Become a Writer Today

Using Prompts to Jump-Start Your Writing With Daily Prompt Co-Creator Ryan Lindsey

December 14, 2020 Bryan Collins
Become a Writer Today
Using Prompts to Jump-Start Your Writing With Daily Prompt Co-Creator Ryan Lindsey
Chapters
Become a Writer Today
Using Prompts to Jump-Start Your Writing With Daily Prompt Co-Creator Ryan Lindsey
Dec 14, 2020
Bryan Collins

Almost all writers need to jump-start their writing occasionally and using prompts on a daily basis can really help with that.  

Personally, I think that daily writing prompts are so useful I wrote a book full of them. 

If you'd like to try using prompts, and like the idea of them popping up on your phone, there is a fantastic prompt app available called Daily Prompt, and I recently had the chance to catch up with its co-creator Ryan Lindsey. 

I wanted to understand how he came up with idea for creating such an app in the first place and how writers are using prompts to drive their writing habits. 

In this interview we discuss: 

  • The idea behind The Daily Prompt
  • How they come up with ideas for prompts
  • The community of writers that's developed within the app
  • Gamification within the app to encourage daily writing
  • The introduction of competitions in the app
  • Keeping all the writing that's done in the app safe and secure



Resources:

The Daily Prompt
Deviant Art
Day One
the.fitness.hippie

Support the show (https://www.patreon.com/becomeawritertoday)

Show Notes Transcript

Almost all writers need to jump-start their writing occasionally and using prompts on a daily basis can really help with that.  

Personally, I think that daily writing prompts are so useful I wrote a book full of them. 

If you'd like to try using prompts, and like the idea of them popping up on your phone, there is a fantastic prompt app available called Daily Prompt, and I recently had the chance to catch up with its co-creator Ryan Lindsey. 

I wanted to understand how he came up with idea for creating such an app in the first place and how writers are using prompts to drive their writing habits. 

In this interview we discuss: 

  • The idea behind The Daily Prompt
  • How they come up with ideas for prompts
  • The community of writers that's developed within the app
  • Gamification within the app to encourage daily writing
  • The introduction of competitions in the app
  • Keeping all the writing that's done in the app safe and secure



Resources:

The Daily Prompt
Deviant Art
Day One
the.fitness.hippie

Support the show (https://www.patreon.com/becomeawritertoday)

Ryan:
The biggest thing that we've seen is when people... You hear a lot of this on social media now, and there's like these algorithms that they're already good at knowing what you like. So they only give you the things that you want to hear because you're engaged with that. And I think the biggest downside of that is quite obvious is that you get trapped in a bubble of all the things that you like, and you never expand out of your comfort zone.

Introduction :
Welcome to the Become a Writer Today podcast with Bryan Collins. Here you'll find practical advice and interviews for all kinds of writers.

Do you need to jump start your writing? If so, I recommend using a daily writing prompt. Hi there. My name is Bryan Collins, and welcome to the Become a Writer Today podcast. And writing prompts are actually one of my favorite things to use. Basically I use writing prompts for journal entries, for book chapters. I used to use them when I was writing fiction, and I still use them for a book that I'm working on at the moment about parenting.

I have a collection of hundreds of prompts on my computer and I've even written a book of writing prompts. And I also use apps to kickstart my writing. Basically what I do is I use a prompt, and then I'll write for 10 or 15 minutes about whatever the prompt says, and then I'll move off into whatever I'm working on. It's kind of like a warmup exercise when you're at the gym. Sometimes the prompts can be a question. Sometimes it can be a photograph. Sometimes it can be a statement or it could even be a line of fiction or a line that you really enjoyed from a book.

Now that said there is a fantastic app that I've come across recently, which is called Daily Prompt, and it's on the app store. And I recently had the chance to catch up with the co-creator of the Daily Prompt app. His name is Ryan Lindsey, and I wanted to understand how he came up with creating such an app in the first place and how writers are using this.

Well, before we get into this week's interview, I do have an ask. If you're enjoying the Become a Writer Today show, please, could you leave a short review wherever you're listening to the podcast, because more reviews and more ratings will help more people find the show. And in the resources, I'll also put some additional information about where you could find writing prompts to jumpstart your writing.

Now, with that said, let's dive into this week's interview.

