Three Free Cool Tools for Writers

For those of you who – like me – make your living with words, here are three free cool tools I use that have helped me as a writer and a thinker. I want my writing to be more clear and more direct, and these tools make it easier to get there. And all of these are my favorite price: FREE!

The Most Dangerous Writing App

I almost always struggle with Editing when I should be Writing. MDWA solves that eternal struggle in the most psychologically violent manner possible: if you stop writing for more than five seconds, it erases everything you’ve written.

Lemme tell you, with that kind of motivation, I can absolutely pound out the text when I am using MDWA.

(And it kinda sounds like a drug, doesn’t it?)

Hemingway

If you love words, it’s tempting to get addicted to your own vocabulary.

Bad writer! Bad! Bad writer!

Hemingway highlights the words, sentences and phrases that are difficult to comprehend. And it runs a quick Flesch Reading Ease test on the text to give it a readability score.

When I first started using it, almost everything I wrote scored at 12th grade or above. In just a few weeks of practice with Hemingway, I was able to increase the readability of my copy down to about a 6th grade level.

(Lower is better.)

As an aside, Donald Trump is able to speak at about a 4th grade level. This is astonishingly difficult to do. I think it partially explains his success.

Workflowy

I first discovered outliners back in the old MS-DOS days with a tool called ThinkTank.

A good outliners makes it super easy to capture all your thoughts, and then rearrange and sort them in ways that make more sense. ThinkTank did it better than any tool ever, until Workflowy came along.

NOTE: This is not a mind-mapping tool. Mindmaps have their place, but outliners do an entirely different job.

I’ve been using Workflowy almost every day for the last four years. It’s that good. If you’ve never used an outliner, this is the one to try. And if you wish the outliner you used was better, this is the one to try.

Bonus: Scrivener

Scrivener isn’t free, but it is free-ish. (You can download a free trial.)

If you write long, complex documents, then this is the tool you want.

My most profitable work is writing webinars and video sales letters, and it would be waaaaaay harder without Scrivener. The learning curve is a little steep, but it’s a brilliant tool. If you write long documents, you’ll hate MS-Word after using Scrivener.

And if after you try it, you love it, (as I did), the purchase price is very reasonable. (I think I paid around $40.)

“Pattern Recognition” by William Gibson

Pattern RecognitionNeuromancer is apparently the William Gibson book I should have read 20 years ago. I didn’t. And still haven’t. But I did just finish his Pattern Recognition.

Quick impressions: It is – on the one hand – unlike anything I have ever read. On the other, it is a fairly typical but engaging mystery story.

His protagonist, Cayce Pollard, is a “coolhunter” with a bizarro allergic response to American advertising. She inhabits a world at once far cooler, far techier and far more strange than the humdrum one most of us experience. (It’s also a wee bit contrived. But hey, it’s a novel.)

Cayce is part of an online community focused on an underground film which is being released into the world one clip at a time. The mystery to be solved is the identity and motives of the filmmakers. There’s a Russian mafioso, an Italian high-fashionista, an Oklahoma-born Asian-American hacker, a couple of eastern European entrepreneurs, a Belgian advertising genius and lots of jet-setting around the world on unlimited expense accounts.

You know, pretty much like a normal day for any of us.

Things I loved: Gibson does an absolutely masterful job of creating a mystery that kept me completely engaged from beginning to end. He gets the technology world we inhabit now, (or at least the world we inhabited when this was published in 2003.)  The plot clips along at a nice pace throughout and the writing style is quirky but refined.

Things I didn’t love: Super strong plot, super undeveloped characters. I guess I’d describe this book as an internet-age version of a John Grisham novel. Also, the denouement felt, frankly, a bit contrived and a bit rushed. Almost like he looked up at the calendar and realized, “oh crap, this book is due at 5:00 this afternoon”.

I’d give it 3 stars out of 5.