Writers can be indecisive. Picky. Perfectionistic. They can spend an hour mulling over whether or not using a hyphen will make the clause grammatically correct. They shuffle the syntax of a sentence four different ways before they’re satisfied with the sound. Much of the writing process involves cobbling things together until it feels suitably synergistic. Not to mention, if you’re in the Age of Google, your mental bandwidth may not be up to the standards of, say, the memory methods of ancient indigenous cultures.
Because of this, it’s nice to have some helpful tools to make our lives easier and our work more polished (or unpolished, depending on the aim). There are a metric ton of resources considered “writing tools” but these are the ones I go back to often. As a poet and a marketing content writer, the list is a bit of a mashup in their functions, but there’s decidedly overlap where writing fields are concerned.
This may be an obvious one. Likely 70% of my writing time is mining for the right word to fit the prescribed meaning and sound. It can mean the difference between the “pulse at my wrist” and the “bloodleap at my wrist” (Brewster Ghiselin). Any thesaurus will work fine (there are even some with features that go beyond a traditional thesaurus) but I like thesaurus.com because it’s free and user friendly.
If you write anything geared toward an online audience, this is an essential one to include in your literary tool belt. Like its name suggests, it grades your writing based on how readable the content is (and readability is important). The algorithm is calculated from a broad mix of trusted scoring formulas, including Flesh-Kincaid, Gunning Fog, Coleman-Liau, and SMOG. Boiled down, they all rely on two basic tenets: Less is more. Simplicity is best. All while sticking to tried-and-true rules of writing.
Readable.io checks word choice, syntax, passive language, and clichés, among other linguistic mechanisms. It even tells you if you’re writing in a male or female voice, positive or negative sentiment, and formal or conversational tone.
The main takeaway: Be conversational, write like a human, be direct, and trim those pesky adverbs.
3. SEMrush Keyword Analytics
I use SEMrush at work on the daily. Another one for the online writing camp, it has a whole suite of tools for marketers and copywriters (and has won a lot of awards for it). As a writer, 99% of my time on the site is spent with their Keyword Analytics tool. It helps you find the best words to inject into your writing to best optimize online written content and boost Google rankings.
Humor me a brief trip in the weeds here: I’m of the belief that writing should be shared in the same way that art should be shared. If you write an informative blog post about the merits of using a rubber dead blow hammer over a rawhide hammer, you want it to reach that right, niche audience—much in the same way you choose colors for a painting based on their emotional currency. One is a transfer of information and the other is a transfer of emotion.
Whether you’re dealing in business or art, the end result is more meaningful when you’re able to connect with the right people.
If you’re like me, you thumb through the same tired music until it’s worn out their stay in your ears. If I need to fill the echoey silence of the office but can’t bear to listen to the same Lord Huron album again, I pull up Noisli. It’s a background noise generator that claims to boost productivity and promote relaxation. You can choose from sounds like rain, wind, coffee shop chatter, and white noise—and it has a simple, friendly interface to boot.
While the jury is out on the connection between music/background noise and productivity, I find it hugely beneficial. It helps me better lock into a groove (ahem, pun intended).
5. Artful Sentences: Syntax as Style by Virginia Tufte
I get pretty jazzed about syntax. If you share this sentiment, this is a good book to keep on your shelf. It has a decidedly creative writing bent to it, but its ideas can be applied to other forms of writing as well. It has a chapter on short sentences, one on verb phrases, another on parallelism—any nugget of phraseology wisdom you can think of, with lots of examples peppered in. You’d be surprised how moving a few words around can really impact the punch of a sentence.
I like to use this book as a tool for any kind of writing, not just the creative stuff. Writing (or reading) outside of your preferred or most written genre has a way of informing all of your writing. There’s a saying that circulates the creative writing community that goes something like “Poets don’t have to write fiction but fiction writers have to write poetry.” The idea being, if you write in a genre as potentially unbarred and abstract as poetry, it can help endow your fiction with a fresh, textured flavor.
This last resource is also motored more toward creative writing than marketing content but it’s an important one. Poets & Writers is a magazine and nonprofit literary organization that’s been around since 1970. Between the magazine and the website, they serve up writing prompts, author interviews, writing contests, grants, job listings, an events calendar, and way more.
I tend to reference it to replenish the creative well, give a head start to a poem or writing project, and search for contests to submit to.
If you’re looking for more resources, HubSpot has a fantastic list of writing tools on their blog that’s worth a gander.