Note: This post has been updated as of January 2018.
Confession: Writing is hard.
No matter how skilled a writer is, no matter how long they’ve been writing, it never gets easy.
But, at the same time, writing is one of the most important skills anyone can have. This is especially true if you’re growing your own business and looking for freelance work.
And that doesn’t just mean for people whose brands center around writing.
So if you think just because you’re doing affiliate marketing, or SEO, or social media that you don’t need to worry about writing. Well, think again.
How do you sell your products, get clients, or motivate people to click on links?
You guessed it, writing.
If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably been wanting to get better at writing for a while.
I’d struggled to do it consistently. The majority of people I see who are successful with their brands are those who consistently put out awesome content either for their own brands or for the brands they work with. That means writing a lot. Not just to hit some magical word count but to get better at actually writing.
I know the advice: write more. I’d heard it, and read it, and ignored it.
After a lot of starts and stops, I’ve finally followed the advice I’ve been ignoring for so long. Because as much as I’d hoped the awesome-at-writing-fairy would gently tap her wand on my forehead while I was sleeping and I’d wake up with said skills, it hasn’t happened.
So I’ve been left with one alternative…do the work.
I finally followed that advice and now write 1,000 words a day (up from my start of 500 words in October of 2016). You can read more about my daily writing in this post.
There are lots of writing tools out there. So, chances are, you’ll going to find one that works for you too.
So that’s what I want to share. These writing tools can help you keep a daily writing practice going strong. In here, I’ve also included a few tools that can help you improve your writing and keep you motivated along the way.
Getting into the Daily Writing Mindset
Daily writing isn’t easy. Believe me, I have learned this the hard way. I’ve started and stopped more times than I can count. And there are still days, even a year and a half in, that I just don’t write anything at all. When that happens, I have to go back in and make it up.
For me at least, it’s hardly become something that’s been automatic. For that, you need to get in the right mindset.
This can be almost as hard as the writing itself.
So, before you go all gung-ho and ready to become the next George RR Martin and sign your HBO deal, here are a few things to keep in mind as you get started.
You don’t need to start with 1,000 words. In fact, I recommend against it. Start small if you have to and then up the ante every month. Pick a number that you know you can get done and will keep you engaged in the process.
Remove the Pressure
While consistency is key, being a freelancer is stressful enough so don’t add piles of it on to your life. If you miss a day, you miss it, just make it up, it’s fine.
Set a Schedule
On the days I wake up and bang out my words, they flow much more easily. On the days where I have it weighing on me all day I can sit staring at a blank page. So understand when during the course of your day your brain is best wired to write.
Some of Your Words Will Suck
No matter how amazing of a writer you are, every word you write isn’t going to be usable. Don’t go in expecting you’ll be able to write something and it will all be awesome. If you can get a chunk that is great, awesome. If not, it’s ok.
Alright, got those tips down? Let’s look at some of the tools.
My Favorite Writing Tools
In this section, I’m going to highlight a few tools that you can use to start writing. Use these as places to actually write. It doesn’t matter what you pick (even if it’s off this list) but it’s really important to use it every day.
1. Blank Page
This is the tool I use. It’s a very simple writing tool that allows you to set a daily writing goal, track your goal, and set up stories. It’s super simple to use and distraction free.
I do like that if you’re trying to try your hand a bit more of storytelling you can use Blank Page as an outline or as chapters to one larger story. You can also export everything to Word so you don’t have to worry about being an online platform.
2. 750 Words
750 Words is another writing tool you can use to write, set a goal, and track your progress all in one place. It has an attractive setup, and I really like how you can visually see what days you’ve managed to write and what days you’ve missed.
750 words is approximately 3 pages, so it’s a pretty reasonable goal to start your daily practice. A lot of people get started with this tool.
3. Write or Die
When I first got into content writing and wanted to bang out articles more quickly, I loved using Write or Die. At my best, I was able to get 500 words out in just around 15 minutes, and I credit this tool for helping me to stop overthinking and just start writing.
Basically, you set a word limit, a time limit, and if you want a consequence, reward, or stimulus, and then you’re off to the races. If you don’t hit your word count at the time limit, the app will let you know.
This is a relatively new tool on the scene and kinda cool. A lot of people get stuck with their writing because they edit along the way. The common conventional wisdom is to write first and edit later. However, this is much easier said than done.
If you find yourself getting caught up with this, try Ilys. It only allows you to see one word at a time as you type. Then when you hit your word count, it finally lets you see everything you’ve written.
If you get too distracted by all sorts of buttons on the side of your writing tool and just want to write, check out FocusWriter. Its whole purpose is to give you nothing but a blank screen with zero distractions.
That’s not to say it doesn’t have any of the bells and whistles that some of the other tools do, it does. You can still set a word count, daily goals, and spell check. It even translates into 20 languages.
6. Google Docs
This one is pretty obvious. A lot of people don’t think about using Google Docs for a daily writing practice, but it makes sense. Google Docs is free, easy to use, and can be organized easily.
Start by creating a folder to organize your writing. Star it so it will always be at the top of your GDocs, so every time you open it, your folder is staring you in the face.
Tools to Improve Writing
These tools can help you improve your actual writing skills, and if you’re anything like me, grammar and spelling can be an issue.
