The Writer’s Online Toolkit

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Writing is a craft that includes a variety of different individual parts. There are a number of creative jobs for those who excel in writing, reading, persuasion, research, and analysis. Today, there are more than enough resources to develop and refine writing skills in addition to getting a Bachelor of Arts degree in English. Apps can help make a writer’s current process more efficient. Below are some of the most commonly used writing strategies and tools, and a breakdown of their cost and function.

A laptop, coffee mug, cellphone, pen, and paper lying on top of a table

General Tips and Advice for Writing

The journey toward becoming a writer differs by person, but the following general tips and advice can help guide and improve most writing. More often than not, a modern English degree curriculum touches on each of these points.

Read

A great way to help expand your writing skills is to read. Stephen King once said, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time — or the tools — to write.” Reading all types of writing allows you to pick up on style notes from other writers. It can open a writer’s eyes to different structures, techniques, and forms of writing.

It is especially beneficial to read within the genre you wish to write in to get a sense of the scene. For example, if you write romance, consider diving into an array of novels in that genre. At the least, reading can serve as inspiration.

Practice

Similar to a sport, practice is essential to refining writing skills. This is arguably the most important element for a writer, yet for some it is the most difficult to turn into a routine. There are very few stories of writers who wrote a bestseller with one draft. Composition takes continual learning and training. A writer can always find a better way to phrase something, portray a scene, or evoke emotion. Fred Oswald from ScienceDaily claims that “Deliberate practice was a strong overall predictor of success in many performance domains, and not surprisingly, people who report practicing a lot generally tend to perform at a higher level than people who practice less.” Make writing part of your daily routine.

Write for Yourself First

The ultimate goal for some aspiring writers is to reach a large audience of people through compelling, creative, innovative, and interesting writing. With those goals, it can be hard to focus on writing for yourself. Writing for yourself involves writing naturally, genuinely, and sincerely, without worry about what other people will think of your craft.

Start by looking internally to find something you are passionate about. If your writing isn’t interesting or doesn’t stir some sort of feeling within you, it likely won’t appeal to anyone else. Write as if you are never going to publish the piece; as if it is just something you love doing for yourself.

Don’t “Write What You Know”

Great work can come from writing about things, places, or concepts that you aren’t very familiar with. Just because you prefer or typically write poetry does not mean you can’t write an exceptional novel. Step outside of your comfort zone and improve your writing in all aspects.

Don’t Get Hung Up on the Details

Just because you are stuck on refining one part of a piece doesn’t mean the roadblock should derail you entirely. Although it is important to do your research, do not spend all of your time becoming an expert on unfamiliar topics. If you are writing a story that involves the military, it may prove useful to understand things like the hierarchy or difference between military branches, but you do not need to become fully immersed in the military community.

Create a Schedule

Creating a writing schedule, or daily writing goals, is crucial to writing improvements. According to James Clear, “on average, it takes more than two months before a new behavior becomes automatic — 66 days to be exact.” To create an effective schedule, set goals that are consistent and achievable. Making a schedule ties all the pieces together.

General Writing Tools

There are various writing tools and applications available to help writers hone their craft. The tools range from applications that are used to help reduce distractions to resources that help with grammar and stylistic aspects of writing. Writing tools can often be used in unison with one another. There are hundreds of writing resources available, and most offer some sort of free trial period. The following resources are some of the most commonly used general writing tools.

Cold Turkey

Overview: Cold Turkey is a strategic website blocker extension. It allows users to block things such as Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, Reddit, and other daily distractors to productivity.

Limitations are set by the admin in two ways:

  1. Pomodoro-style breaks
  2. Daily time limits

Users may create a whitelist of exceptions or entrust the login information to a family member or reliable friend to monitor. Traditional website blockers can make it all too easy to return to distractions. Cold Turkey is available for both macOS as well as Windows and is supported by all browsers.

Why would a writer use this?

