Oh my God, is it just me, or do I talk a whole lot about how difficult writing is for me? I can practically hear the grumbles of dissent through my computer screen: “Like okay, we get it, words are hard, did you even realize what you were majoring in, how’d you end up with that job title?”
But in all seriousness, writing is hard, even when it’s at the literal core of your job … In fact, I’d wager it’s hard especially when it’s at the literal core of your job. Fortunately for us, the future is now, and it includes some seriously useful tools to help writers of all genres and industries tackle their craft, from inspiration to motivation to final draft.
I thought I’d share a short list of some of the secret weapon apps and sites I’ve got in my back pocket for filling that blank page and making that looming deadline. Most are free, some have free or paid versions.
I’ve attempted to order them in the fashion one might use them throughout the writing process.
1. Hubspot’s Blog Topic Generator
Here’s another little problem I’ve mentioned before: when you can’t even get an idea in your head. Hubspot’s blog topic generator does a sweet little magic trick: type in a few keywords, click the button, and poof! Topics galore appear before your very eyes! Not bad, eh?
2. Portent’s Content Idea Generator
In a similar vein as No. 1, here’s a simple and fun tool to help get the ol’ idea wheels oiled and spinning. The headlines that pop out of this guy tend to be on the quirkier side, great for when you have room to go a little nuts.
This one is fairly simple and self-explanatory. I probably visit this site a dozen or more times a day. It’s crucial for spicing up a sentence or perfecting the flow of a phrase. Of course you want to be careful — it’s always obvious when a writer has caught the dreaded “thesaurus syndrome” and gone overboard on SAT vocab that doesn’t exactly mean what you think it means. But for the times when the perfect word is just at the tips of your fingers but you can’t grasp it, it’s a saving grace.
Nobody said these had to be strictly writing-focused websites to play an integral part in the process. Music can be one of the best creativity and productivity drivers, provided you have the right music. 8tracks is a website full of user-curated playlists for every category and style under the sun. It’s great because every song has been hand-picked, so it’s not using an algorithm to guess what might be your taste, and you can find playlists specifically designed to help with the task at hand. You can search for multiple keywords, including activity, artists or genres. So, if you’re like me and work best to a little Celtic crooning, no problem.
Oh yeah, you read that right. Talk about motivation, amirite? If you have trouble staying focused on your writing, or focus a little too hard and spend three hours on one sentence, you might need a productivity app. If you think it may take the threat of violence or emotional torment to get your butt in gear, this is definitely app for you.The concept is simple: Set a word goal and a time frame, and write consistently to meet your goal or be punished. The “punishment” can be set as anything from sudden images of spiders to the sounds of out of tune instruments or babies crying. There’s even a “kamikaze mode,” which will begin deleting your work if you don’t continue writing quickly enough. Whew! The full version with all its settings costs $20, but there’s also a limited-feature trial version that is still effective.
So maybe trial by fire isn’t your thing. Maybe you do need some help with motivation, but work better with a little positive reinforcement. Imagine if … every time you wrote enough words … an adorable kitten appeared. Or a puppy, or even a bunny rabbit! Welcome to Written Kitten. That’s all there is too it, really. For every 100 (subject to your setting) words you write, you’re rewarded with a photo of a cute n’ fuzzy. Second best only to getting an actual live kitten for every 100 words.
Truth time — I credit this desktop app with allowing me to complete my senior honors thesis. It’s a perfect program if you’re a visual person, as so many writers are, and you need a way to write with little room for disruptions. The app gives you a selection of soothing, artistic backgrounds, relaxing ambient noise, and even options for keystroke noises that are pleasing to the ear to encourage continued typing. It takes up your full screen and hides your task bar, so it’s difficult to multitask or be distracted by blinking notifications or popups. The program has “no set price, but a suggested minimum of $5.11.”
This was only introduced to me recently, and I have to say I could have used it much sooner in life. Ernest Hemingway was well-known for his concise, economical style, furthered by ruthless editing. Thus, the Hemingway Editor App was aptly named. When your words are all finally typed out and in place and it’s finally time for the dreaded editing process, give this simple app a go. It uses color-coded highlighting to tell you which sentences are hard to read, which phrases have a simpler alternative, where you’ve used passive voice, and more. It even gives you an overall readability grade. It’s just like being in your freshman composition class again, with less scantron exams.
So what’s in your copywriting toolbelt? Have you used any of these before, or found anything that works best for you? I’d love to hear them! Especially if they involve rewards in the form of kittens.