Ten Tools for Writers

There are many web-based tools and apps that can help writers. Publisher Connor Sansby shares a selection that he has found useful.

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There are countless resources for writers out there, offering almost everything a writer could dream of. A writer could spend days doing nothing but checking them out, but then we wouldn’t get any writing done and where would that leave us?

No single bit of technology is perfect for writers, but, with the right combination of tools, a writer can become more productive. They won’t turn you into a bestseller but they might help you reach your word count easier or help cut down your edit time.

These are my top picks for writers’ resources. You might have other tools and apps that I haven’t covered, in which case there’s a comment section just waiting for you to share your own personal favourites.

1. Grammarly

Even the most disciplined writers make mistakes. Grammarly is a powerful spelling and grammar checker. For some years the inbuilt tools in Microsoft Word and other word processors have been wanting, allowing Grammarly to step in and fill that gap.

Available as a plugin for Word or an online tool, Grammarly scans your document and finds spelling errors, punctuation mistakes and grammatical confusions. It’s not perfect—no grammar tool probably ever will be—but it checks over 250 rules in its attempt to give you the best possible result.

In their marketing, Grammarly don’t act like the grammar police, instead they treat their job with a dash of humour that often leads to writers picking up stylistic habits, i.e. Never use a big word when a diminutive alternative would suffice.

Its online platform does remove many formatting edits, like page breaks, so keep that in mind when pasting in your writing.

Best of all, the basic version is free. There is a more powerful version that picks up issues such as passive voice but, for many authors, Grammarly’s basic package is quite the treat from Microsoft Word’s more limited capabilities, even considering the considerable improvement of Office 365 over Microsoft’s previous efforts.

2. Expresso

As their site suggests, “good writing style is hard to define yet we readily recognize it when we come across a well written text.” Expresso aims to offer suggestions to improve the stylistic tone of your work. I’ve found it especially useful when I know the content of a sentence but I’m unsure if the mechanics are quite right.

Expresso checks for weak verbs and filler, which I’ve found particularly useful. Often, I hold them to be just additional barriers to understanding the core of a text. I will admit I don’t always use Expresso or heed its advice but I’m often surprised by what it suggests.

The public beta is free to use, simply paste in your text, click ‘analyse’ and let it get to work. Expresso can offer deep analysis of your writing, including the possible use of certain synonyms.

As Expresso says, using it won’t make you a great writer, but it can play a part.

3. Slick Write

Perhaps the most comprehensive writing advice tool on the list, Slick Write can take a bit of getting used to. Once you become familiar with it, its use of data can be an invaluable asset.

Much like Hemingway App (next on this list), Slick Write tries to offer advice to make you a better writer. However, it is less intrusive, giving you a clearer view of the text than other apps.

Slick Write generates a lot of data, which can help you refine work. Worried you’ve used adverbs too frequently? Slick Write locates each instance of them and underlines them.

No writing advice tool should be treated as if it’s perfect, however Slick Write does offer a finer touch than many other.

Its different modes prevent you from getting overloaded with information, allowing you to see stylistic errors in one view and vocabulary options in another.

For the newcomer to writing advice tools, it can seem daunting. Slick Write’s major flaw may very well be that it offers too much advice.

4. Hemingway App

Like Expresso, Hemingway reads your work and offers suggestions. Like the writer himself, Hemingway looks for ways to simplify what you’ve written, suggesting trims to adverbs, simpler verb selection and shorter, more accessible sentences.

Hemingway offers advice and explanations along the way; the idea being that by learning these rules and how they apply to your own work, you will master them. The site even offers a grading system, though this is mostly for fun.

As with any writing advice program, it’s not without its flaws. No writing rule is hard and fast truthfully, but we can all do with a bit of advice once in a while.

Between this website and Slick Write, you can often find where you should start work on a second draft of a given piece, allowing for quicker editing and a better understanding of what it is your writing.