One of the many reasons for writer’s block is simply the surplus of distractions. Instead of letting that deter you from writing, Cold Turkey can set limitations or prohibit inconvenient productivity distractions.

Cost: 

  • Basic: Free
    • Includes unlimited website blocks and trend tracking
  • Pro: $29
    • Everything included in the basic package plus scheduling, password protection, application blocks, breaks, and daily time limits.
  • Bundle: $57 
  1. Blocker: blocks websites and applications;
  2. Writer: transforms a computer into a typewriter that can only be used as a writing device
  3. Micromanager: only allows for work-related applications to be utilized.

Evernote

Overview: Evernote is a resource focused on efficient note-taking. The app allows you to take notes and organize everyday life. The app promotes efficiency by creating a common area for families, friends, and businesses to work collaboratively by syncing and sharing all types of notes from document scanning to birthday invites.

Why would a writer use this?

Inspiration can strike when you are roaming the grocery store, and you are not always able to access a computer or pen and paper in all scenarios. Evernote allows the user to take notes on various writing ideas, and you can work from anywhere with the availability to sync writing across all devices (i.e. cellphone, tablet, laptop, etc.). If you use an outside editor, Evernote promotes seamless collaboration as well.

Cost:

  • Basic: Free
    • Includes taking notes, capturing inspiration, organization, note share.
  • Premium: $7.99/month
    • Includes basic features plus AI-suggested content and integration.
  • Business: $14.99/month
    • Includes premium features plus team collaboration and administration collaboration.

Freedom

Overview: Freedom is a website-blocking application for macOS, Windows, iOS, Android, and across all browsing platforms. Freedom aims to create healthy digital habits that become intentional and routine enough to give the user control over productivity.

Freedom offers the following features:

  • Unrestricted website and application blocking
  • Internet totality block
  • Custom whitelists
  • Locked mode
  • Block schedule
  • Block syncs across devices
  • History tracking

Why would a writer use this?

If a writer is oblivious to their writing distractions, Freedom can help discover what those distractions are and either block them or set limitations. You can include outsiders to help monitor and facilitate the limitations.

Cost: 

  • Monthly: $6
  • Yearly: $29 or $2.42/monthly (for a year)
  • One-time: $129

Google Docs

Overview: Google Docs is a documentation library that offers templates, access, add-ons, auto-save, and formatting to efficiently create, save, share, and collaborate on all types of documents. Google Docs is compatible across all devices and browsers and offers smart editing and tools, offline access, and the ability for multiple individuals to work out of one document.

Why would a writer use this?

Auto-save is a huge reason that writers can benefit from Google Docs. As you type, Google Docs saves your work instantaneously. It allows users to collaborate as well as receive suggestions and comments within the document. If you are using Google Docs to keep your personal writing, it is free of charge.

Cost:

  • Personal: Free
    • Includes document writing, editing, and unrestricted collaboration
  • Business:
    • Basic: Includes professional office suite with 30GB storage = $6/month
    • Business: Includes enhanced office suite with unlimited storage and archiving = $12/month
    • Enterprise: Includes premium office suite with advanced controls and capabilities = $25/month

Grammarly

Overview: Grammarly is a browser plug-in that is facilitated through Google Chrome. Grammarly scans writing for any grammatical errors that may have been overlooked by the writer.

Why would a writer use this?

Mistakes are often overlooked by the writer. Your brain lets you make grammar mistakes (even if you know better). When a writer is working on a piece of writing over a long period of time that has been rewritten and revised, it is even easier to read mistakes the way you intended to write them versus the way it is written in reality.

Cost: 

  • Basic: Includes basic writing corrections for free
  • Premium: Includes basic features plus advanced writing feedback and suggestions for $11.66/month
  • Business: Includes premium features for teams up to 100 members for $15/month per member

Hemingway

Overview: Hemingway is an app that highlights various errors. Each color used to highlight means a different thing:

  • Yellow = complex sentence
  • Red = dense or uneasy to follow
  • Purple = word replacement suggestions
  • Blue = adverbs or weakening phrases
  • Green = passive voice

Writers can format their prose and publish straight to most mediums (i.e. WordPress). You can also send your piece using Hemingway to colleagues or editors easily. Hemingway can be used on both macOS and Windows.

