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The 3 Tools That Have Made Me A Better Writer — And How They Can Help You, Too


best writing tools

When I started my professional writing career, my preferred writing tools were pretty simple:

  • 1 IBM Selectric typewriter. (A high school graduation present from my parents.)
  • A well-thumbed dictionary.
  • An equally worn thesaurus.
  • My Associated Press Style Guide. (Which taught me to always write out the numbers one through ten, then use numerals beginning at 11.)
  • A good coffee maker. (For those late nights on deadline.)

Today, I still require a good coffee maker, but these other tools have fallen into irrelevancy, replaced by a seemingly infinite amount of gadgets, gizmos, and guides. That’s both a positive and a dangerous thing. Technology has come such a long way over the past few decades. Writers now have at their disposal such a dizzying array of applications, shortcuts, and means of research that we can sometimes inadvertently distract ourselves from the real imperative: working persistently to perfect our craft.

The truth is, the key to being a good writer has nothing to do with technology. It’s all about the writing — the practice, perseverance, and patience required of improvement.

This is something I learned first-hand. I started out writing news articles and sports stories for weekly and daily newspapers. Then I took a 90-degree turn and started writing marketing copy, crafting sentences and paragraphs which described in detail every component of the gift baskets my family’s business sold via their mail-order catalogs. Today, I write essays about my life, my business, and my experience in the publishing industry as the President of BookBaby. But all along, I’ve never stopped trying to better myself.

To this end, I have largely eschewed new and shiny technological trends in favor of writing groups, books on style, and good old-fashioned networking with other writers.

But I have identified and adopted a few specific writing tools into my armory of resources that have undoubtedly proven useful.

Here are the ones I use right now that any writer could benefit from implementing themselves.

1: Ulysses

Ulysses is an application designed to help you focus while writing — a must in today’s splintered and temptation-riddled digital world — as well as organize the variety of notes, snippets, chapters and scraps of your various projects-in-progress.

I used to use Evernote for this purpose, but I’ve since made the switch. Within a few hours of using Ulysses, I already felt more productive. Plus, it’s easy to get started with. It can be used on either a PC or MAC, and it easily exports content into any format you need.

And at just $5 per month, it has all the features of Evernote Premium at a fraction of the cost.

2: Scapple

Another tool designed to help you sort, organize, and make sense of all the notes you take while brainstorming ideas for a new essay or book, Scapple has proven an excellent organizational tool.

I’m not the only one enamored by it; it’s received rave reviews in the creative writing and project management world alike.

Created by the same team that built the great-but-complex writing platform, Scrivener, Scapple incorporates an easy-to-use interface and duplicates the experience of using a whiteboard to ideate with a team of powerful collaborators.

3: The Economist Style Guide

Finally, I’ve graduated from the old hard copy AP Style Guide to The Economist Style Guide.

It’s based on The Economist‘s own updated house style manual and is an invaluable companion for anyone who wants to communicate with the clarity, style, and precision for which The Economist is known. As the guide itself so succinctly states, “Clarity of writing usually follows clarity of thought.” This guide goes a long way toward helping me approach writing with a clearer sense of what rules to abide by — and how, sometimes, to break them.

At the end of the day, these tools are useful for me because they save time and effort. They aren’t a substitute for the perspiration, studying, and practice which makes for great writing, but they can help you focus more purposefully on those critical tasks.

And I’ll attest: I’m certainly a better writer today than I was when I was pounding away on that IBM Selectric.

Although this is largely due to the multiple millions of characters I’ve rapped out on a keyboard since, it’s no doubt in part a product of using the right tools as supplements to my efforts.

Steven Spatz is a writer, marketer, and the President of BookBaby, the nation’s leading eBook and printed book distributor.

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