Writing’s hard. And, unfortunately, nothing’s ever going to take the place of putting your bum in your chair, your fingers to your keyboard (or pen to paper), and getting the hell on with it. But there are writing tools out there that can take the weight off, and help you produce more polished prose. Here are just a few.
Text to Speech
I use this all the time. It’s handy when you’ve got to the point where you’ve pored over what you’ve written so many times that you’re sick of it. Having your work read out to you (even if it’s in a robotic-sounding voice) is great, especially when you’re at the proofing stage. You can check that your transitions work, and catch those pesky typos and missed out words. Just google text to speech pc or mac.
Not sure about the rules about using that or which? Get confused about i.e. and e.g.? Don’t worry, Grammar Girl (aka podcaster, author and journalism professor, Mignon Fogarty) will sort you out. She’ll gives clear, easy to understand explanations of punctuation problems using everyday examples and no complicated grammar-speak.
A great resource for coming up with ideas for solid headlines and copy. Type in a word it’ll give you a list of phrases (some well-known and others less so) that are related to it.
There are loads of list-making apps out there, but Wunderlist’s my favourite. I’ve used it for years. It’s simple and there aren’t any random features you don’t need. I use it to collect:
- titles of books I want read
- blog post ideas
- links to articles I wish I’d written
- examples of great headlines
It means that everything’s in one place. So I’m not using scrappy bits of paper, or wasting time rifling through loads of notepads trying to remember where I wrote what.
This is the home of snarky and dark comics, quizzes and articles by cartoonist Matthew Inman. As well as sharing important information like ‘6 reasons why bacon is better than true love’, and giving guidance on big issues, ‘How to hug an attractive person’, he’s produced a set of grammar comics too. They include, ‘How and why to use whom in a sentence’, and ‘Ten words you need to stop misspelling’.
If you want to up your daily word count, and are a fan of super cute baby felines, then Written Kitten’s for you. Just type away and after every 100, 200, 500 or 1000 words (you choose) you’ll be rewarded with a gif of a kitten. It’s surprisingly motivating. If kittens aren’t your bag, there’s the option of having your achievements recognized through the medium of puppies or bunny rabbits.
‘Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech you’re used to seeing in print’. Wise words from advocate of unflashy writing, George Orwell. He speaks the truth, but those damn clichés have way of slipping through your editing net. This will root them out. Just copy and paste your text into the box, and your overused phrases will be highlighted, so you can replace them with something less boring instead.
You’ve got writing to do. But the lure of Facebook/Twitter/Email/Instagram is strong. You think ‘spending a couple of minutes checking them won’t hurt, will it?’ But an hour later you’re making (false) promises to yourself about cutting back on social media, because you’ve got bugger all done. Stay Focused makes it easier to get rid of digital distractions. Just pick the apps that interfere with your concentration, and block them for as long as you need to.
This is meant for academic prose, but anyone who wants to write clearly and engagingly can use it. It checks for grammatical structures that add unnecessary weight to your writing. Run your work through it to find out whether your writing’s toned, or could do with a work out and few less pies.
This Tumblr collection of one-star reviews of classic novels isn’t a writing tool, but it’s still worth checking out. Not all the reviews are funny, but some of them have made me laugh until my cheeks were dripping with tears. (JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings is dismissed with, ‘I couldn’t get past all the Hobbit gossip in the beginning.’) It’s a helpful reminder that even the most accomplished and well-regarded writers have their critics.
Dawn is an ace wordsmith with a background in arts journalism – writing features and book, food, film, TV, theatre and stand-up comedy reviews. She has also written speeches for politicians, and is a skilled business writer who’s drafted and edited content for the Scottish Government’s website.