Describli is a program for writers and readers that provides prompts to encourage and inspire writing as well connecting avid authors and readers.
Here, I interview Describli founder Laura Fredericks.
CS: How did Describli get started? What was the original inspiration to create it? What do you see as the ultimate purpose of Describli?
LF: There are some significant difficulties for writers at the moment. If they aren’t celebrities, or writing the next big sequel, then chances are they are self published or indie published. And if they aren’t traditionally published, then their marketing budgets are often significantly lower. So how do they get noticed? How do they stand out from the other 5 million books published that year? We looked around and didn’t see any good answers to that question. There are sites that use keywords to recommend books, but those have no way of gauging quality and writer talent. There are sites that use friend recommendations, but that often turns into a popularity contest. When we looked, there wasn’t anything out there that put writers on an even playing field and let them make connections purely based on their writing. We are the first site to combine writing prompts with social sharing, competition, and feedback, to create lasting connections between writers and their audiences.
The other thing we’re trying to accomplish is elevating the written word on the internet. A lot of the social media sites are based on short, sales-y statements from writers, and there isn’t a real chance to make a connection and show off your writing. Instead of writers yelling a book title into the ether, we want to give them the opportunity to write on the site often, and find their new readers that way. There are so many talented authors at the moment, but no great ways to separate the amazing emerging stars from those that brought their work to the public before it was ready. We’re going after the twofold goal of getting great writers seen, and elevating the quality of writing on the internet.
CS: How many writers currently use Describli? Are the users of Describli primarily experienced writers or are there members who are new to writing and using the program as a way to get introduced to the process?
LF: We’re currently in private beta, so we’ve only let about 200 authors in so far. We’re planning on expanding to a public beta soon so that we can let more readers and writers on to the site. There’s a mix of writers on the site, from those new to the industry to some seasoned pro’s. The biggest benefit seems to be for writers who have been writing for a while, but are just getting started with self-publishing or indie publishing. Those writers see the most growth from the site, and are able to establish a following and a community that they hadn’t previously been able to engage.
CS: Describli gives prompts for writing Scribs, which are short pieces of writing, generally under 1000 words. Why did you decide to have these pieces be such short and focused responses to the prompts? What do you think is the difference between writing short pieces such as these Scribs rather than longer drawn-out pieces?
LF: The idea for Scribs is to put everyone on an even playing field. We like the concept of readers being able to compare the styles of different writers based on how they respond to the prompts. Since everyone has the same choices each day, you can really get a feel for how an author thinks and the worlds that they like to build. It’s also pretty amazing to see the depth of characters and plots that these writers can bring out in just 1000 words. I’m constantly impressed by the writing on the site.
The other reason for having such short pieces is that writers already have a lot of demands on their time and attention. Writing on Describli should never feel like a burden. Writers should be able to log on with their cup of coffee in the morning, write a scrib, and let that get the inspiration going for the rest of their writing that day. Too often, social media and building a following feels like work. We want to make sure this stays fun. If the writer wants to turn their Scrib into a longer piece, that’s great! We have a space on the forum where they can share work that was inspired by the Scribs.
CS: How are the writing prompts created? How are the themes and topics determined for each prompt?
LF: The site (and the company) is small enough at the moment that I am still writing every prompt myself, every day! My friends and family often contribute ideas because they know that I’m always looking for new prompts. They [the prompts] are mostly inspired by the photography that we use on the site, as well as things that I’m reading or writing at the time. In the future we would love to have prompts contributed by our users, which should bring in even more variety.
CS: Do you see Describli as a program for a writer to use simply to get the creative juices flowing before moving onto their own writing or is Describli a way for a writer to expand on a given prompt and craft that into a complete work
LF: Hopefully both! The site is really being crafted with the users in mind, so we are constantly talking to the writers on the site and seeing how they are currently using it, and how they would like to see it grow and change. Writers have already said that they use it for daily practice, and also for expanding into larger works. We’ve even seen some writers use a book and characters that they are already working on, and use Describli to fill in back-stories or smaller parts of the plot. It’s been really interesting seeing how many different ways it’s being used.
CS: Describli includes a Leaderboard of writers, displaying the number of stories an author has written, the number of stars they have received for their stories and the number of people following them. What made you decide to include these aspects to the writing program? What made you decide to allow writers to “follow” other writers, which is reminiscent of aspects of social media?
LF: If a writer decides to approach a literary agent or traditional publisher, they often need to show what kind of follower base they have online. We’re providing another way for them to do that. If you can show a significant following from people who have read your writing and like your style, then you are much more likely to be represented and published. We don’t just want the site to be somewhere that writers hang out with other writers. We really do want them to find and connect with readers and build their audience. This will help them be successful when they publish, either through self or traditional publishing.
CS: That’s a great idea! What effect do you think the Leaderboard has on the writers and the writing process? Does it ever become more about gaining stars and rising on the Leaderboard rather than focusing on the writing itself? Or does this incentive actually facilitate the writing process?
LF: So far it looks like it’s facilitating the writing process. Theoretically if you’re writing just to get stars, or you’re writing great pieces to improve your work and practice your writing, the end result should be the same. The writers on the site are very supportive of one another, and give great feedback. They want to see everyone else succeed, and there’s no reason why they can’t all go on to sell thousands of books. So the leaderboard isn’t as much about competition as encouragement.
CS: Describli also includes the Story Game Challenge, in which writers can challenge other writers to collaborate on a piece by switching off writing small fragments of writing to create a larger piece. What effect do you think this game has on writers and their writing process? How does the competitive but collaborative space shape writing?
