Everyone has their favorite tools. For carpenters, it might be a favorite hammer that’s weighted just right. For a painter, it might be that brush that glides just so and always washes clean. For me, it’s a word processor.
If you’re anything like me, you have way too much to do and way too little time to do it. You’re constantly on the hunt for software and tools that can make your life easier. Or maybe you’ve just always dreamed about what the pros use to get the job done.
Here are a few of my favorite writing tools:
I’ll go ahead and burst your bubble right up front here. Despite all the great writing apps available for the Mac—and there are a ton—I’m boring and do 90% of my writing in Word. The reason is simple: most of my clients want their deliverables in Word format (.docx). Sure, lots of apps say they’ll convert to Word format, but when it comes to client work, I don’t want to take any chances.
It’s not uncommon to have formatting errors pop up during the conversion process, and then one of two things happen: either I spend way too much time hunting for them, or they slip through the cracks and spoil the squeaky-clean package. So, to keep things simple, I just use Word. And generally, since I’m already doing most of my work in Word, I just do all my work in Word, including this blog post you’re reading right now.
Now, Word for Mac used to be shit. That’s the nicest way I can put it. However, the software has gotten a lot better since the big update last year (I think?). It’s no longer slow or painful to look at. I can tolerate it. Plus, the iOS app is great. I use it all the time if I’m stuck somewhere and want to get some work done.
So, that covers the bulk of my writing. I do use a handful of other apps, though.
I also use Google Docs a fair bit. I’m all about making my clients lives easier, so if I know they use Docs internally, I’ll just do my writing in it. Again, stuff doesn’t always translate well between formats.
Google Docs is, in my opinion, a lot better than Word as a pure writing app. It lacks a lot of the fancy style options that Word offers, so you can’t necessarily make things look as pretty. But I enjoy writing in Docs more. Despite being a web app, it feels faster and less janky to me. It also automatically saves your work, which is nice. Most Mac apps also do this, but Word is not one of them (of course).
For blog posts and general web writing, where formatting is done with HTML, I like Byword. Byword is a Markdown editor that makes writing in HTML a piece of cake, even if you don’t know the code. It’s also just a nice, clean app that works well. It also does rich text formatting, if you do need to get fancier with it. And the font selection is glorious. Byword has an iOS app, too, so you can write on the go. Good stuff.
You might wonder why something like this is even necessary. Can’t you just write directly into WordPress, or whatever content management system (CMS) your site uses? Sure—good luck with that. I’ve had too many drafts eaten by WordPress.
In fact, one of my biggest pieces of advice for a web writer is to never trust your CMS. Write your draft offline, then upload it to WordPress to publish. Byword has an “export as HTML” function that allows you to paste it cleanly into WordPress. If you’re writing in Word, there are plugins that will convert .docx to HTML for you. They suffer the same problem as other format conversions, but if you just do the writing in Word and save the formatting for the CMS, it’s not an issue. I like Mammoth, personally.
If you like the idea of Byword, but not Byword itself, there are loads of other apps that do the same thing. iA Writer is maybe the most famous example, and it’s also a treat.
When I’m done with a piece, I always run it through Copyscape before publishing or sending it off to a client. This is not strictly necessary, but I’ve found it to be a good habit to get into. It’s always best to err on the side of caution when it comes to potential copyright issues.
Even if you didn’t reference anyone else’s work while researching yours, with all the content being published daily, there’s a damn good chance someone else wrote something very similar. Copyscape can catch that and show you a side-by-side comparison, making any edits easy to perform.
Copyscape is also dirt cheap—5 cents per credit, one credit per search. I usually buy $10 worth of credits at once, which is 200 searches. The time it would take to get a revision from a client, find the offending phrases, make the edits, and resubmit is worth so much more than those 5 cents to both my clients and me. Run your work through Copyscape.
For the pre-writing setup—researching, outlining, that sort of thing—I use Microsoft OneNote. I use OneNote a lot—and not just for outlines. I take notes constantly throughout the day, any time an idea comes to me. Things like blog post topics, businesses I come across that I might want to work with, and various bits of info I might want to remember about my clients all go in OneNote for future reference.
An alternative that does basically the same thing is Evernote, which you’ve probably heard of. I use OneNote because it is included in my Office 365 subscription, which I need anyway for Word. Either one gets the job done.
So, there you go. A few of my favorite writing tools. What are yours? Let me know on Twitter!