5. Rhymezone

This one’s for the poets. Rhymezone is a rhyming dictionary that offers half-rhymes and phrases as well as straight rhymes. For those instances when you cannot find a single word rhyme, it will even offer a percentage based rhyme chart letting you see the closest matches to your chosen phrase. Sometimes, just seeing the options on hand can lead you to strange and wonderful paths in your poetry.

Rhymezone organises its rhymes by syllable count, meaning even if you’re a stickler for form, you can still rely on Rhymzone to help you.

More advanced users of the site can use it to find quotes, Shakespeare passages and match consonants. If used properly, I’m sure Rhymezone could improve one’s poetry all by itself.

So what’s the downside? I hate the branding of the site. It comes across too cheerful and child-friendly. That’s it, the only bad thing I have to say about the site. It’s quick, it’s simple and comprehensive. Clearly, the owners of the site have learned from the 20 years it’s been active.

6. Tip of My Tongue

You know when you can almost recall the perfect word for a sentence? Tip of My Tongue is a search tool for just that instance. No more straining for days, unable to move past a sentence because you’ve got the perfect word if only you could remember it.

Thesauruses are useful in this same circumstance but Tip of My Tongue boasts a larger word list behind it, as well as faster access and the ability to refine words by ‘sounds like,’ etc.

7. Wordcounter

Worried you’ve used the same word before? Wordcounter does what it says on the tin, providing you with a list of your most commonly used word as well as the density of usage. It can even isolate two and three-word phrases.

As an added bonus for poets, it includes a ‘reading time’ and ‘speaking time,’ giving you a better idea of how long your set might take.

8. The Most Dangerous Writing App

Writing as an adrenaline fuelled sport is the order of business with this app. Simply keep writing. If you stop, everything gets deleted, so don’t stop.

Users can customise the amount of time they want to sprint for, and then they’re off. This forces you to just keep going until the time runs out. While I wouldn’t recommend this for the more cerebral writing, I’ve found it helps with getting ideas out. I typically use this to plot a piece of work. If I can’t put down a reasonable pitch in three minutes, it’s probably not a great idea.

There’s also WriteOrDie which offers a more game-inspired layout and punishments for stopping writing, from flashing lights to sirens. Novelist David Nicholls used this app to force him to write, and although at the end he ended up deciding to bin 35,000 words, he saw that the core idea had potential once it had been explored.

These sites are especially useful in building your discipline. I always parrot the old advice of “write every day.” These apps can’t make you do that, but they can make sure that the time you spend writing is actually writing time.

9. TakeMeBack.To

For those that write historical fiction, this site is invaluable. Enter your date and TakeMeBack.To will provide you with a block of information about that year. Not just a list of things that happened, TakeMeBack.To gives you actual insight into that year, with the important cultural events, the major films released and (if you poke about) what certain places were like during that year.

It’s a great tool to avoid unintentional anachronisms and capture the feel of a year you may not have lived through.

10. Google Docs

I firmly believe everything should be written into Google Docs. It’s a nice, basic word processor on par with the Microsoft Word web app, in my opinion. What really proves its worth to me is its portability. Everything I write at home is available on my phone. I never have to carry notebooks around, if I don’t have the room, in order to keep up with my latest project.

Google Drive allows me to lump all my relevant information together, from pictures to research documents. Even if I’m sat on a train, I can read through some of the material I’ve made available offline, meaning I never need downtime.

As a poet, it means my work is always available to share with people, should the mood take me.

Google Docs also makes collaboration easy, everything can be shared between Drives and multiple edits can be made. As an editor, I’ve used Google’s chat to talk through certain passages with an author while I refine everything, to make sure they understand and accept the edits I’m suggesting. Whilst a subscription to Microsoft Office 365 will offer the OneDrive alternative, which is much the same, having Google Docs available for free clearly gives it the edge.

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Connor Sansby is a Margate-based writer, editor, poet and publisher through his super-indie Whisky & Beards publishing label.

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