I'm making a writing/editing app

Disclaimer, I have no idea what’s going to come out of this experiment, it might be a waste of time, but I already got started so let’s go!

I was working on my giant story worksheet in Google Sheets and noticed a menu option to create an app for it with AppSheet. I got curious about it and one thing led to another and I started to create an app though I’ve never used this framework. I’m essentially trying to recreate the logic of my sheet and make it easier to use and easier to REUSE and to make it harder to sabotage myself.

What is this giant sheet that I’m talking about?

It has several sheets actually and I’ve been working on it for a while, continuously tweaking it to add more functionalities. I think a lot of people are very unaware of how capable spreadsheet programs are. You can use them to automate stuff, to work for you.
But the more complex they get, the harder they are to maintain.

So what do I automate?

Let’s start from Foolscap. Foolscap sheet is where I record general overview of the full story. What is it called, what it’s about, genres, story goals, key character roles, etc.
Automation comes in here with validation. To keep things easier, faster and consistent, I have queries and drop downs for some values. For example, genre values reference another sheet that has the full list, and I can just pick from the list, don’t have to type it in.

It gets more complicated but also very useful when you get more granular.
In another sheet I write down individual scenes from my book. And for each I have a description of what actually happens and then notes on implied stuff, themes, etc. Then I have the analysis part. For each scene, I pick which Subplot this scene affects and once I do, some of the other information prepopulates based on what I filled out in the Foolscap.

The point of this effort is not to fill it while writing, but rather after. It’s a tool to help edit the book. Because one of the end results is that I can put my story on a graph and see where things are stagnant, which chapters I need to focus on.

One of my long term goals that I had for my giant sheet was to create logic that would literally tell me what I’m missing, like a paid advisor, a hired editor.
But the longer I work on it, the more I see how much harder it is to put it into practice.


Now back to the app.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I got started (last night actually), and there’s a learning curve to it, but I’m pleasantly surprised that it actually looks kind of cool and there’s even an easy to use phone app that comes out of this. There’s hope that it will do what I want of it.

To make it clear, my app is not intended to hold the actual manuscript, worldbuilding, etc. It’s only an analysis tool.

Right now I’m calling it StoryBuilder. Might rename later.

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The first problem I encountered last night was in primary key columns. By now I think I solved that issue and I got the preliminary Foolscap form to work (sort of, got an error later so I’m not done).

The very first screenshots.



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Ooh! This is nice!
So, now this story is a working progress and hasn’t been launch yet, correct?

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You mean the app?
Well yes, it’s a work in progress but in theory it’s available for anyone to use it if I choose to share it.
No point for that yet, it’s too soon, but eventually I could.

I think a big challenge of sharing would be the learning curve for other users - and how much can others gain from doing this.

I mention that because from conversations with other writers, there seems to be a consensus that majority of people think I dive too deep, try too hard. I have yet to find anyone as devoted to story analysis as me.
A lot of the best features of this app would rely on my understanding of my analysis process.

Teaching people how to use it would be a whole project in itself.
Maybe it’s a worthy one but I just don’t know how much interest there would be for it.

Still, the possibility to share is definitely at the back of my mind, but my primary goal is really for it to work for me first.

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Wait, hold up! Why did I put story when I meant to say “app” instead?
I am so sorry for the confusing mix up. :sweat_smile:

Yes, I was referring to the app not some story.

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I made a couple of small steps forward and just when I was thinking, I’m getting the hang of this, look at me go, this app will be done in no time, I made a huge leap backwards.

One of my tables is in a wrong structure. It’s not usable in the current view-and-edit-friendly mode.

Two options going forward:

  1. Completely restructure the table. This will be time consuming and it will be ugly to look at. Hopefully, I’ll be able to make it friendlier within the app and then I would edit it only with the app, never in the source sheet.
  2. Some magical way to make it work. I hope one exists. I’ll brainstorm before I resort to option 1. Maybe a way for an app-friendly sheet to reference the user-friendly sheet? The problem with this is maintenance. Formulas are always a pain to keep clean.

Wish me luck.

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Regarding that table, I restructured it in the end and then had to deal with the mess that caused. :sweat_smile:

I made more progress last night. In fact, I’m quite impressed by how much I’ve been able to accomplish in just two evenings.

But there’s always a “but.”

One of the features I wanted in my ideal app is a graph. I tried a basic chart last night and it’s clear that AppSheet (what I’m building this with) has very limited capabilities as to charting.

It’s not a deal breaker because I can still create my chart in Google Sheets. I was just hoping to have everything in one place.
Sigh.

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Time for a status update.

I’ve reached the point where I’m afraid that I can’t wing it anymore and have important decisions to make.

So far, I’ve been approaching this challenge with minimal effort, just trying to gauge if this app will at all work for me the way I want it to. By now I think there’s certainly potential, but I keep getting stuck on not knowing how to do something and the readily available examples are not useful. The bottom line is that I need to learn the syntax.

Quick explanation about what SYNTAX is for anyone unfamiliar with the topic. Most programming or scripting languages share a lot of features and they share logic of how you can do things. You don’t have to study multiple languages to use them. If you know how to do something in one language, you can figure out how to do it in another, all you need to do is to look up the syntax. Example, here’s how you declare a variable and mark a comment in these four different languages:

image

If you work with one all the time, you would remember how to declare a variable properly. Otherwise, you can always look it up. The internet has lots of free resources to find the information you need if you know what you’re looking for.

I’m not sure what the language used by AppSheet is. It works similarly to SQL (a query language), but it’s different, I have to look up the syntax for each query type and unfortunately the official documentation doesn’t have a lot of examples (for example this - a long article about references yet zero examples of how to use them) and the internet isn’t flooded with examples either (it might be a newer language so that’s why). There are videos though which I haven’t watched yet.

By exploring the app and what it can and cannot do on its own, I’m also wondering if I might have to integrate other apps to do more advanced stuff. For example, I see options to integrate Google’s Apps Scripts among others, which would extend the capabilities of the simple queries.
From my first impression, Apps Scripts are using a language similar to JavaScript. Honestly, I haven’t done much in JavaScript either so there would be a learning curve if I wanted to take advantage of it.

So the bottom line is that if I want to proceed with this project, really give it a fighting chance, then I’ll have to spend some time learning - watch the videos, scour the interwebs for tutorials, etc. Unfortunately, my app idea isn’t simple enough to create it without any training. I have to put in the time and do it properly.

So the important question is, is it worth it?

  1. For this app alone? I’m not sure. It might prove to be useful to me, or it might not. There’s a tiny remote possibility that maybe I could create an app that I could share, maybe even charge for, but that’s not really my ultimate goal. In the end, if I pursue this app, I need it to work for me first, then I can think of next steps.
  2. Experience plus bragging rights. I don’t think learning any of this would prove useful in my current day job. We don’t use Google suite or its many apps for anything as far as I’m aware. BUT being able to put this stuff on my resume for any future job opportunities could come in useful. Is there a lot of demand for Google-based development for someone with my specialized background (I’m an application analyst and administrator in marine shipping industry)? I don’t know, but at the very least, it’s something to brag about, to show off that hey, I can do a hell lot more than what my previous job descriptions called for.

I’m leaning towards, yes, I want to keep going, I want to put in the time and finish this project. So the next step is the lengthy one: study. I’m going to start watching those videos I keep seeing pop up on the documentation.

Wish me luck.

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