Eight Free Tools to Boost Your
Writing Productivity

"The Internet is the most important single development in the history of human communication since the invention of call waiting."

– Humorist Dave Barry

Of course, Dave is being tongue in cheek, but it's hard to overinflate the impact of the Internet on modern society.

For writers, it's the "land of opportunity" that’s opened up a whole new market for our services and created a demand for good content that is so great, it's impossible to fill.

It's also made available a whole bunch of great tools (many of them free) whose only goal is to make your life more productive.

Today, I've picked out eight sites that have the potential to streamline your day-to-day work life. All of them are free (a few offer a premium version for a relatively small charge):

  1. Speed up some of your basic computer tasksFingertips is a free program that you can use to "get things done, fast." Here are a few things it will streamline for you: adding information to Microsoft Outlook, opening specific folders in Microsoft Outlook, starting applications, opening your favorite documents and websites, and more.

    Here are the two main reasons why you may want to give Fingertips a try. It allows you to type an acronym (followed by the space key), and it will instantly add a block of text to your document. This might save you time if you have more than one email salutation. In Fingertips, you could assign each different salutation a different acronym. For instance, let's say you assign "BES" for your business email signoff. Type “BES” and it instantly appears.

    You can also assign an acronym for longer documents, such as a template for a standard business letter in your word processing software.

    Another handy timesaver is that Fingertips will quickly bring up any Word document with a few keystrokes. A file that I edit quite a lot is the one that contains the screenplay I'm writing, which is in a directory far away from my work files. This shortcut saves time.

    Fingertips will also open applications or websites the same fast way (it just takes a onetime set-up of the website, application, or file you want to open.

  2. Your online to-do list – Do you currently use a piece of paper to track all your tasks for the day? If so, you might want to consider a computerized version. HipCal.com is an easy-to-use (and free) program that helps make sure you never forget where you need to be or what you have to do.

    It will even send you alerts to your phone or email. It also allows you to create groups of people to collaborate and share information with. But the main attraction for me is the convenient to-do list.

  3. Organize your thoughts and tasks – WorkFlowy is (currently) a free tool for organizing your tasks and thoughts. It's extremely easy to use. You could use it as a replacement for your daily to-do list or use instead of or in conjunction with a program like HipCal mentioned above. WorkFlowy is like a living, very fluid worksheet that you can use to track your progress on projects, chores, and goals, and record your ideas, thoughts, and links.

    You start off with a blank page. With a click of the mouse, you add a topic. With another click of the mouse, you can add subcategories (and more subcategories). You can easily move items around, add notes, share with others (let them view or edit), hide and expand items, and mark items as complete. You can also mark similar items with hashtags (e.g., #today, #upcoming events) which you can use to group similar things together (upon searching for a particular hashtag).

  4. A quick and easy way to edit your copy – Have you ever been in a position where you've written something, but there's no one around who is qualified to critique it for you? You might want to consider signing up for the AutoCrit Editing Wizard, a self-proclaimed "instant book editor."

    It can't give you big-picture structure suggestions (after all, it's only a computer program). But it is a fast and convenient way to put your copy through the editing process.

    You simply paste in the text you want analyzed. It then brings you back a report on overused words, sentence variation, clichés and redundancies, repeated words and phrases, pacing, dialog, readability, etc.

    The free version limits you to three categories: overused words, sentence variations, and clichés and redundancies. To get the full impact as to whether AutoCrit would be a useful tool, you really have to sign up for one of their paid packages that start at $47 per year. They offer a 30-day money-back guarantee.

  5. Reduce eyestrain that results from staring at your computer screenEyeDefender’s goal is to reduce and eliminate most of the symptoms of Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS), which could result in eyestrain, blurred vision, delayed focusing, headaches, back and neck aches, dry and burning eyes, light sensitivity, distorted color vision, forehead heaviness, and sore eyes. You get these symptoms by looking at your computer screen for too long at one time.

    Every 45 minutes (or other time you set), it fills up your screen with a picture, runs the default screensaver, runs visual training to relax the eyes, or displays a pop-up reminder in the system tray advising you to take a break.

    For writers who use copywriting legend Eugene Schwartz's "33 minutes and 33 seconds and then take a five- to 10-minute break" writing methodology, you could customize EyeDefender to those parameters and use it instead of using a timer.

  6. Revolutionize your note taking – If you haven't tried out Evernote yet, you really should take a few minutes and check out what it has to offer. It's a free application (there is a premium version available for $5 a month or $45 a year) that lets you keep all of "your notes, web clips, files, and images available on every device and computer you use."

    We writers will find it especially appealing because when you're in research mode, it allows you to collect information from anywhere (everything from text notes to files to web pages and then some) and keep it in a single place for easy access. With a click of the mouse, you can record an audio message or take a snapshot of the web and have them both easily stored in the same note.

  7. Save time by setting up tasks to be performed automatically – The "IFTTT" in IFTTT.com stands for "If this then that." This ingenious application could save you time and offer you convenience, especially if you're a big user of social media. There are over 40 different sites and applications you can use to interact with each other.

    As the name states, if you perform an action, then you can set it up so it automatically triggers a second action. Here are a few things people have used IFTTT.com to do automatically:

    When someone retweets one of your tweets, thank them … when your Facebook profile picture changes, update your Twitter profile picture … if someone follows you on Twitter, follow them back … star something in Gmail, send it to Evernote … and when you post a link on Facebook, also send a tweet about it … and so on. You're really only limited by your imagination on what you do with IFTTT.com. Under the "recipes" menu selection, you can get plenty of ideas on how other people have used it to streamline their social media and online tasks.

  8. Mind map idea for freeFreeMind is a free mind-mapping software application. Use it to keep track of projects and documents as well as brainstorm and manage ideas. You can also use it as a small database for information, links, and files.

    Instead of mapping out your next article, blog post, sales letter, story, screenplay, non-fiction book (or whatever your fancy is) on paper, you might want to use FreeMind instead.

    Documenting and seeing your ideas on a computer screen may provide you with an additional creative boost. One big benefit over paper is that it makes it easier to file and recall your ideas versus trying to relocate a piece of paper with your ideas that may or may not be filed somewhere.

Depending upon your working style and habits, you'll most likely take to using some of the above more than others. But if you use as many of the eight as you can and make them part of your day-to-day schedule, you can't help but be more productive and effective when working. Which means you'll spend less time on organization and research and more time producing money-making copy.

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

At last, a professional organization that caters to the needs of direct-response industry writers. Find out how membership can change the course of your career. Learn More »

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Published: June 22, 2012

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