Why would a writer use this?

The more eyes that see a piece of writing, the better. When you write something, it may seem straightforward and effective to you, but it may not be as clear for other people. Hemingway objectively offers ideas as to where there is room to grow, what needs clarification, and what needs to be cut back.

Cost: $19.99 one-time payment

LibreOffice

Overview: LibreOffice is a free office suite that has a clean interface and a variety of feature-rich tools to promote innovation, productivity, and efficiency.

Why would a writer use this?

LibreOffice is a great tool that is a free alternative to traditional suites like Microsoft. Since it is free, it also becomes easier to collaborate with others without having to purchase parallel programs. A feature comparison shows how LibreOffice is comparable to Microsoft as well.

Cost: Free

Milanote

Overview: Milanote is an organizational app that specializes in structured creative techniques. The app can be navigated by profession, team, or technique. The techniques can be broken into two categories: the creative process and productivity.

The creative process includes:

  • Moodboarding
  • Brainstorming
  • Storyboarding
  • Creative writing
  • Design collaboration
  • Creative briefs

Productivity includes:

  • Note-taking
  • Project management
  • Mind mapping
  • Whiteboarding

Why would a writer use this?

Writers can create a hub for their writing and organize all of the different moving parts in one common area that is flexible and efficient to navigate and export. Milanote offers all the structure a writer needs from start to finish all in one place.

Cost: $9.99/month per user

Livescribe Pen

Overview: Livescribe differs from other online tools because it requires a physical smartpen. The smartpen pairs alongside the Livescribe+ mobile app to turn words written on physical paper into digital copies. The notes instantaneously appear on a paired iOS or Android device through a high-speed IR camera that digitally records everything you scribe via paper. The writing can be shared, edited with other notes and voice memos, and can be stored via the cloud.

Why would a writer use this?

It is common to have multiple drafts of your writing. When you use Livescribe you have a physical and digital copy immediately. Not only can a writer organize notes and access them anywhere, but they can also add voice memos to specific areas quicker than writing them all out. Another plus is that all notes can be stored via the cloud, taking up less space on your device. It also becomes easier to access these notes through document searching via the app than traditional pen and paper. It is common to have multiple drafts of your writing.

Cost:

  • Pen: $159.95
  • Ink refills: $6.95
  • Stylus caps: $14.95
  • Application: Free

Reedsy

Overview: Reedsy is a website designed to connect writers with a team of professionals. Writers can request quotes from the following professionals:

  • Editors
  • Designers
  • Publicists
  • Marketers
  • Ghostwriters
  • Web Designers

Reedsy also offers a variety of blogs, classes, and webinars surrounding publishing as well as other useful tools including:

  • Promotional sites
  • Book review blogs
  • Title and pen name generators
  • Writing contests
  • Writing exercises
  • Story ideas
  • Channel guides

Why would a writer use this?

A writer can benefit from the site prior to, during, and after the writing process. The tools start by helping a writer hone their craft via blogs, webinars, or courses. Once their craft has improved, editors and publishers are then ready to be sought out. After a piece of work is published, promotion is available as well.

Cost: The website itself is free, but services such as hiring an editor or publisher depend on the provider.

Scrivener

Overview: Scrivener is an application tailored for long writing projects such as a novel or manuscript. With Scrivener, you can compose your writing in any order or manner that you benefit most from. For example, you can outline every detail before starting or fill this in as you go. The tool allows users to compile all of their writing work (notes, research, outline, drafting) in one common area.

Why would a writer use this?

Scrivener makes large writing projects easier to browse and navigate. You can messily create parts, then restructure them later using formatting presets, tools, and genre-specific tools.

