I write for a living, and I've come to rely on a small suite of tools that help me produce better work. No amount of devices or tricks can make me a better thinker, but these do help me in other ways. These fit into my writing workflow and are tools that I use every single day.
You'll find, at the bottom of this article, a link to the checklist that I use to go through any writing project, including where these tools fit in. My process varies depending on what I write, but generally, it's the same. You can download that as a PDF below.
Hemingway (Free & Paid)
Hemingway is more than a tool for me; it’s a writing coach.
The tool itself is simple. You paste your writing into hemingwayapp.com, and it will highlight:
- Sentences that are difficult to read
- Sentences that are very difficult to read
- Adverbs that you might want to delete
- Complicated phrases that could be simpler
I’ve built this program directly into my process of writing. Once I have a solid first draft of an article, I paste it into Hemingway and read through it to revise. As I read it, I pay attention to Hemingway’s highlights and fix (most of) the problems it highlights.
It’s a somewhat similar experience to working with a real-life editor. For my book, I worked with an excellent editor that helped me improve my writing skills by a mile with her feedback. Lots of the help that Hemingway provides is similar to what this editor told me.
(A real editor is much better than this program. In no way can I replace the judgment of that editor with an app.)
The more I use Hemingway, the more I pay attention to concise writing in the first place. Use this tool for a couple of weeks, and you’ll start to get much better at writing—or at least much more aware of your habits.
For a long time, I’d heard of Grammarly but was hesitant to try it because I thought it would be another freemium service with minimal value add.
However, this too has also become an integral part of my workflow, but only once I pulled out my wallet to pay for a year of Grammarly Premium.
The free version isn't too helpful, as most of the mistakes it highlights are simple. Premium goes way more in depth and is a real help for my purposes. I make some basic errors that are genuine misunderstandings on my part. If I didn’t have Grammarly, these would litter all my articles and blog posts.
(Side note: I never revise or edit my daily reflections. Those are fresh off the press, and I never come back to alter them unless there is an unfortunate typo or if a word is left out that obscures the message.)
Grammarly goes much further than Hemingway does. For example, if I use the word "example" too many times in an article while giving examples, it will tell me to find a similar word. It will even give me suggestions for a different word. With a click, I can replace the word with the suggestion by Grammarly.
Editing with Grammarly is an excellent experience, and I couldn’t recommend it more.
When I write my daily reflections, I use WordCounter.net to check whether I’ve met my word count goal. It’s much quicker than importing the entire text into Grammarly or Hemingway. It’s also lightning fast.
If I’m in Squarespace writing my post, I can stop at any time, press:
Cmd+A, Cmd+C, Cmd+T, type WordCounter.net, Cmd+V into the WordCounter text box.
(Ctrl instead of Cmd if you’re on a Windows machine)
Within two to three seconds, I know my word count. In Google Drive, you can press Shift+Command+C to pull up a window that shows your wordcount, which is also quick.
It’s a simple tool that I use every day for small bits of writing here and here.
Capitalizing post titles can be confusing. For every single article I write (not daily reflections), I use CapitalizeMyTitle.com.
When you go to the site, all you have to do is type the title of your piece, and it will automatically capitalize it. That’s it. Nothing fancy. Nothing to pay for.
I’m sure that I could learn what is supposed to be capitalized and what isn’t supposed to be capitalized on my own, but I’d still make mistakes. This is another tool that I’ve built into my writing checklist to guide me through the process of writing.
xTab is less of a writing tool and more of a focus tool. xTab is an extension for Chrome that allows you to limit the number of tabs open at a given time. I have it set to allow one tab open. Yes. One.
Anytime I try to open a new tab, it immediately closes it and returns me to the tab I previously had open.
I love this tool because it keeps me focused. I have a maxim that goes:
If you can’t do it with one monitor, you’re not focused enough.
Having two monitors is useful, but for me, it complicates the issue. It’s the same thing with multiple tabs open. At any given moment, I only need to be looking at one tab. Why have the other tabs open when they shouldn’t be distracting me at all? Sometimes, I’ll stop writing and open a new tab because I want to check my email. (Well, I want to distract myself from the writing I'm supposed to do...) I end up clicking links in my inbox and checking my calendar and staring at my to-do list and not writing a single word.
xTab keeps me on one tab and reminds me, every time I try to open a new tab, to get back to work. Laziness is not an option.
Bonus: My Writing Checklists
I've mentioned my writing process in this article, and I’m sure you’re wondering what that looks like. I’m very interested in hearing how others go through their writing, so I want to share my process with you as well.
Below you’ll find a link to a PDF of the outline/checklist I use for pretty much every writing project I do. It’s very specific, and maybe you’ll add a thing or two to your writing process.
(Or shoot me an email and help me add something to my process, too!)