As writers, there are a lot of tools at our disposal. And since I’m also interested in technology, I’m constantly finding applications and techniques that are helpful. However, even though there are a lot of helpful apps and tips, our brains and browsers can get bogged down. There are endless browser extensions for writing and endless ways to do things that occupy our minds.
Instead, I’ve decided to focus on some basic things that, no matter what kind of writer you are, you’ll likely need (with maybe one exception). I wanted to keep it simple by providing only web-based apps. That is, tools that don’t need to be installed in a browser and will work across all platforms. The categories these fit in are distraction-free writing, blogging, research, note taking and creating time blocks.
Let’s face it, writing can be distracting. Since we’re right at our computers – the source of distraction – it can be quite easy to be distracted. There are several distraction-free applications which we’ve covered on MakeUseOf, but two that I really like are Writer and QuietWrite.
Writer is a product from Big Huge Labs that is super simple. To get the full benefits of it, I recommend creating an account. From the website you can print, export to PDF, download as a text file and email it. Of course there are the obvious features of saving, creating a new file and viewing the word count. There are quite a few preferences as well. You can change the text and background colors, line spacing, font and typing sounds.
QuietWrite has been formerly mentioned on MakeUseOf and I feel it is hands down the best online text editor and distraction-free writer. It is simple, yet has many features tucked away. The “header” that you see at the top of the page, slides away once the cursor is taken out of its range. This allows you to focus completely on what you need to write. I will point you to the direction of the article focusing on all of its features. It is quite the gem!
Of course, not all writers are bloggers. However, it is becoming more and more common to see everyone with a blog. So likely, if you write, you also blog.
If you haven’t heard of Zemanta, I am honored to introduce you too it. It is probably one of the best, if not the best blogging tool available. There’s a lot it can do, but basically it is a tool that allows you to add related articles, photos, in-text links and suggested tags right in the blog’s writing platform. Currently it works for WordPress, TypePad, Moveable Type, Joomla, Drupal, Tumblr and Blogger.
Of course, it’s available as a browser extension too and having an account definitely has its perks, but it’s nice to be able to quickly drag and drop the bookmarklet right into the browser bookmark bar and use it on any computer (if you need to). The fact that it doesn’t require an account to use is nice too, it’s just a little less personal in a few ways if you take that route. All it all though, the bookmarklet is a great option if you want to try it out without the extension.
No matter what you’re writing, there usually is some level of research involved. It can be quite a tedious task to save everything and find it again.
Thankfully, there’s a solution to this problem – Evernote – a cloud-based note application focused to help you remember everything. It’s quite popular, so likely you’ve heard of it already – especially if you read MakeUseOf a lot.
The Web Clipper is just one feature of Evernote and as you’ll find out, there are a lot of ways to use it. To use it, you do need an account and, like Zemanta, it does have browser extensions available. It’s brilliant for saving web articles, links, full web pages for various reasons. That’s the great thing about it, you can use it however you want!
For more awesome information on it, I highly recommend Mark’s article on Evernote. It will really help you get a grasp on it. There also will be a complete MakeUseOf Guide on it coming out soon. Although I don’t know when exactly, I do know it will be awesome, so keep checking for that!
There are a lot of note taking applications on the web. I mean, a lot. And Evernote is one of them. But sometimes you just want a simple place to jot down an idea and not worry about tagging and organizing it like you do in Evernote.
The service is aptly named. It simply allows you to write anything you want in as many “sticky notes” that you want. You can sign in and when you do, your notes will be backed up to the cloud.
You can create as many notes as you want, title them and color code them. You can also add a reminder to be notified when that note will become more relevant – a pretty nice feature – if only real sticky note did that!
Setting time aside to write is essential, but allocating a set amount of time and taking breaks is just as important. I know for myself, if I don’t set a timer I can just get lost in my writing, or distractions. A timer helps you to keep in mind that this is your writing time and that you’ve set this time aside to write and do nothing else. Then once it goes off, it reminds you that you should take a break from your computer, go on a 5-10 minute walk, get some fresh air, eat something, etc. Without a timer, I’ve often find myself either distracted, hungry, or just with a headache from staring at the screen too long.
E.ggTimer.com is a straight forward website with a very nice and clean interface. It was actually just mentioned in an article on applications to help you keep a time limit, by Craig. But I felt it was an essential part of writing and that E.ggTimer is likely the best available. What is nice is you can customize the timer right from the address bar. Just type “e.ggtimer.com/[the time you desire]”
You may be familiar with the Pomodoro technique. E.ggTimer also has a preset for that if you type “e.ggtimer.com/pomodoro” it will time you for 25 minutes and give you a 5 minute break, then automatically start back at 25 minutes again.
Speaking of Pomodoro, if you want a solid timer dedicated to it without needing a browser extension, Tomato Timer, which has been mentioned before on MakeUseOf by Nancy, is perfect for what you need. It has just the right amount of options to help you be efficient, but not too many that you waste time playing with them, or worse, trying to find them. All the information you need to know about how to use it is right on the front page, as well as many of the options. And the settings to change the timer and length of breaks is only a click away.
These aren’t the only tools to use for writing, or even for these categories. But in my personal experience, I’ve found them to be quite helpful to me and all are very easy to use – leaving you more time to write and less time figuring out how things work.
Do you have a favorite web app for writing that wasn’t included here? I’d love to hear about it. Or, if you have an experience you’d like to share about using one or more of the web-based writer tools mentioned on here, I’d love to hear about that too!
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