While as Anne Lamott says “write shitty first drafts” these tools can help make your subsequent drafts substantially less crappy over the long run.
I’m a new convert to Grammarly but love it.
Use the free Chrome extension and you’ll be able to dramatically improve your writing right away. Basically, the extension looks at everything you write, from blog posts to emails to social media, and lets you know any basic grammar and spelling mistakes.
Plus, it sends me a cool newsletter each week reminding me of how smart I am. Who doesn’t love a little ego boost?
8. Readability Grader
If you have a tendency to toss around lots of big words and complex sentences (I’m looking at myself here) then you’ll love a tool like Readability Grader.
It’s super simple to use, just copy your text into the box and click check. You’ll see exactly how easy your content is to read, and it will help you simplify what you write.
We can’t all afford an editor to check our writing right from the jump.
But Correctica helps you get part way there. All you need to do is send your doc to their email address, and a few minutes later, poof you’ve got all your errors highlighted. Use it the first ten times for free, or you can pay $30 a year for unlimited checks.
10. Hemmingway App
Another popular tool that corrects grammar and spelling in a really clean and visual way is the Hemmingway App. You can either write using the app or copy your content and it will tell you what needs improving (recognize that section from above?). Plus, it gives you a readability score and a word count all in one place.
If there’s one thing I started noticing as I began to pay attention to my writing, it was that I made a lot of the same mistakes over and over (and over) again.
While tools like the Hemingway App and Grammarly have helped remove my excessive use of commas and passive voice a tool like WordCounter can help you track your most frequently used words and checks for overuse.
For an all in one tool, you are hard pressed to go wrong with something like ProWritingAid. It combines some of the best features from some of the most popular tools and gives them to you in one clean interface.
It also gives you up to 20 reports to check your writing and it’s flexible enough to be used for anything from blogging to business writing to manuscripts.
Tools to Get You Writing
Ok, so we’ve got the tools we can write stuff in, and we’ve got the tools to check the writing you do come up with. Now, we come to the hardest part. The actual writing bit. Yea, I know.
If you suffer from major writer’s block, try some of these tools which can help get your creative writing juices flowing.
13. Daily Page
Lots of people need help getting motivated to write. This is especially true if you don’t have a pile of brilliant ideas or topics to cover, or if you want to start exploring creative writing and storytelling.
Daily Page helps you by sending you an email every single day, at the time you request, with a writing prompt.
Prompts is an iPhone app that was created to get you writing. Rather than just giving you a story or a sentence to start, it actually uses a complex algorithm to help guide you through your writing, offering advice and making suggestions as you go. Plus, it also keeps track of your writing habits, so you can keep tabs of your daily goals.
15. Writer’s Digest
Writer’s Digest is a site geared towards helping aspiring writers. So, it shouldn’t come as a big shock that they have hundreds of different writing prompts on the site for you to check out.
You can either sign up for their newsletter and get a full book of prompts or go to their prompts site and get a new one every week.
16. Plot Generator
If you’ve always wanted to become a better storyteller but never knew where to start, this could be a great tool for you.
Plot Generator helps you out by randomizing the bare bones of a plot for you, giving you things like character names, attributes, and location. Then it leaves you to work your magic to fill in the holes.
Books on Writing
There’s an axiom you’ll see as you get more and more into writing.
Basically, it goes like this:
If you want to be a better writer, read more.
Well, you never have to tell me twice when it comes to reading. Jokes aside, this is true. You will absolutely become a better writer by not just reading amazing writers, but also books on writing.
Don’t think that just because these are books, they don’t count as tools too.
There are plenty of amazing books out there that can help you get better at writing, here are a few of my favorites.
17. On Writing by Stephen King
Everyone knows Stephen King. When he’s not busy scaring the bejesus out of you with some of his classics (I couldn’t sleep for days after deciding to read Misery during homeroom in junior high), you’ve got to be amazed by his writing output and ability.
His book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft blends his unconventional life story and invaluable writing tips and advice.
18. Everybody Writes by Ann Handley
Since I create a lot of B2B marketing content in my freelance business, I’ve always paid attention to what goes on over at Marketing Profs. When I saw that head Prof Ann Handley had a book about writing, I grabbed it right away.
I’d consider her book, Everybody Writes, essential reading for anyone who is looking to learn how to write amazing content for the online world.
19. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
I never expected to fall in love with this book, but it didn’t take long before I couldn’t put it down.
In Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life Anne Lamott manages to weave her own biography with these incredible little gems about how to tell stories and write better. This is one of the few books I’ve seen that every single person I know who has read it, recommends it.
20. Save the Cat by Blake Snyder
This one might be an odd choice, but I just recently got Save the Cat, and am loving every page of it.
In it, Blake Synder uses his years of movie scriptwriting experience to tell you exactly how to craft a story that people will love. While it’s written as an instructional book for budding screenwriters, anyone who wants to be a better storyteller should pick this one up.
Start Writing Every Day
Ok, enough procrastinating.
I’ve given you a bunch of different tools that are going to help kick your butt into gear and get you to start writing. There is no better time than right now.
Are you already practicing a daily writing habit? Comment below and let me know what writing tools you’ve found that have made it stick, I’d love to hear more about them.