Six Essential Tools for Writers

The blank page. Is there anything more terrifying for a writer to encounter? Personally, starting a new writing project guarantees a few outcomes: my laundry will be done, my grout will be scrubbed, my dog will be walked (twice), and I will do a lot of “character development research” by watching Netflix.

It’s much easier to get over this initial hurdle, and all of the other hurdles that will pop up along your journey, if you’ve got helpful tools in place. A ton of enterprising developers have come along in recent years to help writers like yourself. While that initial fear might never go away, knowing you’ve got a few tricks up your sleeve can help with your confidence. Below is a list of the six essentials I think every writer needs.

Evernote (https://evernote.com/)

Hands-down the best cross-platform organizational app available today, Evernote is basically an external hard drive for my brain. Reading articles for research? Clip them to Evernote. Struck with the perfect plot twist while grocery shopping? Write that down in Evernote from your phone. Want to save inspirational images of the city where your characters live? Drop those in too.

Basically, any scraps of inspiration or research you find online or in real life can probably be stored here and sorted to your liking. The paid versions of the app also incorporate collaborative functionality so it’s the perfect tool for a whole writers group to take advantage of.

Scrivener (http://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener.php)

If Dante were writing today, I guarantee the fifth circle of hell would be filled with people trying to wrest a decent document out of Microsoft Word. The enduring popularity of this program is one of life’s great mysteries and I will happily talk for hours about how terrible it is. This is why writers uttered a collective a jubilant “finally!” when Scrivener came around.

The tool of choice for most professional writers I know, this program lets you organize research, structure plot, track character arcs, set writing goals, and more. Basically everything short of writing the book for you. The learning curve can be a touch steep (there are people out there making careers as Scrivener coaches, if that tells you anything) but once you get the hang of it you will wonder how you ever survived the tyranny of Word.

Grammarly (https://app.grammarly.com/)

Grammarly is like spell-check on steroids. This handy little plug-in reviews your document for the basics like spelling and grammar errors, but also explains why it has flagged something as an error so you can learn to avoid similar mistakes. It also includes some enhanced features like tailoring your document editing to particular writing styles (web vs. professional, for example) and will point out things like overlong sentences or suspicious word choices.

Hemingway (http://www.hemingwayapp.com/)

This is similar to Grammarly except that it’s laser-focused on one outcome: short and clear writing. The Hemingway app will analyze your sentences for complex structure, length, density, and basically anything that makes you sound more like Henry James than the eponymous Hemingway. Whether or not that’s a good thing I will leave up to you, dear reader.

StayFocusd (https://chrome.google.com/webstore/search/stayfocusd)

It’s nice to think that, as adults, we are capable of managing our own time wisely and avoiding distractions like social media when we need to get to business. If you’ve stopped laughing yet, you should go check out StayFocusd. This Chrome extension allows you to set a time-limit for distracting sites like Facebook and, once you’ve reached your pre-set limit for the day, blocks you from interacting with them. If you don’t think this sound useful, please share with me your secret to life.

Books

“Huh? What’s this new app and how come I’ve never heard of it?” Is what you are clearly saying to yourself right now as I have laid a trap that ends with me pulling a Glinda the Good Witch and saying you’ve had it all along.

You can all the fancy software, all the latest apps, the most premium of memberships, and nothing will help you write better books like reading good books. It’s just a fact. So, go to the library, browse a bookstore, or take a look at Amazon. Reading voraciously is the Swiss Army Knife of a writer’s toolkit.

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