10 helpful, handy resources for writers

Use these tools to regain focus, reclaim productivity and find a safe place to store your life’s work.

10 writing tools

All writers need a helping hand now and again—and having the best tools at your fingertips can make a huge difference in your work.

Let’s highlight resources that will help you focus, prompt creativity and host your pieces:

Tools to help you focus

1. Noisli (free)

Noisli enables you to create your own combinations of background noise to help you focus. The combination of “wind” and “leaves” is quite lovely, but you might prefer something else entirely. (Just don’t get so distracted experimenting that you forget to write.)

Tip: If you’re into coffee shop sounds but don’t want the hassle of finding plugs and wiping grounds, try Coffitivity, a tool that “recreates the ambient sounds of a cafe to boost your creativity and help you work better.”

2. Zen Pen (free)

Zen Pen offers a frills-free, minimalist page to fill.

Unlike Word or Google Docs, which both offer multitudes of options, buttons and styles to peruse and choose, Zen Pen features minimal formatting capabilities (bold and italic text, links and blockquotes). This bare-bones setup beckons you to crank out copy.

You can save your work (in HTML, plain text or Markdown), or you can simply copy and paste your work into another document or blog editor. The formatting should remain intact.

Tip: If you prefer to write offline, try Dark Room (for Windows), a distraction-free, plain-text writing environment.

3. RescueTime (free)

Tracking your time online can be a frightening proposition, but it’s also great motivation.

RescueTime records exactly how long you spend on different online activities—including on specific websites (such as social media platforms)—so you can see where your time is going.

If you’re prone to distractions and internet rabbit holes, RescueTime is a great app to boost efficiency and accountability. You might be surprised or even a bit dismayed by how much time you waste in a day, but that’s a great start toward augmenting your productivity.

Tip: The premium version of RescueTime offers more features. For instance, it enables you to track and label time you’ve spent away from the computer. For most writers, though, the free version is sufficient as a means of making you more aware of the time you’ve spent dithering

4. Write or Die (free)

Perhaps you need more aggressive motivation to get going?

If you spend too much time staring instead of scratching out ideas, the Write or Die screen turns red and plays a horrible screeching noise—a great incentive to start typing again. There’s a smart gamification angle here, including a “Leaderboard” of top writers (each identified by a username).

You can even set Write or Die to “Kamikaze” mode, in which it’ll start deleting your words if you stop typing for more than a few seconds. It deletes your words quite slowly, and it stops as soon as you begin typing again, but it’s another way to light your fingertips on fire.

Tip: If terrible noises and a blood-red screen are a bit much for you, you can also use Write or Die in “Reward” mode, where you can earn pictures of kittens for staying on task.

Places to keep your writing

5. Google Docs (free)

Google offers 15GB of free space in Google Drive, though be aware that it includes your Gmail account. As long as you keep your email at bay, you should have plenty of space to store your life’s work in Google Docs.

In addition to storage, Google Docs is also a premier platform for collaboration. You can access your work from anywhere, chat with colleagues, track changes, leave comments or share “read-only” versions with meddling execs.

Tip: If you don’t have a free Google account, you can create one here.

6. Evernote (free)

With Evernote, you can create multiple “notebooks” to hold and organize your content—whether you’re jotting lists, ideas, plans or outlines. There’s even a handy “search” feature to help you locate what you seek. Notes can include all the formatting you’re likely to want, and you can include images or video.

You can read and write notes offline, as well as share notes with other Evernote users—or email them to anybody.

Tip: If you want to use the Evernote app on more than two devices, you’ll have to upgrade to a premium account. However, if you’re happy using the web interface, you can log in from as many extra devices as you want—for free.

7. Dropbox (free)

Dropbox enables you to store files of any type on your computer and in the cloud, seamlessly synching them whenever you save anything into your Dropbox folder. It’s an easy system to use—and you can share Dropbox folders with other people.

You can access Dropbox from any computer by signing in on the web, so even if you’re traveling, you can still access your files. Plus, if your computer suddenly dies on you, you won’t lose all your files.

Tip: If you install the Dropbox app on your computer, saving your files to Dropbox is simple. You can also create as many subfolders as you want. Dropbox is basically an expansive “My Documents” folder.

8. WordPress (free)

WordPress is a wonderful tool for designers, coders and, of course, writers.

If you’re working from several different computers, you can easily log in to WordPress and carry on with a draft post wherever you left off. With 3GB of free storage space, you can add and store a tremendous amount of article drafts.

Tip: There are two WordPress options: hosted (WordPress.com) and self-hosted (WordPress.org). If you don’t want to register a domain name and pay for your own hosting, WordPress.com will suit you best. If you want lots of features and full control, go with WordPress.org.

Lesser known tools

9. Texthandler (free)

Texthandler helps with frustrating editing tasks, particularly if you’re preparing lengthy documents.

Do you put two spaces after each period by habit? If so, when you’re finished editing, Texthandler can replace all those double spaces with single spaces. It’s super-fast, easy and incredibly helpful.

(The main drawback here is that Texthandler uses plain text only, so if you copy and paste your beautifully formatted blog post, you’ll lose all your subheads, bold text and so on.)

Texthandler can do a lot more, too, such as removing line breaks that appear in the middle of paragraphs—a common issue when pasting from a PDF.

Tip: It may take you a few minutes to figure out the right options for what you’re trying to do. If you don’t get the proper results right away, check different options beneath the box where you paste your text.

10. “Take three nouns” writing prompt (free)

This is great for group writing exercises. It offers creative prompts, and it’s mobile-friendly so there’s no need to prepare anything in advance.

Simply click the “generate three nouns” button, and use the words as a springboard to launch your writing.

If the words you get don’t inspire you, click the button again to get fresh ones.

Which of these tools is irreplaceable in your writing life? If there’s a different resource you love, please talk about it in the comments below.

A version of this post first ran on Daily Writing Tips.

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