Last updated 03/05/2016
Free writer tools to keep you organised
Whether you love writing or find it a chore, using writer tools to stay organised and manage your time is vital in keeping your writing project on track.
A reliable system that helps you get that blog post, e-book or report written is invaluable. It’ll let you store your research notes, give you inspiration, keep you motivated and free up valuable writing time.
Luckily, there are plenty of writer tools to help you stay on top of things, from phone applications to time trackers.
1. Evernote for research management
I call this a digital scrapbook system. Evernote is a versatile, multi-platform application made for storing and organising digital notes. You can store pretty much anything in Evernote – pictures, text files, web pages, audio files, and the application can be used to create new documents or lists. I mainly use it to ‘clip’ web pages or articles when doing online research for a project, but you can save and organise so much more than this.
You can add tags to articles to make them searchable as well as adding your own text or highlighting points on a document. If you want to go a step further, you can scan and save items that might otherwise become cumbersome to store – pages from brochures for example. Organising notes is easy, simply create ‘notebooks’ – I make a notebook for each new project or client and save any notes, emails or research in the books as I go. Want to know more? Check out this comprehensive beginners guide to Evernote.
2. Pinterest for inspiration
Working on a project and need inspiration? If you’re a visual person hop over to Pinterest. This is one of the most underrated writer tools out there. Pinterest is a social networking site that allows users to share and discover images. You can create your own mood boards based on a theme and ‘pin’ as many images or infographics as you like.
Though it’s got a reputation for being a favourite with mums, crafters or DIY enthusiasts, there’s so much more to the platform. Many businesses and entrepreneurs are using Pinterest to display infographics or information on a range of topics, anything from writing and publishing to marketing and getting the most from social media.
Boards can be kept private so feel free to pin away without the world knowing. I love using Pinterest as part of my research arsenal and create boards that I can easily refer back to throughout a project.
3. Smart phone to capture ideas
I’m one of those people who tends to get a rush of ideas that then lead onto other ideas. Sometimes these ideas float away like a dandelion clock on the breeze before I have time to capture them. Most of the time ideas pop into my head at unexpected moments, so I make great use of the notes feature on my smart phone.
My phone is usually somewhere nearby when I need it. If I happen to be out and about, in a queue or waiting to meet a client, taking out a notepad and pen is a bit cumbersome. Instead, I record any thoughts onto my phone’s notepad (Microsoft OneNote) and make sure I transfer the information to relevant places when I get back to the office. You can sync your OneNote notes to your Skydrive account too.
Evernote have a mobile app, so you could download to your phone, make your notes on the go and sync to your main system later on, saving time!
4. Paper and pen for simplicity
Getting back to basics – we don’t always need to reinvent the wheel. I have stacks of A4 and A5 notepads and before I become super-organised, I’d flippantly add random notes here and there as the mood took me. This was good for getting my thoughts out before they drifted away, but not great later on when I wanted to find said note.
Now I take a more organised approach. I have a set of notebooks for different topics. One is a daily working note-book with to-do lists and notes taken during client consultations – the main points of which I can transfer later on either to Evernote or a specific client file. I have other pads for blogging, CV writing and copywriting. Keeping my notes separated by topic makes it far easier to locate as I need to. I’d recommend spiral or bound notebooks; jotting down ideas on scrap bits only leads to frustration as the pieces get easily lost.
5. Bullet Journaling for uber-organisation
I recently discovered bullet journaling which takes notebook and pen one step further. This is a powerful way to keep to-do lists, ideas and notes in one place. It’s based on indexing ideas (or ‘collections’) so you can easily refer to them. Create an index at the front of a notebook and note a new page there each time you create a collection in your notebook. I use mine to keep track of my daily to-do lists, scheduled appointments, personal and business goals, blog post ideas and motivational quotes. Check out Bullet Journal to see how to get started.
6. Mind mapping for graphically representing ideas
Coming up with new ideas for a complex topic or sifting through previously generated concepts can be tough. As per my previous point, I tend to have a lot of ideas vying for attention in my stack of notebooks but how to put these to work in a coherent way? Or how to unscramble and make sense of complicated ideas? This is when something like mind mapping comes into its own. Mind maps give a visual representation of linked topics and are easy to use.
When write about something new, I grab a pen and one of my notebooks and note the main point in the centre of the page. Then I draw lines outwards to key ideas around the main topic – these can be keywords or short sentences. Once done, I organise my thoughts further by continuing to add sub categories or ideas. Mind maps are brilliant for getting all your ideas and thoughts down quickly. As you note one idea, you may have another related one. Ideas may be inter-linked by lines, or highlighted as key points. This system is good for coming up with an outline for a report, story or to generate topics for further investigation.
There are so many mind map apps available, all brilliant for unscrambling a big topic and easily transferrable to your Evernote system. I’ve used Coggle and have heard good things about Mindnode too (though that one isn’t free).
7. Writer tools to minimise distraction
A stumbling block for many writers – getting distracted as they write. Emails pinging into the inbox, social media messages popping up, or the lure of the latest gossip on that celebrity site. All far more interesting that what you’re writing. You could switch off all devices and pick up your pen and a notebook but for those wanting to use technology as they go, here are some good writing tools to nip distraction in the bud.
Cold Turkey: Allows you to block applications or websites and promises to improve your focus and boost productivity.
750words: A lovely tool to get you into the habit of writing three-pages a day. It gives you points as you go to keep you motivated in your writing habit and it teaches you how you write by showing you how quickly you write and how often you get distracted.
8. Manage your time
Alongside getting your thoughts organised, you need to manage your time. I struggle with productivity and get distracted by social media. Now I find the best way to manage my time is to break it down into chunks. I have a monthly, weekly and daily schedule, all noted in my bullet journal. For the month ahead I note down things I need to get done, then create relevant bullet points in my weekly and daily lists.
One of my weekly tasks for example is to write two posts for my parenting blog. I set out blocks of time when I know I’ll be at my most productive for writing – usually the first hour of my day and set that time aside to just write. It won’t be the finished product, but getting something down onto paper is vital. The editing and posting comes later.
A timer is a good addition to your writer tools kit and lets you manage your blocks of time more efficiently. The Pomodoro Technique is very well-known. It’s based on working for 25-minutes then taking a break. This may not work for everyone. Take a look at Marinara Timer inspired by the Pomodoro Technique. This is a customisable timer, simply set the timer and away you go. If you like the old tomato style, try Tomato Timer. I set my timer for 15-minutes twice in my working day for checking social media.
9. Tracking your time
Want to see what you’re actually doing during your time? Toggl offers a free version of its software. It lets you track how long it takes to perform tasks such as research, writing editing. A great tool if you are writing for clients and need to see how much time you’re spending on their project.
Combining several of these free writer tools will boost your productivity and give you the valuable time you need to get your writing done.