Updated: Jun 27
On my Medium profile, I wrote several pieces about tips and tools that I use as a professional writer that I thought would be useful for other writers out there. I thought I might continue that series here! This time, I've broken them down into categories based on how you might use the tools.
Tools for professional writers
Professional writers need tools to help them write productively, which is why I've included two timers, and tools to help them make their writing look good, which is why I've included Canva.
Toggl is a free time-tracking application that you can download and use on or offline. I like this particular tracker because it lets you designate what you're working on and for whom, which is convenient when you work with multiple clients on hourly contracts. It keeps track of exactly when you started, when you stopped, and how long you worked, which makes charging much easier.
Powerpom is a Pomedoro technique timer. This technique involves working in cycles of long work periods followed by short rest periods, ending in a long rest period. The breakdown is typically 15-20 minutes of work followed by 5 minutes of rest, with a 15 to 20-minute break every four work periods. This is a great way to track writing sprints, projects that require intense focus, or to motivate yourself to work on a day when your motivation is running a bit thin.
What I love about this timer is you can customize how long each section is (work, rest, and long rest) as well as how many work sessions you do before a long rest. The app also keeps track of how long you work on a particular day, which is nice for keeping track of productivity.
Canva is a free graphic design and editing software that is really helpful for making social media content, crafting an author brand, and working on more visually-heavy projects for clients. The user interface is clean, smooth, and easy to use, and even with the free version, you get a huge wealth of design elements to choose from.
I opted to subscribe to Canva Pro, which offers additional features like design resizing and more options for sharing your work, among others, but if you don't need those more advanced features, simply learning to use the base functions can help you step up your game tremendously.
Tools for authors
Authors of both fiction and nonfiction need tools to organize their work beyond their manuscript documents.
Campfire is a world-building tool that authors with expansive worlds and character lists can use to keep everything organized. It's essentially a digital story bible/personal wiki that you can use to track everything from characters to maps and locations to magic systems and more.
The free plan for Campfire is incredibly generous and, if you decide you do want premium features, you can buy only what you need and pay a reasonable one-time fee or keep an active subscription, depending on your needs.
Notion is another organizational tool that you can use as a series bible or personal wiki, but it's also great for general organization such as keeping a calendar or organizing a marketing plan. Its completely customizable pages are sorted into workbooks that you can easily introduce documents, images, music, links, and other formats into as well as link between for easy navigation.
Notion's free plan is, again, very generous and perfect for authors looking to create an all-in-one storage system for worldbuilding notes and research. Their paid plans include more storage and additional features including analytics and exporting.
Tools for editors
Editors need to be able to check their work against industry standards quickly and easily. I've already recommended Grammarly and the Hemingway Editor in a previous piece, so here are a few more technical programs.
CoSchedule is a handy plugin tool for your web browser (I use it on Chrome) that allows you to check the SEO quality of your headlines. It gives you a score out of 100 and offers suggestions for how to improve your headline, allowing you to edit it up to 25 times with a free plan.
The only thing I'm not a huge fan of with this particular application is its insistence that headlines have "categories" - How To, lists, questions, etc. This often makes it difficult to write a witty or straight descriptive headline like you would for a humor or news piece.
Moz is an analytical tool for websites and keywords, which makes it great if you're trying to optimize a piece for a particular subject. Their free plan allows you to analyze up to ten keywords per month, showing you how hard it is to rank for, the current top-ranking results, related keywords, and associated queries, among other metrics.
You can also use this tool to analyze a website (again, you get 10 free searches per month) and determine how well it ranks in terms of online presence and authority. This is helpful whether you're trying to improve your own sight or looking for a quick way to vet sources for your writing. Having the browser extension installed makes this even easier.
Tools for publishing work
Of course, once you've written something, you need a way to get it our into the world.
If you're an indie author or journal designer who works in the Kindle store space, then Kindle Create can be an incredibly effective tool. This Amazon-official program helps you automatically format your book to Kindle store standards so that it looks good as an ebook, paperback, or, most recently, a hardcover.
That being said, it's not got the nicest UI and the file type choice can be confusing. If you export your project as a Kindle Create file, nothing can read it but that program, meaning you'll have to re-export it to actually use it anywhere.
I know I've already mentioned Canva, but it's worth noting again because you can use to create excellent-looking PDFs for workbooks and journals, graphics for advertising, personal logos, and social media posts, just to name a few. It's both a still image and video editor, which is convenient if you use both formats, and it has lots of stock media to adjust into your unique graphic designs.
Again, the free version of Canva is pretty expansive and perfect for creating basic marketing material and social media content. If you're planning to design a logo or make journals or other large projects like that, I would recommend upgrading to Canva Pro, which costs about $12 per month and gives you access to a wider range of stock material and features.
If you want to self-publish your work economically but you don't want it to be exclusive to Amazon, Draft2Digital is a fantastic tool. It's a multi-platform publishing aggregate, which, when put simply, means that you can use it to publish your work on all of the most popular ebook and paperback markets including Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo. It also has options for expanded distribution to libraries through services like Hoopla.
Currently, D2D supports ebooks, paperbacks, and audiobooks, so if you're looking to publish hardbacks, you'll have to do that separately. Luckily, there's no exclusivity clause preventing you from doing that. I'd also recommend formatting your book before uploading it - the D2D formatting tool is relatively limited.
Thoughts on AI as a writing tool
As I know it's going to come up as a question, I wanted to share my thoughts on the use of artificial intelligence when it comes to writing.
I think my take on the idea is a bit more relaxed than some of my peers: I don't really feel threatened by the existence of these tools. From my experience working with them, I've yet to be convinced that an AI on its own can create a piece that feels original, engaging, or entertaining in any way beyond that slight Uncanny Valley feeling. All of the AI writing I've seen produced, in its raw state, is boring, unoriginal, and to be honest, not worth posting.
That being said, I did call AI a tool because that's how I see it being useful. AI is great for generating a basic first draft, but any good writer knows that you can't publish a first draft. To create truly original, purposeful content, I think you will always need a human editor for AI work. Plus, AI can be great for generating writing prompts and marketing plans for authors and writers who might not otherwise have a good way to get those ideas quickly.
So no, I don't think the robots are coming for my job anytime soon. I do, however, think that they'll be useful in allowing me to do my job more efficiently, which is the point of these programs in the first place.
Keep in mind that this isn't an exhaustive list; explore your options online to find the tools that work best for you. I highly recommend chatting with your fellow writers to get their recommendations - and hey, if you've got any to share, do so in the comments here!
Whether you're writing for yourself, your clients, or an avid fanbase, having the right tools at your fingertips can make writing easier, faster, more satisfying, and less frustrating.