Bryan :
Ryan, it's very nice to talk to you today. I was excited to come across your app, which is close to my heart. It's called Daily Prompt, and it's on the app store. And the reason why it's close to my heart is I've actually written a book of writing prompts. And I use writing prompts almost every day because I find they're a great way to jumpstart my writing. So I was really interested to see how somebody could turn writing prompts into an app that people could use. So welcome to the show. Would you be able to introduce yourself and maybe tell the story of how you created such an interesting app?

Ryan:
Sure. Yeah. Thanks for the intro. And yeah, I never realized how useful writing prompts were until actually going into this whole world, I guess. So, my name's Ryan, so the co-founder of Daily Prompt, and I've been working on it for about a year and a half with a friend of mine. So he is more the writer or the creative behind it, and I'm more the developer just trying to build this out.

It came around... So interesting story, is Danny was writing a book that had I think around 60,000 words or so. He'd kind of got a bit burnt out of it and wanted to take a bit of a break for revisiting it. But as he commutes to work every day for about an hour, he just wanted something to fill his time so he could keep practicing his writing skills and writing prompts was essentially what he wanted. So he just wanted a little prompt every day to give him a hint. And then he could just write for that remainder of that train journey. After looking around, there was nothing really useful that he could find. He's looking for books. There's lots of like online articles, but he just wanted something easy to write on his phone. And so that was kind of like how the idea got started.

And my background is more in product. And so I was like, this would be a great app to build. It sounds really fun. I like the idea for it. And then after looking online, I didn't realize how many people use writing prompts. And I know there's a subreddit out there that was very popular. So yeah, that was kind of how it got started. We put it in the app store. It was like let's see if anyone uses it, and it was very bad. It was a bright purple background. And it looked horrendous, but people still used it, and they quite enjoyed it.

And it was quite interesting to see that although you give people one prompt. And so how it works is every single day, we give every user the same prompt, and everyone then writes for that. And then you can see what other people are writing. You look at something, maybe it's an image prompt, and you see romance, but someone else is seeing horror or thriller. And then you can see all the different creative directions people are pulling in. And it's just a great way, I think, to help expand your creativity and just get ideas flowing.

Bryan :
So I downloaded the app a few days ago, and I'm actually looking at today's prompt, which was for writing a poem. And it says, write a poem where fire is the central theme, whether this be physical or a metaphorical burning. And that struck me as quite an original prompt. And I gather there are over 600 in the app. So I'm wondering how you guys came up with so many different prompts and how you differentiated them from many of the kind of cliche prompts that would be online already.

Ryan:
Yeah, so a lot of it was experimentation. We knew that there was two very basic categories. So some people would really like image inspiration and like a lot more visual, whereas other people like just more text-based. So that was a very clear defining way to do it there. And then you technically have people that just prefer to write for poems or for more story-based. So that was kind of the way that we broke it down.

Ryan:
And so it was like, we got three to four categories there. And then once you break it down by genre, so then let's say you have like 10 of the main genres out there. So that was kind of like [inaudible 00:05:53] okay we got 20 to 30 variations on that. And so we just started working through them. And in the beginning, you get really creative, and I'm sure it was like, as you said in your writing prompts book, in the beginning, you have tons of prompt ideas. And two months down the line, after doing this every day, it got a bit stale. And we were like, okay, we're running out of ideas. So that was when we started to introduce the idea of the community can offer prompts, and they can submit them as well. And that's been a part of the driver. So I'd say about 20% of the month is currently community-driven or like driving off other people's ideas. But you'd be amazed at how creative you can get when you really focus on a niche like writing prompt.

Bryan :
So if people are submitting their own prompts, you must have many more than 600 at this stage.

Ryan:
Yeah. We get probably around 10 submitted every single day, on like an average day, but they would typically... We curate them. So if you're looking in the app, and what you just said there is like what we want, which is that was quite an original prompt that you've seen and quite useful. We get quite a lot of prompts that we come up with or other people come up, and the majority really don't work. If you throw a hundred at the wall, you start to find the good stuff. Trying to come up with like a framework, essentially, to think creatively.

Bryan :
So a framework. So I'm interested how do you decide what ones work? Are you relying on feedback from people in the app, or are you testing them yourselves?