Cost:

  • Standard License: $49
  • Educational License: $41.65

Ulysses

Overview: Ulysses is meant to improve writing in all of its facets. It offers benefits in the following realms:

  1. Focus and productivity:
    1. Clean interface
    2. Markup-based text editing
    3. Enhanced plain text
    4. Themeable editing
    5. Keyboard navigation
    6. Typewriter mode
  2. Organization and management:
    1. Single library
    2. Hierarchical categorization
    3. Attachments in their true form (i.e. images, PDFs, keywords, etc.)
    4. Filters
    5. Auto-save
    6. Writing goals
  3. Synchronization:
    1. iCloud sync
    2. Available across all devices
    3. External folder collaboration (i.e. Dropbox)
  4. Export and sharing:
    1. Various file formats
    2. Direct publishing (i.e. WordPress)
    3. Page preview
    4. Built-in export styles
    5. Theme templates
    6. Sharing, open-in options

Why would a writer use this?

Ulysses offers tools from start to finish within the writing process. It combines effective document management with a variety of export options for all kinds of writers, no matter the genre or writing style.

Cost: $4.99/month or $39.99/annual

Writing Tools for Novelists

Generalized writing tools are great for initial help, but specialized assistance really brings writing to life. The type of tool that a novelist will benefit from depends entirely on the strengths and struggles of the novelist, but having the right tools can make the writing process easier. The following are some of the more common tools used by novelists.

AutoCrit

Overview: AutoCrit is a self-editing platform that is available for fiction writers. The platform has interactive editing tools related to spelling, grammar, adverbs, repetition, and readability. The word processing suite also offers secure online storage for a manuscript.

Why would a novelist use this?

AutoCrit makes your writing process easier and quicker. A novelist needs alternative views and critiques, and AutoCrit uses extensive research into real-life publishing standards to offer effective, relevant edits and suggestions.

Cost:

  • Basic: Free
    • Includes the word processing and editing suite, spelling and grammar checker, access to three interactive editing tools, publishing standards guidance, and storage
  • Professional: $30/month
    • Includes everything in the basic package plus 30 interactive editing tools, strength and weakness identifiers, genre-specific guidance, word choice comparison, progress tracking, and customized reporting
  • Elite: $80/month
    • Includes everything in the professional package plus editing courses, tips and tricks from published authors and professional editors, promotion, and mystery surprises once a month

Coggle

Overview: Coggle is an online tool that was created to collaborate on planning mind maps and flowcharts. The app offers real-time collaboration, unlimited image uploads, creative templates, private diagrams, export/import, and no setup.

Why would a novelist use this?

It is often hard to map out complex ideas related to a novel. Coggle offers a visual platform for notes, topic ideation, planning, and mapping that can be shared between collaborators involved in a project.

Cost:

  • Free: $0
    • Includes three private diagrams, unlimited public diagrams and image uploads, 1,600 icons, auto-arrange branches, change history, downloads, text boxes, imports/exports, and multiple starting points.
  • Awesome: $5/month
    • Includes everything in the free package plus unlimited private diagrams, more designs, more control, text alignment, chat history, high-resolution image uploads, and collaboration
  • Organization: $8/month
    • Includes everything in the awesome package plus SAML single sign-on, separate personal workspace, consolidated billing, bulk exports, user and data management, and branded diagrams

Dramatica

Overview: Dramatica is a writing tool that dissects the theory of story. It covers the following areas:

  • The story mind
  • The overall story throughline
  • The main character throughline
  • The influence character throughline

Each category focuses on one part of what your story depicts. Dramatica defines the four using a battle metaphor. Once all parts are considered, authors receive a new understanding of the dramatica theory of story.

Why would a novelist use this?

Dramatica is intended to help writers discover gaps in their writing by unpacking what the author is saying literally. In doing so, authors receive an unbiased, literal interpretation of their work to see if it matches what they are intending to say.

Cost: $119

The Novel Factory

Overview: The Novel Factory is writing software that helps improve writing relating to plot, characters, locations, and drafts. The software has the following features:

  • Roadmap
  • Subplot manager
  • Planning
  • Premise breakdown
  • Story skeleton editor
  • Plot templates
  • Scene synopsis editor
  • Character development
  • Locations
  • Scenes
  • Character and location linking
  • Distraction-free writing mode
  • Submission
  • Notes
  • Statistics

Why would a novelist use this?

The Novel Factory helps improve writing in specific areas. You can either use the step-by-step guide to writing a novel for structure throughout the whole process or focus on specifics like character management and development.

Cost:

  • Basic: $6.25/month
    • Includes 50Mb storage, one novel, roadmap, characters, locations, drafts, submissions, notes, statistics, image uploads, and manuscript exports
  • Standard: $16.50/month
    • Includes basic package plus unlimited novels and 500Mb storage
  • Premium: $50/month
    • Includes standard package plus 5 GB storage

Scapple

Overview: Scapple is a virtual note-taking platform that allows you to make endless notes no matter where you are or what device you are using. You can join notes or leave them as separate ideas. The tool is compatible with other applications like Scrivener mentioned above, and you can export your ideas straight from Scapple.

Why would a novelist use this?

Ideas can strike at any time, no matter where you are or what you are doing. Scapple allows you to create memos and notes simply and easily whether you have internet access or not.

Cost:

  • Standard license: $18
  • Educational license: $14.40

Sigil

Overview: Sigil is a multi-platform Epub book editor with an array of features, including the following:

  • Free and open-source software under GPLv3
  • Multi-platform: runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux
  • Full UTF-16 support
  • EPUB 2 and EPUB 3 support
  • Code view and preview view
  • EPUB syntax in code view control
  • Table of contents generator
  • Metadata editor
  • Multiple languages
  • Spell checking with default and user configurable dictionaries
  • Full Regular Expression (PCRE) support for find and replace
  • Supports import of EPUB and HTML files, images, and style sheets
  • All imported files can have their formatting mended, and your code can be optionally “prettified”
  • Plugin support

Why would a novelist use this?

Aside from general editing help, a novelist can benefit from how Sigil works across all platforms from importing and editing to conversion and exporting.

Cost: Free

Tools for Essay/Academic Writing

Essays and academic writing can be a struggle for some people. In most cases, your GPA is on the line, so it is important to do it well. The following are some of the most common tools used to help with essays or academic writing.

EndNote Basic

Overview: EndNote is focused on making the research portion of writing as painless as possible. It offers thousands of research databases, an array of citation styles, a reference library builder, paper construction, and the ability to collaborate.

How would this be helpful?

Research is a large portion of academic writing, and learning how to find information online can be difficult. Endnote offers multiple databases as well as citations for any type of paper format, whether that be APA, Chicago, MLA, etc.

Cost:

  • Standard:
    • Download: $249.95
    • Ship: $299.95
  • Student: 50% off with verification

Essay Map

Overview: Essay Map is an online graphic organizer focused around the beginning phases of writing. There are interactive lessons by grade level to help struggling writers progress through outlining and its different aspects (i.e. introductory statement, supporting details, etc.).

How would this be helpful?

Outlining properly makes for smooth drafting. An outline sets the pace for the rest of your work and helps you find areas that need clarity, elaboration, or toning back.

Cost: Free

Writing Tools for Freelance Writers

Freelance writers make a living off of contractual writing. This means they need to be able to write in a way that people value and desire. The following are some of the most commonly used writing tools for freelance writers.

Basecamp

Overview: Basecamp is a project management tool that splits your work into projects that can include specific collaborators. It offers the following tools:

  • Message board
  • To-dos
  • Schedule
  • File storage
  • Group chat
  • Check-in

Why would a freelance writer use this?

