning and dig you out of that hole.
There’s nothing in this app that guarantees you will improve as a writer after using it. But it does demonstrate several tools that can be used to boost your interest in and your energy toward a given project.