It’s the 21st century. We know that modern tools for us writers go far beyond mere pen and paper.
In order to stay at the top of your game, land more writing gigs, and be as productive and creative as possible, you must take advantage of a handful of indispensable resources that should remain mainstays in your writer’s toolkit. If you’re serious about the craft, invest in these resources today!
1. Grammar and Style Guides
The best way to make sure you land repeat business as a freelance writer is to make life easy on your editor. When editors see your polished copy, you’ll make their day and save them time. In turn, they’ll favor you over other writers when it comes to freelance contracts or publishing opportunities.
Granted, it can take a lifetime to master all the fine details of grammar, punctuation, capitalization, and style. And fine details may change with the release of each new edition of industry style standards.
That’s when keeping a current grammar and style guide handy comes into play. They’re an invaluable resource to flip through when you’re wondering how to capitalize a certain word or when to use an em-dash or an en-dash or the serial comma. Grammar and style guides are major business investments, and they pay off in helping you turn in the exact style your editor wants, every time.
While every magazine, website, and publishing house will have its own internal house style, they will also adhere to certain industry standards.
If you want to be a freelance writer, pick up the latest copy of the Associated Press Stylebook and its dictionary of choice, the Webster’s New World College Dictionary. The online, searchable guide might serve you better, depending on your needs. Regardless, the AP Stylebook will guide you through common issues, like when to spell out numbers and how to write out dates.
But there’s more to good writing than just perfecting the technical stuff. Fine-tune your approach to words, sentence structure and story outlines by reading classic books on the subject. The Elements of Style (by Strunk and White) is a perennial favorite among writers.
If you’re writing for a specific audience, like medical writing or academic work, you may also want to pick up a copy of the guidebook for that particular field, like the APA Style Guide or the latest Chicago Manual of Style. Every field has its own preferences, so having the guide for that subject handy can save you a lot of time, and save your editor a lot of headaches!
2. Cutting-Edge Word Processing Software
Writers often romanticize the idea of writing the next great novel in a worn leather notebook like great authors of the past. And while carrying a pen and paper with you is a great way to jot down quick ideas as they come to you, it’s not conducive to efficient, productive writing.
That’s where word processing software comes into play. Some writers use Microsoft Word or other basic apps, but smart and savvy writers turn to software that’s specifically built to help them write compelling fiction or irresistible nonfiction.
When looking for good software, watch for features that are specifically helpful for writers. Look for built-in tools that help you build editorial outlines, find and replace edits, collaborate with an editor through live documents, and other features to speed up the writing process.
Take Mellel for example. One of the features we are most proud of is our outline feature. It allows you to easily lay out every heading or chapter, view and edit your work, and navigate the document quickly. You can reorganize entire sections with a click of your mouse. Using a special Outline pane, you can create every element of your document—whether it’s a heading, subheading, or caption—by typing it directly into one area.
Meanwhile, formatting, such as playing down or promoting specific elements in your document, can also be done in seconds. That means you can spend less time editing and more time doing what you love: writing.
Once you see how efficient you can be with an author-tailored program or app, you’ll never go back to standard word processors. And if you’re using a Mac, you can get a discount on Mellel just for reading this blog!
3. Writing Groups
Toss out the clichéd stereotype that all writers are introverts and do their best work hidden away in a dark, damp room. Writing groups can be one of the most successful ways to elevate your writing prowess!
Through a group, you’ll meet like-minded authors, build connections that will be useful in getting your work published, and get healthy feedback and critique from other writers. It’s also a great place to bounce ideas off others.
The internet’s a good resource for finding these—there are dozens of Facebook groups, online forums, and other meeting places for writers to talk about their craft. You can also find writing groups in your community through local author clubs or on online platforms like Meetup.
4. Creativity Boosters
Never settle for the ideas you’ve created within the vacuum of your own inspiration. Go outside yourself to find ideas and new approaches to storytelling and communication. Even if you’re a nonfiction author, going outside yourself can help you to find new metaphors and new ways of telling the facts.
Many famous authors use the world and media around them to spark their imagination. Author Colson Whitehead goes to the movie theater for inspiration. Khaled Hosseini watches the news. Emma Donoghue reads other authors’ writings. Madeline Miller reads ancient literature. And Donna Tartt says she likes to visit yard sales and imagine the stories behind different objects that she sees.
Look around you and find sources of inspiration, whether it’s in a book or in a conversation that you overhear in a coffee shop.
Once you have an idea, write it out without any distractions. This point is key for successful productivity. In fact, the American Psychological Association warns that multitasking zaps your creativity and mental clarity. While it might feel like you’re getting more done, it actually slows you down!
So go ahead and turn off your phone. Log out of social media. Shut off the television. And consider installing a browser plugin, such as StayFocusd on Google Chrome. These plugins will block you from accessing other websites, such as Instagram or Facebook, for a period of time that you set. This helps you stay focused on your big ideas.
5. Proofreading Tools
Congratulations, you’ve finished your first draft. Now it’s time to grab a cup of coffee and polish your prose. And please, make sure you do!
Like every other editor in the world, I’ll tell you that one of the fastest ways to get on an editor’s blacklist is by turning in copy riddled with easy-to-fix mistakes. Protect your reputation and build credibility with your editor by using proofreading tools that help you catch common problems.
Look for spelling inconsistencies, especially if you’re writing creative fiction. For example, is the protagonist’s name Cathy or Kathy? Check it. Fix it!.
Mellel is really good at this as well. You can use Mellel’s Find Sets to execute hundreds of your most common search tasks in just one action. Save your searches, group them, and run them all at once with a click of your mouse, perfecting your document in seconds.
By automating the process, you can eliminate a lot of time and frustration, as well as human error. Want to see the tool in action? Check out Videos 4 and 5 of the Find and Replace series: https://www.mellel.com/managing-find-actions/.
Also, try to pinpoint repetitive words. Use a thesaurus, find synonyms, and try to introduce some word variety. Spot complex sentences, then break them down into more straightforward, easy-to-read copy.
You can do this manually by printing out your writing. Many authors find it easier to spot problems when reading a physical copy of their work.
Great Resources Empower Great Writing
When you add these writing tools to your creative toolkit, these resources will free your inner voice, connect you to the great story that’s waiting within you, and help you get those creative juices flowing.
Uncover even more great writing resources: