Best tools to make you a better writer

Every app and trick I use to be a more productive writer

This post originally appeared on Medium.

I write a lot. While this has left me with a near-constant crick in my neck from hunching over a keyboard (I know, it’s a problem. I’m doing yoga for it, I swear), it also means I’ve learned what tools and tricks help me write more and write better.

Whether you’re writing a business case, a blog post, or a line of code, these tools can help you write more and better, too.

Word processing apps

  • Scrivener. I use Scrivener for articles or essays that may go through significant editing. It makes it easy to compare different drafts, and provides many other useful features, like a full-screen editor to eliminate distractions and a cork board function to see how sections of a long document fit together. You can also pull research directly into the app, so everything is in one place. And it’s easy to export the final draft to Word to send to your editor.
  • TextEdit. Don’t scoff! TextEdit is a great no-nonsense, no-frills word processor for when you don’t want to play with formatting. It’s particularly good if you’re writing code or something that will be pasted into a content management system like WordPress, where wonky formatting can really mess things up.
  • Hemingway App. If you have trouble writing clearly and concisely, Hemingway App is for you. It points out sentences that are hard to read, highlights adverbs that add fluff rather than force, and so much more. It’s a snap to use. I’m a bit addicted to it.
  • WriteRoom. If you’re a Mac user, WriteRoom provides a distraction-free writing experience. The New York Times called it “the ultimate antidote to the bric-a-brac of Word” because unlike Word, it is clean and focussed.

Apps to set the mood

  • Coffitivity. I love working at coffeeshops. They often provide a lovely hum of white noise in the background, but sometimes I’m subjected to listening to someone describe their Tinder date from the night before. When that happens, I stick in my headphones and I turn on Coffitivity. It drowns out distractions with ambient sounds. You can choose from a range of different ambient tracks, including “Morning Murmur” and “University Undertones.”
  • Flux. We all know how bad screens are for disrupting our sleep. When I’ve got tight deadlines that keep me writing at night, I rely on Flux to remove some of my laptop screen’s bad blue light.

Apps to keep you organized and focussed

  • Trello. As a person who loves lists, Trello keeps me organized in pretty much every area of my life, and it’s the best way I’ve found of tracking my ideas and pitches. It’s also a great tool for keeping an editorial calendar and managing an internal approval process before making a document public.
  • SelfControl. When a distraction-free word processor and Coffitivity aren’t enough to keep me from aimlessly browsing my social media feeds, I turn to SelfControl. It’s a Mac app that lets you block distracting websites, email, or anything else keeping you from the writing you need to be doing.
  • Pocket. When doing online research, I often come across many articles that aren’t related to my research but are so fascinating I want to read them now. Pocket curbs that impulse by giving me a one-click way of saving articles for reading later. I also like its neat, simple archiving feature for once I’ve read the articles I saved.

Other things that can change your writing life:

  • CoSchedule’s Headline Analyzer. Headline Analyzer is a godsend if, like me, you struggle to write headlines. It makes it easy to see what’s good about your headline and what would make it even better. I may never write another headline without running it through this tool.
  • oTranscribe. Transcribing interviews is never much fun. oTranscribe makes it quicker and easier by eliminating the need to switch between a word processor and an audio program, and letting you pause, rewind and fast-forward the recording without taking your hands off the keyboard. A serious game-changer when you’ve got hours of audio to transcribe.
  • Dual monitors. Adding a second monitor to my home office has changed the way I write. Having research on one screen and my draft on the other is much easier than flipping between programs and tabs on one screen.
  • A writing group or partner. I’m part of a group called #writeshopweds that meets weekly to spend time writing, and I also have a few people I rely on to give me feedback on the things I’m working on. Being able to bounce ideas off of other people does wonders for creativity and shaping your ideas. Find people you can discuss your ideas and writing with.

Practical articles on writing I refer to all the time:

  • What makes an article popular on Medium? We analyzed 10,000+ data points to find out. This article is not only applicable to Medium posts — it is chock-full of great advice for anyone writing anything anywhere. (It also affirms my bias in favour of sentence case, which is a good feeling after years of editing out title case.)
  • George Orwell’s 5 Rules for Effective Writing. His writing tips are simple, elegant, and effective.
  • Legibility, Readability, and Comprehension: Making Users Read Your Words. Jakob Nielsen is the guy to go to when looking for research on how people consume information online. For practical, research-based tips on how to present content online, this is the article.
  • Dear Sugar, The Rumpus Advice Column #48: Write Like a Motherfucker. “So write, Elissa Bassist. Not like a girl. Not like a boy. Write like a motherfucker.”

The right apps, tools, and even people can help keep your writing on track. So get out there and write like a motherfucker.