The writer’s toolkit
When it comes to writing (or any creative practice really), having a top notch toolkit to rely on helps IMMENSELY.
This is a guide of my most beloved tools (online and off) — let’s dive straight in!
For capturing ideas on the go, Evernote is my №1. I have the app downloaded on all my devices (which can be synced), making it so so easy to dip into those notes I made on the bus.
I tend not to use Evernote for writing out all my copy, it’s more of a place for my lists, random ideas, and brain-dumps that “come to me” when I’m doing something else. The Evernote Web Clipper is also really handy for swiping online content that sparks an idea.
If you’re the type that prefers to dictate your ideas, rather than write them down, Evernote has that function too. It’s like win/win/win.
Although my first draft always gets knocked out on paper, everything gets typed up at some point, and the place for that is my Google Drive. This is probably the only “can’t live without” of my online tools.
Google docs are free, nice and clean looking, and pretty user-friendly. Oh, and backed up by The Internet. That’s my main thing — if my website collapses, or my desktop dies, I’m safeguarded. I’ll have full access to a library of my own content AND all my client work.
Google docs are also great for collaboration:
- You can have live chats within a single doc
- Multiple people can work on a document at any time
- You can add (and reply to) comments — perfect for if you’re looking for feedback from your team
- You can “suggest edits” — I use this function whenever I’m editing copy for a client
Library of content = peace of mind.
Whenever I’ve run writing workshops in the past, grammar worries have always popped up in the Q&A. Every. single. time. And while that sentence (and this one, for that matter) highlight something of a disregard for good grammar, it is very important. In this day of conversational writing, a new set of rules has appeared, but the basics? Set in stone, baby.
Grammarly is a nifty little plug-in for your Chrome browser. It gives any written content a once over for 100 or so of the most common grammatical boo-boos. And yes, that means all blog posts, all social media updates, and all emails as well as any documents you wish to upload directly.
As warranted by my profession, I have a pretty good eye for grammar, but even I like to double-check my content — especially if it’s a large-scale client project I’ve been staring at for AGES. Sometimes our eyes just see what they want to see.
This app is just a beauty. I wish all those word-vomiting content creators would check it out. You can type straight into the web editor (or the desktop app if you’re willing to part with $9.99) and it colour codes your words, offering tips to make your writing simpler and more powerful.
Looking at some common red zones (including sentence structure, word choice, adverb overload and the use of passive voice) it really can help you transform clunky, convoluted text into something delightful. Perfect for if you’re not a natural writer, or if you’re stuck writing about a topic that doesn’t particularly inspire you.
Most “how to be a better writer” articles promise that reading a lot will get you there (check out this one, this one, or this one if you don’t believe me!) Hey, I totally agree. Or at least, that’s how I justify the hours spent with my nose trapped in a book… despite my true and abiding love for those dusty tomes, kindles (or just the kindle app) offer some fantastic features for upping your writing game.
First off, the in built dictionary is really useful. Hold down your finger on any word for an instant definition — a really handy way to build a better vocabulary. You can also highlight useful quotes and add notes to any section of any book — perfect for collecting fodder for your own writing (and something I’d never be able to do to an actual book).
Trello is a really flexible notice board style tool that can be used for any kind of planning project. I’ve seen a lot of really creative ways to use Trello to benefit your content creation — my friends Gemma Went and Erica Lee Strauss love it (for project management and as an editorial calendar, respectively).
My approach is slightly different. Modelled somewhat on Brian Cervino’s approach, I’ve developed a system to track the status of the various writing projects I have on at any given time. It can be really helpful to have everything “at a glance” and that’s something that Trello does really well.
A note about taking it offline…
I’m pretty retro with my approach to writing — everything hits a piece of paper before I take it to the keyboard. For me, the words flow better that way. My supplies are few, but the impact is great. These are things I rely on every day of my life.
I always like to have two notebooks on standby, so to speak. One houses my to do list, my notes, my ideas, my reminders. Currently that’s an A5, aqua blue treat with squared paper. I also keep a larger, A4-sized notebook for planning and drafting every piece of content I write.
I prefer books with sturdy covers, so I can take them to the sofa and still write comfortably. I also opt for books with a spiral binding, as I often tear pages out to chuck or file. Paper quality is a biggie, as any stationery junkie will know. It’s not completely unheard of for me to wander around the shops stroking paper — I like it smooth. So far, I have to say this brand is my favourite (there’s nothing to stop you from decorating the cover). If I’m working on multiple projects in the same notebook (which I always am), I like to use (labelled) post-its as bookmarks — they get me back to where I need to be in seconds, without distraction.
Where notebooks lead, pens will follow, and I have a nice little stash, all used for different purposes. My scribbled drafts are all written with free biros collected from events over the years. Journaling or course-related work is done with a gel pen or a black uniball — because they feel a bit like a treat.
I also have a rainbow of highlighters to hand. I like the Stabilo, because I’ve never had one dry up on me. I’m waiting for the day though, because I NEED this turquoise one! I use these to pull out action points from my messy scrawl (say I have to research a point further, or confirm a detail with a client — highlighters show me the way!) I also use highlighters to colour code my to do lists, but that’s another post for another day.
Whenever I’m working on a big project, I like to have intensive editing sessions — by hand, of course. This means printing out my neatly typed Google docs (with a cheap and cheerful printer — I don’t need anything fancy), and adding amendments with colourful biros — these ones write really smoothly and a pretty inexpensive.
I mentioned above that I don’t mind working with Dictionary.com (or Thesaurus.com) if I’m writing away from home, but seriously… I effing love my gigantic dictionary and thesaurus. When I was a student, it really hurt to spend that much, but they’ve been so, so worth it.
Hands down, the biggest, most valuable tool in my offline kit is my stash of ideas. I pretty much have ’em coming out of every orifice. I’m planning a much more in depth article on how exactly I generate these ideas, but to get your juices flowing, crack into my library of resources here.
There are other factors that I’ve incorporated into my writing ritual, from a giant mug of coffee to my cheesy 90’s playlist, but are they the secret to my success? Probably not, they just make this shit fun.