Ryan:
So we are going to, as the user base grows, we might use more of a data approach, which would be maybe we chuck four in the app for the first hour, and the winner of that hour stays for the whole day, for example. But at the minute, it's just more based on our previous hit rate. So we can see what prompts people engage with, what people don't. So we've got like two years pretty much of data now of like what people find interesting and what they don't. And it's very unique to the person, and that's what we found.

Ryan:
And so we've actually put a lot of effort in trying to personalize them. So hopefully as you went through the onboarding, you would have seen that you can pick what kind of prompts that you want. So you pick, do I want visual or do I want a written text? Do I want it by these certain genres? And then as you do that, we then personalize them. So we actually give everyone the same prompt every day. And then we give you one personalized one just for you. Because let's say the prompt of the day that we offer is a poem starter. And you despise poems for whatever reason, then we'll give one exactly that you want, that we know based on previous data that people like and engage with.

Bryan :
And how do you come up with the visual prompts or what is an example of a visual prompt in the app?

Ryan:
Those are the tricky ones. It's really hard to come up with really creative, inspiring images that don't just end up as stock photos. So a lot of effort goes actually finding those, but we have now a network of artists that we kind of connect with. But it started off very much as trying to find artists through website sites such as Deviant Art and such as that, but it's very much alternate worlds, and they typically find they're quite dark themes. You have a dark themed sci-fi prompt would be very popular, or on the flip side, just a romantic couple or light-hearted romantic scenery seems to be the typical go.

Bryan :
So it sounds like a mix between illustrations and photographs.

Ryan:
Yeah. I would say it's probably 70% illustrations at the moment.

Bryan :
Okay. And do you find people gravitate more towards text prompts or photo and image prompts?

Ryan:
Most people prefer text actually. I was so adamant when we started, that I was like image all the way. I was like 90 per cent images, but yeah, it turns out text is definitely what people prefer. And I think it's because it gives you more of an open environment. As we were learning more about this, it's people really just want to expand their creativity and push themselves. I think any writer can write for something that they enjoy and that they can box themselves in. A bad example of a prompt would be something that tells you what the scene is, and it tells you just what to write about and the characters. Whereas a good prompt, it's not so vague to say, write a story about the sky, but it's got that middle ground, where it kind of gives you the creative freedom, but it also lets you push yourself outside of your comfort writing thing.

Bryan :
And you can actually write in the app, which is always an interesting way to approach it. So how are people, or what are people, writing in the app with the prompts?

Ryan:
Yeah, I'm so glad we did this. It adds so much complication to building, but the community behind it has been really interesting. So we've now had, I don't know, probably about 7,000 writings in the app written. And, yeah, over a thousand writings a month for the moment, and you get a lot of interaction. So when you post in there, you're obviously being able to see what everyone else is coming up with for that prompt. So you're automatically trying to expand your creativity as you're doing that. But then people can kind of request feedback, and they can get feedback from what everyone else thinks. It's very much community-driven. So you're not guaranteed to get feedback, but we're trying to promote that as much as we can as kind of like a ask for feedback but also give feedback. So it's as good as the community is. And we found that that's probably the main selling point actually of the app, which has been quite interesting to see.

Ryan:
You typically will find we have a range of people. You've just got the really young, aspiring authors just starting out with no track record. But what this has really helped is people that have wanted to write but there's been too high a barrier to writing. Maybe they're not quite confident enough to put something out, and they don't want to put the time and effort into spending a week or spending a couple hundred pounds on putting some [inaudible 00:12:03] book cover together. But just being able to free write in the app and get something out there and get feedback pretty much instantly, has really helped quite a lot of people. We've actually just got the first lady who's written, I think she's written about 80 times now.

Bryan :
80, wow.

Ryan:
Yeah, we actually have two users now that have just hit the hundredth day streak. So they've written 110 days in a row, which is mad.

Bryan :
Yeah. Gamification is a fantastic approach for writers who don't write as much as they feel they should.

Ryan:
Yeah, I mean, that's been incredible, and it's really great to look back at. You can look at everyone's profile, and you can see the first writing they wrote, and you can read their hundredth writing. And you can actually see them getting better. Like you can literally just go into the app. And that's, I think, the best thing to see, because the theory was that... Or the theory of anything is, as you do it more, you should get better, learn as you go. But it's been really good to see now that we've got people just continually doing that. That actually seems to be the case.

Ryan:
And we've got one lady that is now self publishing her first book of poetry, which will be quite interesting. And she said that Daily Prompt has kind of helped her have the courage to put something out there. Because it is such a small amount of text, right? It's like four or 500 words. You put it out there, and that barrier of anxiousness of having to write a whole book or being super worried about something. What if people don't like my work, and I've spent months on it? Whereas you could spend 10, 20 minutes on an idea that you like, and you haven't sacrificed so much. And I think that's a good barrier to entry for a lot of people.

Bryan :
Yeah. I guess if you're writing four or 500 words a day, that's between two and 2,500 a week. You'll have something that you can edit at the end of the month, if you keep up that kind of cadence or pace with writing. Does it tend to be a lot of fiction writers who are using this?

Ryan:
Yeah, pretty much mainly fiction, I would say at the moment. Yeah, it would be interesting, because I know people want to expand into doing fiction and non-fiction, but it would be an interesting one... Yeah, I don't know what your idea is with...

Bryan :
Yeah. Well I write a lot of nonfiction, so I used to write short stories and so on and novellas. Then I took a course in writing literary nonfiction and impersonal essays. And we used some writing prompts in that class as kind of like exploratory writing. And you can write about an experience you had or something that you've gone through. So it's kind of like writing fiction. So I think prompts are definitely helpful for nonfiction writers. Because when people hear about nonfiction, they think of journalism or sometimes they think of reviews or something that they're reading on the internet, but there's other types of non-fiction too.

Bryan :
And also journaling is technically nonfiction, but prompts are fantastic for journaling. I use the app Day One app for journaling quite a lot. That has journaling prompts built into it. When you click a new entry, you can see a prompt right there in the app.

Ryan:
Yeah. A friend of mine is actually working on... I've heard good things about Day One as well. And a friend of mine is working on another journaling... It's like a mental health space app. So it's to prompt you... [inaudible 00:15:14] prompts again, but for mental health. So he has a business called [Sanctus 00:15:17], which they go around companies, and they offer services for coaching to everyone. But they also found that people would like... They have check-ins like every two weeks, but in between that time, the coach could give out daily prompts to help the person maybe like progress through between every time they meet.

Ryan:
So I think prompts in general are... I'd say, two years into doing this, I've actually realized that prompts are beyond just writing prompts, and it has like a cadence of. I think the biggest thing is just getting into a daily habit of doing anything, no matter what it is. Like you could be drilling. I don't know. If you want to be a plumber, just plumb every day. And I think prompts are a great way to get you doing that.

Bryan :
And could you talk a little bit about how the competitions work in the app?

Ryan:
Yeah, sure. So this is a new feature that we've added, and we're actually going to be expanding on these quite a lot. But at the minute, we have a new writing competition every week. And like I say, every day you can come in and you can write, and you're kind of practicing your skills. And then the idea of the weekly competition is that you've got a bit more time to prepare. You've not got 24 hours. It's a bit longer form. So we changed the the word limit, but let's say it's 1,000 words. And then you kind of got a bit more time to put into practice maybe what you've learnt during the week. And then there's a public vote for around three to six days where people can kind of come in, have a read, and they will vote for their top writings. The top ten will get shortlisted. And then the top three writings will get personalized feedback, which is the one thing everyone wants, right? To get better is to be able to get feedback.

Ryan:
And we're working with some writers to just kind of give their advice and tips that they've learned. And so they will critique the top three writings off of plot development, character development, settings, and about 10 different sections. And it's just like a really, really nice way because if you can give them that feedback, then you actually see them come into the competition again the next week. And let's say one of those points that they'd put to practice, and you can see that they've actually developed again, which is really good. We would love to give feedback to everyone, but obviously it was quite costly.

Bryan :
Yeah. And time consuming as well.

Ryan:
Quite time consuming. So it's frustrating that you read some of them, you're like, "Where do I get feedback?" So I think what we're actually going to do is give that detailed feedback to the top three, and then maybe everyone that enters, we can give them a snippet of like... Because sometimes we really want to give people stuff. So yeah, that's been really interesting.

