I like to make things. They don’t even have to be good things. In fact, I’m often happiest when I’m churning out piles of terrible art.
Here are some of my favorite online creativity rabbit holes to fall into. Each of these is free unless otherwise noted.
If you’re unfamiliar with my love affair with Botnik‘s predictive-text keyboard, it’s because you’re new here. (Welcome!)
Basically, Botnik is your phone’s predictive text on a much larger scale and with a potentially much larger dataset that isn’t confined to things you text most often. Botnik has dozens of pre-loaded keyboard options ranging from “John Keats” to Radiohead lyrics or The Joy of Cooking. You can also feed it your own text banks as UTF-8 encoded .txt files.
For examples of the fun nonsense you can make with Botnik, check out this list of predictive-text New Year’s resolutions or this predictive-text history of Mother’s Day.
If you’ve ever wanted to write music but (a) don’t know if you can, (b) don’t play an instrument and/or (c) hate having to draw all those little dots on manuscript paper which you (d) don’t even own anyway, Noteflight is the obsession for you.
Noteflight is web-based music notation software, which does what it says on the tin: It allows you to write music. Also to play it back immediately, change/edit instruments and voices, and so on.
Check out examples of music I wrote in Noteflight in the Bad Carols series.
The full version requires a subscription, but if you’re new to writing music you can get a lot of mileage out of the free version before you make the switch.
As an occasional music teacher, I especially appreciate features of Noteflight that are annoying af at first, like its insistence on subdividing measures for you. It’s really helpful if you’re not already 100 percent comfortable with the concept of how many beats go in a measure and what that should look like.
If you want to write music but the previous paragraph’s mention of “subdividing measures” made your eyes cross, try Soundation. It allows you to create music mixer-style, by stacking, looping and editing tracks.
Again, you can pay for a subscription or not, but the free version lets you do quite a bit before you decide whether or not an upgrade is worth your money.
I’ve found that Soundation is highly accessible for middle schoolers and older, whether or not they have any kind of previous music-related education. So put some headphones on your kids and let them mix away.
Scratch is an MIT project designed to teach kids how to code, but even as an adult in my 30s I find it’s a lot of fun to put together my own animations and games.
The interface is very user-friendly and intuitive. If you’re super intimidated by anything with the word “coding” in it, though, there’s also a series of tutorials that will walk you through every aspect of Scratch.
Scratch is the kind of thing I would have killed for when I was ten years old and programming my Apple IIGS in BASIC that I learned out of my fifth-grade math textbook. It’s a lot of fun and a great way to make goofy things to share with friends.
Canva is a graphic design tool for those of us with zero graphic design chops. It offers hundreds, maybe thousands, of templates for social media images, blog post headers, invitations and a bunch of other things.
I use it primarily to make graphics for this blog, but there are plenty of other options for Canva use. Many of the templates and images are free, but some of them require payment or a Canva subscription to access – though I’m not sure you need one if you’re only using Canva for amusement.
An alternative to Canva is Snappa, which does basically the same things except with an arguably more intuitive (and definitely more touchscreen-friendly) interface. Canva’s one major failing is that it’s not optimized for touchscreens, so if you’re creating on a tablet, consider giving Snappa a go.
Micro Marching League (freemium)
Micro Marching League might be in the running for most nerdy niche option on this list. It’s basically Pyware but for kids.
…If you’re thinking “there’s no way you can make Pyware kid-friendly,” you’re right.
Micro Marching League (MML) allows you to design your own marching band drill and watch it play out…more or less effectively? It’s not a tool I’d actually use to write drill I would actually put on the field or floor, but it’s a fun introduction to drill-writing for anyone who hasn’t actually tried it before.
The free version offers enough scope to get started. You can pay for options like inserting your own uniform colors or creating indoor drill, but if you’re that serious about writing drill I’d recommend just switching to Pyware.
Master MML and your learning curve for Pyware won’t be any shorter, but at least you’ll have some idea what you want certain forms to look like.
I’ve been messing around on Seventh Sanctum since…years? The site’s biggest draw for creatives is probably its massive collection of idea generators, from sci-fi plots to made-up 1980s cartoon heroes.
It also offers a huge list of resources for creatives, including stock photography sources, publishing outlets, online portfolio hosting sites and so on. It’s a decades-old standby of the creative community, but I’ve included it here in case you’re one of today’s lucky 10,000.
Like Seventh Sanctum, Springhole is also (a) ancient (in Internet terms) and (b) full of creativity resources. Springhole, however, is geared almost entirely at writers.
In addition to various generators, you’ll also find a wealth of writing advice, from how to know when you should write a novel to how to determine whether your main character is actually a “Mary Sue” or just being called that by disgruntled dudebros who haven’t realized that “being female” is a default state for half the population.
I used to get lost in Springhole for hours on end. It’s still one of my favorite online rabbit holes.
Zompist is Mark Rosenfelder’s personal website, and it’s absolutely fantastic if you’re into any kind of worldbuilding or conlanging.
Rosenfelder is the author of several books on how to construct conlangs (which I also recommend). The website both provides an introduction to those books and hosts many of the in-depth examples that didn’t fit on the physical pages.
If you’ve ever wanted to build your own fantasy world/language, or having built one you now have no idea what to do with it, there’s plenty here to keep you busy. It’s where I found the format for this Niralan culture test, for example.
Lexiconga is the other Extremely Niche tool on this list. It’s a dictionary compiler, which means it’s probably most useful to folks who are already in the vocabulary-building phase of conlanging.
There’s certainly nothing wrong with using an Excel spreadsheet for vocabulary purposes. I do. But I appreciate the way Lexiconga is built to manage your word hoard. My Excel sheet for Niralanes, for instance, has nearly a thousand entries currently. That’s a lot of scrolling, and it’s scrolling Lexiconga doesn’t make me do.
One of my favorite parts of social distancing/sheltering in place so far is that I feel even freer than usual to spend hours making terrible art (like this abomination my brain woke me up at 4 am to write). I cannot encourage it enough. Making terrible art is how we make good art (eventually) – but more importantly, it’s just plain fun.
Go forth and make terrible art. ❤
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