Freelance writers often work remotely. Communication is key and organization is crucial, so having one area that is organized and easily navigated for collaboration is essential.

Cost:

  • Personal: Free
    • Three projects, 20 users, 1 GB storage
  • Business: $99
    • Unlimited projects and users, 500 GB storage, company intranet and team collaboration, project templates, advanced client access, and VIP support

Freshbooks

Overview: Freshbooks is accounting software primarily used by small businesses for all-in-one invoicing and accounting. It offers the following:

  • Invoicing
  • Expense tracking
  • Time tracking
  • Accounting
  • Mobile use
  • Project execution
  • Estimates
  • Payments
  • Reports

Why would a freelance writer use this?

A freelance writer would benefit from Freshbooks through time tracking for hourly jobs, seamless communication, document sharing, and any sort of collaboration work. Again, since freelance positions are often remote, having one application to receive work, communicate, and submit work is helpful.

Cost: 

  • Lite: $7.50/month
    • Unlimited customized invoices, expense entries, card payments, bank transfers, time tracking, estimates, time reports, and $10 for additional team members
  • Plus: $12.50/month
    • Lite features plus unlimited proposals, recurring invoices, double-entry accounting reports, scheduled late fees, late payment reminders, client retainers, and $10 for additional team members
  • Premium: $25/month
    • Plus features and up to 500 clients, and $10 for additional team members
  • Select: Custom pricing
    • Tailored specifically to need

Writing Events

There are a variety of recurring national and local writing events to help polish your craft. They vary in purpose, price, and location. Some examples include:

  • Associated Writing Programs Annual Conference:
    • Focus: fiction, nonfiction, poetry panels, readings, forums, bookfair, special guests, keynote speaker and more.
    • Location: Fairfax, VA
  • National Writers’ Union Annual Conference:
    • Focus: fiction, nonfiction, autobiography, poetry, screenwriting, and more. consults, workshops, panels, keynote speakers, special guests and other events
    • Location: New York
  • National Writers Workshop:
    • Focus: nonfiction, autobiography, journalism and more. panels, workshops, lectures.
    • Location: Hartford, CT
  • Pikes Peak Writers’ Conference:
    • Focus: fiction, screenwriting, science fiction, horror, young adult and more. consults, critiques, panels, workshops, readings and other events.
    • Location: Colorado Springs, CO
  • Writers & Editors Workshop:
    • Focus: fiction, nonfiction, poetry. consults, discussions, lectures and more
    • Location: San Francisco

Writers’ Resources

Writers often are a part of an active writer’s community or online workshop. These groups have various purposes such as promotion, editing, encouragement, collaboration, etc. Some of the most common writers’ resources are:

  • Absolute Write Water Cooler: a very large writing community that posts freelance writing, publishing suggestions, writing prompts/exercises, as well as genre-specific discussions
  • Camp NaNoWriMo: a creative, encouraging realm filled with “camp sessions” offering tips and suggestions from time to time for all aspects of writing
  • Critique Circle: a member-only site that allows you to exchange stories for critiques from others. It is common to read others’ writing and have your writing critiqued
  • Insecure Writer’s Support Group: a collaboration of writers — both seasoned and rookie writers — that puts an emphasis on overcoming insecurities and doubts that you may have

Writing skills are not just utilized by English majors. Students getting social science degrees will ultimately want to reach out to various contacts in order to form connections throughout their field. This outreach is often done by writing, whether via email, or via social platform message, so having adequate writing skills becomes crucial. Grammar and spelling checks, as well as mind maps, can be great resources. Writing is a part of many facets of life, and being aware of the tools readily available to improve this communication is beneficial for all.

Recommended Reading:
All Writers Need to Understand and Avoid Plagiarism
Resumes Present a Unique Writing Challenge
Tips for Crafting a Scholarship Essay

Sources:
Selz – 23 Useful eBook Tools for Any Book Maker
The Online Student’s Research Toolkit