Artful Inspiration: Trying Out Storybird

My writers’ group recently posted a link to Storybird and asked if anyone had tried the service.

I hadn’t, but I volunteered to be the creative guinea pig.

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Storybird is a site full of artwork meant to inspire creative writing, both poems and prose. The idea is that you find a piece or series of art that spurs your imagination, and then you write or “unlock” the story contained within the pictures.

It’s meant to reverse the usual process, where a writer has a story to tell and then scrounges around for the right picture to match it.

I tried to do all this on my iPad since my laptop hard drive perished. That decision led to some frustration.

First I explored the site a bit. They have some highlighted submissions from their users, akin to WordPress with the Freshly Pressed. Everything is broken up into genres and categories, and almost everything is tagged for searching.

When you pick a story, you get a flipbook on iPad with pages that turn with a swipe of the finger. On my wife’s PC, she got arrows to turn pages.

When you pick a piece of art, you can learn about the artist and see the rest of their portfolio on the site. This becomes useful when looking for a consistent style of art for a project.

I admit, the grammar nazi in me rose up at the spelling errors and bad grammar in some of the “new and noted” highlighted pieces. But I realize the point is creativity and free expression, not necessarily perfection.

I also found it interesting that everything is moderated. When you publish a story or poem, it gets reviewed before being submitted into the public library. This helps ensure a certain level of propriety and minimizes mean content. Or at least that’s the stated reason behind it.

Signing up is easy and free. There are various accounts based on how you’d like to use the site. Teachers and students can use it for assignments. There are options for professional writers and artists. There’s a “parent” option as well, though I didn’t search to find out exactly what that does.

I chose “regular” as a safe starting point.

I was quickly hit with prompts to upgrade to a premium membership. If you want options for themes and layouts, if you want faster moderation, if you want varied options for responding to people’s projects, then you’ll need an upgrade. It’s $3.99 a month, or $2.99 a month if you pay for a full year.

I held firm to my free membership, and started searching through art. Once I found a picture I wanted, I hit the “Use This Art” button, selected story instead of poem, and found myself at the creative desktop.

I got the picture I wanted, and a set of other pictures by the same artist in the same theme. Then it got difficult.

I had an idea for where I wanted to go, but I was limited by the pictures I started with. Once you choose a set of art, you can’t go back and search for more. The stated reason is this will help you focus on writing the story you unlocked in the picture, instead of looking for just-right pictures to match your already-written story.

Well that didn’t work for me!

I backed up and searched for art in some themes, but it took a while to find a set that had all the pieces I wanted. I ended up with a set of 302 pictures to wade through in order to find perhaps 20 that matched my intent.

They warn users that if you do it the way I did, you will probably be frustrated. They were right.

Now I had the set I wanted… all 300+ pictures loaded into the workspace. I shifted some around, sorted through all of them, and set aside the ones I planned to use.

Then I had to hit refresh, and I lost all that sorting effort.

I had to refresh because my browser became another source of frustration. I used Safari on the iPad at first… but the menu in the workspace kept disappearing. I would have to update a bit, then refresh after waiting around long enough for the project to autosave.

Unsatisfied with that, I tried Chrome. Same result at first, but then I saw the option under Chrome’s menu to “request desktop site.” That made the workspace function properly, and I was able to complete my project.

With all the lost effort due to browser issues and the process of figuring out how to get a selection of artwork that I wanted, not to mention the actual writing, it took me about three or four hours to produce my first effort.

It’s called Not In a Nice Way and it’s a love story of sorts.

Was it worth the effort? Sure. Storybird seems like an interesting way to get creative, something nice to take a break from my usual projects. For someone who writes children’s books, it might be very useful. And it seems like a fun community of people, although I think they’re a little too flattering with their comments on silly or sub-standard work.

At the free price, it’s worth a try.

But a monthly subscription? That remains to be seen.

Give it a shot. If you create a project, post it in a comment. I’d love to see how others use the site. And let me know what you think of “Not In A Nice Way” too.

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