If you love technology and gadgets, it’s rather frustrating as a writer, because there’s not much to help us do our jobs better. Photographers have apps that help with lighting issues and improving their photos. Visual artists can sketch and draw on their phones and tablets. Even musicians have apps to help them record, mix, and share their music.
Meanwhile, writers have word processors and, well, more word processors. There are things to help us be writers, but not much to help us with the actual work of writing.
Still, new technology is fun to play with, and the right kind can make our lives easier, which helps us devote more time to writing.
This past July, I wrote about six must-have productivity apps, and now have four more to add to your arsenal. They’ll help you save time, fix some of your writing problems, and even help you close your next big publishing deal.
1. IFTTT and Zapier
For example, if The Weather Channel says it’s going to rain in your particular zip code, you’ll receive a text. Or, if you post a picture on Instagram, then it will automatically publish on Facebook.
But they’re for more than just parlor tricks. There are commands for business, communication, connected cars, environmental monitoring, and even smart home products like lights and appliances. Imagine being able to tell your Alexa to start your dishwasher or remind you to pick up some coffee tomorrow.
You can ask IFTTT and Zapier to notify you when there are specific articles about your favorite authors and books, keep track of special assignments on your favorite to-do app, or even track the time you spend on a particular article or story.
Grammarly is a grammar and punctuation checker available for Apple, MS Office, and Google Chrome. There’s a premium version that performs 400+ different checks, including comparing it to specific genres and 30 different document types, and searching for instances of plagiarism.
It’s similar to the Hemingway App, which I wrote about a few months ago, but this does a lot more than Hemingway. (Still, the paid version of Hemingway is much cheaper than Grammarly’s — $10 one time versus $139 per year.)
I’ve been using the free version of Grammarly on Google Chrome, and I’ve found that I overuse commas. It’s also useful for finding errors in my emails and social media updates. I just downloaded the Apple version of Grammarly and will try it on this article to see what I find.
Update: Grammarly found 14 issues, including one critical, on this article but would only tell me about a small handful of spelling and sentence structure issues. If I wanted to find out the others, I would need to pay for the premium version which is either $29.95 per month, or $11.66 per month if I pay for the entire year up front. On the plus side, Grammarly was able to ignore all the HTML markup I used when writing this post; Hemingway counts it as part of the regular text which throws off the readability score.
I’d like to say that distraction-hiding apps like StayFocusd are completely unnecessary because you only need to use a little willpower to, uhh, stay focused. But if willpower was all any of us needed, I wouldn’t be on a low-carb diet right now and I wouldn’t be so prolific on Twitter. Hell, I just took a Facebook break right after I wrote that last sentence, and I was on it 30 minutes before that.
So for those of us who don’t have the willpower to shut off social media and other distractions, there are apps like StayFocusd (note the missing ‘e’) that block web access to things like Facebook and Twitter, so you can better focus on your work.
It’s a Google Chrome extension that restricts the amount of time you can access social media sites. Once you use up your time, the sites will be inaccessible for the rest of the day. You can block entire sites, subdomains, pages, or even certain types of content, like videos, games, and so on.
There are plenty of other apps and extensions that do this. And I’m going to start looking into them. Right after I check Twitter.
This last one doesn’t do much for the writing process, but if you ever have to sign a contract, this is perfect. I use this all the time in my regular agency work, signing client agreements on my mobile phone or iPad.
You create your signature once and whenever you’re asked to sign a document, drop it in the appropriate place and send it off. I even used a graphics program to create my signature in blue so it looks like I used a real pen.
And since people are perfectly fine with you printing, signing, scanning, and re-sending your contracts, Docu-Sign lets you skip steps 1, 3, and 4 without any problems.
Our productivity is only as good as our tools, and there aren’t many for us writers. But then again, we’re a fairly low maintenance bunch. We don’t need a lot of fancy equipment to get our jobs done, we can do our work with a golf pencil and the back of an envelope.
Still, it’s nice to have some tech to play with now and again. And if you try any of these four apps, you can find a new way to have some fun and get things done in between your regular writing time and social media usage.