Ryan:
And then what we're also thinking of maybe like turning every daily prompt into, not a competition of sorts. So the weekly one, there's prize money as well. So for example, we change it, but I think it's $50 this current week if you win. And that's every single week. So, you could earn a good amount if you keep winning. But yeah, we're thinking of maybe turning the prompts every day, not into a competition, but like we will keep it highlit because you can go back to see previous ones. So maybe we'll keep it highlighted, so you can see maybe like the top like or most engaged writing, for example. And they'll get a spotlight for that prompt.

Bryan :
And if a new writers downloaded your app and they've started using this... I went through your onboarding sequence, and there was like interests that I click related on what I'm interested in. So I clicked poetry, and I think I clicked adventure. But is there any advice or tips that you would give them about how to use a writing prompt like for a week? Or is there anything that you would say to them or mistakes that they should avoid?

Ryan:
Good point. I think the biggest thing that we've seen is when people... And you hear a lot of this on social media now. There's these algorithms that they're really good at knowing what you like, so they only give you the things that you want to hear because you're engaged with that. And I think the biggest downside of that is quite obvious is that you get trapped in a bubble of all the things that you like, and you never expand out of your comfort zone.

And I think that would be the biggest... Kind of using that analogy, using that with writing prompts is that you come in and you say you like action and adventure, and you just want image prompts. But actually what might make... The whole idea of prompts is to help you to get better at writing. If you just do the same thing over and over again, maybe there's things that you're missing from other genres. So we're really trying to encourage people to try other things that they don't like, and just play their hand at it. Because sometimes you might love thriller, but maybe you get prompted with a romantic poem that you've never done in your life. And as you're thinking through that process, it's actually bringing you more insight that you could then apply to maybe your favorite genres.

Bryan :
And do you recommend that somebody who's new to prompts use it for just five minutes or 10 minutes? Or should they aim for a particular word count for their first couple of sessions?

Ryan:
I would say just come into the app, give it a quick glance. So the average user uses it for about 10 minutes a day, which is enough time to read a couple of writings and see what other people are writing and then come up with your own. And when you see... Yeah, the best writings you can see people have clearly spent more time on, and they've spent maybe like half hour to an hour putting that out. And it's only say five, 600 words they're putting out if they really think about it. But there's a lot of writers that will put haikus in the app, or they'll just write 200 words.

Ryan:
But ultimately this is the whatever will help you get better at writing, is ultimately the goal. And if you want that low barrier to entry, you can literally just come in, write for a couple of minutes, get something out there, and every day you get a new opportunity to do it. So I think that the main thing is just get in there, write what comes to mind, send it out there, read a couple of writings to see what everyone else has done, kind of take that idea that they would've done something completely different to you, and then come back the next day and give it an [inaudible 00:21:22] and see happens.

Bryan :
So anytime I talk about writing apps, particularly ones that are online, I get questions from readers or from listeners like, "Is it secure?" So they were worried that their writing is going to get taken and used somewhere else, or they might get ripped off or plagiarized. And also, "How can I turn it into a book or turn it into something that I can publish?" Also, "Is my writing safe?" The worst fear of a writer is to spend hours on something, and then you lose your manuscript. So what would you say to anybody who's got those kinds of worries?

Ryan:
Yeah. This is one of the biggest concerns and the thing that we want to spend the most time kind of thinking about and improving. So a lot of writing apps, weirdly, just save a lot of the data to the device. And you typically find, when they're doing that, technically that's when you'll lose the data. But everything we have is all backed on Google web service. So it's all very, very secure, and we have everything backed up. So it's very, very unlikely that you're going to lose your work. And we want to do better at helping you export the work. So none of the content that you write in the app are we keeping that. So if you needed to export that work, we're adding a new feature in a couple of weeks where you can just export it straight to Google Drive, just essentially at a click of a button. The work around for now is just to email me, and I'll send it to you straight away.

Ryan:
But none of the... We don't own any of the content. The content is all yours. And yeah, I think what would be interesting is we can't... On any platform... Like you could write on Wattpad or you could write anywhere, and someone could essentially plagiarize your work. So no one's stopping it, and I think the biggest fear people have is not unjustified because obviously that would be a horrible thing to do. But every writer is unique, and J.K. Rowling is J.K. Rowling for a reason. And I think if you're a really good writer, no one can copy you exactly. But we will bring in any tools that we can help with people, but it's going to be no different to you publishing your work on Amazon or Wattpad.

Bryan :
Yeah, no, I would agree with that. I mean the biggest challenge, I think, new writers have is not plagiarism, it's actually getting people to pay attention to their work in the first place.