LF: Writers often need to be very flexible – changing small things in response to the suggestions of readers, editors, publishers, and the community. This game helps writers to become more flexible and adapt to the style and plot choices of another writer. It can be a great tool to try out a new style, or to collaborate in a really interesting way with another writer. We’ve seen writers use the worlds and characters from these story games for their own scribs, and carry the story even further. It can also be a great way to get out of your comfort zone and beat writer’s block. I’ve participated in a few story games myself, and it is incredibly fun to see what might happen next in the story!
CS: With Describli being such an open and collaborative writing space (users can even invite their friends to join in on the Scrib writing!) how do you think social media will play a part in the program? How do you think having such a social aspect effects the writing process?
LF: From the very beginning we knew that we wanted to tie in seamlessly with a lot of the other social media sites that writers use. Sharing their work from Describli allows writers to engage in a new way with audiences that already follow them on other social media sites. Users can share their current scribs and story games, invite friends to collaborate on a piece of writing, or support each other through their writing journeys. The social aspect allows the writers to get high quality feedback from other writers, and to help each other with marketing and sales.
CS: What makes Describli different from other online writing prompt programs? What is unique about the community of writers on Describli and how the program can be used?
LF: There are a lot of writing prompts sites out there, but they tend to function as blogs, with responses to the prompts in the comments. This leads to a focus on the prompt, instead of a focus on the writer. On Describli each writer showcases their work on their own profile, and can dive deeper into any other writer’s past writing on the site. We are the first site to combine writing prompts with social sharing, competition, and feedback, to create lasting connections between writers and their audiences. The community of writers on Describli are there to help each other, and it really shows. Writers leave comments on scribs, give each other feedback, and share their triumphs and struggles in the forum. Writers use the site to connect with others, interact with their fans, improve their writing, and beat writer’s block.
CS: The program also includes the Writer’s Forum, an array of discussions and resources compiled by the members of Describli. How do you think the forum and discussions would benefit a writer using Describli?
LF: The forum is the place to have longer discussions about the writing world, writing resources, and each writer’s journey. Users help each other through current difficulties, recommend tools that have helped them, and share longer pieces that don’t fit within the word limits for scribs or story games. This is really where the community comes together to discuss everything to do with writing.
The forum is also where we have the majority of our conversations with our beta users, and it’s where we get the most feedback. We hear really helpful things all the time about ways to make the site better, things that aren’t working, or ideas for future features. We really want to listen to our community and make sure that as development continues we are listening to what they want and need. This site will only succeed if our users find it really helpful, so we try to talk to them as much as possible about how they’re using the site.
CS: What are some of the different ways your beta users have used Describli? Do they find some creative uses for the program?
LF: Recently we’ve been noticing that users have started writing scribs that take place in the same world as someone else’s scrib. Story games have grown out of this, and some of the scribs end up being interestingly connected. Because of this we’re going to introduce a feature to group the scribs together. This is pretty exciting because it could branch out into smaller writing groups within the community, fan fiction, pieces in response to current events, the possibilities really are endless. Our community is shaping the site in ways that we couldn’t even have predicted when we started this. We’re really excited to see what they think of next!
CS: Do you have any fun stories to share about the program itself or some of the writers using it?
LF: There have been some hilarious scribs, and many of our writers are really funny. We’ve had evil cats plotting to take over the world, dark satires about women in bars, Elvis getting abducted by aliens, and a town where monkeys rule over humans. We’ve also had our share of writers who are just starting out, and who are getting some really great feedback and encouragement from other writers on the site. It’s fun to see the growth in our users, and to see that they’re starting to decide how this community will feel for new writers.
CS: What are some of the results you’ve seen from writers using Describli? Has the program changed the way they write? Have any Scribs gone on to become expanded or even published pieces?
LF: We’ve only been in beta for a few months now, so we haven’t yet had the chance to see any of our writers go on to wild success. But we do know that some of the scribs have gone on to become expanded pieces, which will hopefully lead to great things! We also have seen that already writers are growing and changing as a result of the feedback they have gotten from other writers. Not everyone is there pursuing commercial success – some really do just want to practice their writing and connect with others who have similar interests. We try to help out the casual writers as well as those that want to go on to publish a bestseller.
CS: What is some of the positive feedback you’ve received so far from users, readers, published authors, etc?
LF: We keep hearing from our users, readers, publishers, and basically everyone involved how much they wanted and needed a site like this. It’s really rewarding to know that we’re helping writers to develop communities that love their work, and we can’t wait to see what our authors do in the future. We’ve heard from some individual users that the site is a really great outlet, a fun practice space, an inspiration for their current work, and a chance to beat writers’ block. Everyone seems to be using it a little bit differently, but they all come together in their love of the written word.
CS: Do you plan to expand the functionality of Describli as it grows even more popular, such as gaining new features or services? If so, how do you think it will change?
LF: We’re constantly growing and changing the site in response to feedback from our users. We have a great feedback system on the site, and we also use the forum and personal messaging to connect with everyone. I’ve had many conversations personally with our writers to see what they want and need from the site. In the next few months we have a long list of features to add based on that feedback. Some of the things you can expect to see next are one-on-one messaging between authors, the ability to group scribs by topic, and some great new places to showcase the work of promising writers. We’ve also got a few big changes up our sleeves, so stay tuned for more information!
CS: How can our readers contact you or get more information on Describli?
LF: If you’d like to hear more about Describli, please follow us on Twitter @describli or Facebook. As a thank you for reading about us in this interview, we’d also like to offer you a free beta ticket! If you email [email protected] with the code #HOWTOWRITE you can skip the line and get into the beta right away. We look forward to seeing you on the site!