Ryan:
Yeah, exactly.

Bryan :
Hey, we got plagiarized. I know it's happened to me a few times, and it can be frustrating, but it's not the biggest problem in the world, and you kind overcome it. And it means you're doing something right because somebody is paying attention to you.

Ryan:
Yeah. The hardest thing is always... It's not coming up with the idea, it's actually getting it out there into people's hands. And I think that's the biggest thing. But I think, if you can come up with one good idea, you'll come up with a second. So the first problem is getting good enough. The second problem is then how do you get people to know that you're really good? And so, yeah, it's a tough problem for sure.

Ryan:
Our goal, essentially, is at the minute we do writing prompts, but our bigger goal is, our kind of overarching theme is to help you become a better writer. This is a very vague term, but it's a very concise thing as well. But we're working from the bottom up. So we were trying to start off with just writing prompts to get you writing every day. But then we want to introduce more tools as we go that can help you become a better writer. So, like I say, we're starting right from the bottom, and we'll work our way up. So any other features that people would like to see, we add new ones every week. And so I'd love to hear them.

Bryan :
Yeah. Yeah. People should get in touch. When you say we, it's you and your business partner, but do you have developers that you outsource some work to because I'm sure it's a lot of work building and maintaining an app with so many customers?

Ryan:
Yeah, it's just me doing all the coding. So it's myself, a co-founder and then there's a couple others that work on all the content side of it. So they work hard on making sure there's new prompts every day, like high quality prompts, the feedback for the competitions and all that. There's a lot of work that goes into the content side. And then my role is, at the minute, doing all the coding and building all of that side of things, which I would love to get away from and more focused on the actual problems. I'd say half of my time is now actually spent talking to users because they know what they're... We're building the product for them. They know what problems they have. And so it's really great. We can sit in our own bubble and think of every great product and feature that they would like to see, but actually you just talk to them, and you're like, Oh wow, that's so much better than my idea.

Ryan:
And then we implement it a week or two later, and then it's really fun to kind of build the [inaudible 00:26:12] community, but I kind of see that the community that I have as I'm building this, starts with the users, which is really fun. And if you read the reviews, that's actually quite interesting to see. A lot of the five-star reviews that they've said, they've always spoken to me directly. And it's like, "Oh, I have this problem, or I wanted this feature. And then like a week later it was fixed." And so that's actually been quite [inaudible 00:26:33] we've been growing.

Bryan :
Yeah, it sounds great. When you see that there's somebody actually behind a service that you're using. Any plans for an Android or a desktop version?

Ryan:
Yeah, definitely too. We would get web out first, so then the Android users can essentially use it on web or on their mobile device through that. And then Android would be coming next. But we need first to... It costs a lot of money to build apps it turns out. So we're trying to really please... The longer that we wait to bring out an Android is the better for the Android users because we're making a little [inaudible 00:27:07] of what people do and don't want on iOS. And then we'll launch straight on to Android, and it will just be this really nice crisp version.

Ryan:
But we're hoping to build out the basic features on web by the end of the year. So you can enter competitions, you can view writings, and then we'll start building Android and building out a new functional website probably early next year, I would say.

Bryan :
Yeah, that sounds like a good plan. So apart from the app store, where can people find out more about you, Ryan, or the app?

Ryan:
Sure thing. So the app, Daily Prompt in the app store. Just type "writing" in the app store, should come up. Or dailyprompt.co.uk, and personally, for me, my Instagram handle is the.fitness.hippie. There's a story behind that.

Bryan :
Probably a good story behind that Instagram handle.

Ryan:
Yeah, yeah there is.

Bryan :
Could make a good prompt.

Ryan:
Yeah maybe it should.

Bryan :
Well it was very nice to talk to, Ryan. And best of luck with the app. It's definitely something I recommend. I do writer's [inaudible 00:28:06], I use writing prompts a lot myself, as I said, to start, and I think they really can help people. So I think you've got a fantastic app on your hands.

Ryan:
Great. Thanks for having me.

Bryan :
Thank you.

Bryan :
I hope you enjoyed this podcast episode. If you did, please leave a rating on the iTunes store. And if you want to accomplish more with your writing, please visit becomeawritertoday.com/join. And I'll send you a free email course. Thanks for listening.