5 Powerhouse Tools No Writer Should Be Without

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Writing is EXACTLY the same as any other profession in that a few great tools can make a world of difference in the results you get. I’m compiling a list of some of my favorites to get you started.

1. Grammarly

OK, you probably saw this one coming right out of the gate. Writers have flocked to this tool for years to keep their basic spelling, grammar, and punctuation as buff as The Rock. But it’s the paid versions of the plans that really set the tool apart for serious writers. The premium version, for instance, can help you with tone, fluency, or the inclusivity of your language, as well as formatting. The business version, which you might want to consider given that *cough* self-publishing really is a real job, offers additional support like analytics, snippets, and brand tones. It’s great if you consistently work with a team on your content.

The key with Grammarly is that you have to have the courage to ignore it as much as you trust it. You likely will have positive idiosyncrasies in your writing that the tool keeps wanting to destroy. Don’t let it. Always ask yourself if the suggestions are actually an improvement instead of just being “different”.

2. Riteforge/Ritetag

In the age of social media where writers are expected to do a lot of their own marketing, these tools are your best friends. Ritetag can give you hashtag suggestions and also lets you compare hashtags to ensure you pick the ones that get seen the most. You can set up hashtag sets, as well, so if you’re posting lots of content on similar themes or to the same groups, you can just click your set and have the hashtag preset auto-populate. Ritetag also will suggest tags based on a chunk of text, so you don’t have to wonder which words in your post to tag.

Riteforge is from the same company as Ritetag. It’s a social media scheduler that allows you to schedule posts to many different accounts, including LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. You even can group different accounts, such as if you have three personal accounts and three business ones. Riteforge supports cool features like emoji enhance, URL shortening, and automatic image and social media handle pull from articles (you WANT other authors to know you’re tweeting their work, and images dramatically include click-through rates).

3. AWeber

AWeber is an email list service. It’s ideal for communicating with your fans, as well as sending out newsletters or writing-related promos/offers. It integrates with many other services, too, such as Captivate (a podcasting service) and WordPress. You also can use it to create landing pages for just about anything, such as free digital downloads, writing course signups, etc.

4. Canva

People often tout Canva as an art tool, since it lets you create lots of fun images. But the Pro version opens up other options, too, such as audio and video. You also easily can resize images so different platforms don’t present them in wacky ways. This makes it perfect to create engaging social media or blog posts to sell your content. You even can create templates for like calendars, Bible studies, or courses, which work great to sell or offer as freebies when building your email list.

5. Scrivener

Scrivener is like a word processor, planner, and publisher all in one tool. It’s designed for long-form writing like novels, and it provides a lot of organizational and motivational support for that. For example, you easily can drag and drop scenes or chapters and label them with colors or statuses, and the program lets you set word count goals for individual sessions and the entire manuscript. When you’re ready to share your project, you can export it in popular formats, such as Word. You even can include cover art and publish the document on platforms like Amazon. So lots of writers see Scrivener as a one-stop-shop they can use from start to finish.

Got your own tool you can’t live without? Share it in the comments below and let me know why it’s earned your love.

6 Benefits of Always Having Multiple Writing Projects

With a Type A personality, I have to admit that there’s something beautiful in being laser-focused on just one thing for a while. You can get into a state of flow that enables you to produce a draft more quickly.

But I’m also a realist. I’ve learned that, in most cases, it’s better to have multiple writing projects going at once. The benefits include

  1. Pivoting to a different project that best suits your mood or attention level, which improves writing clarity, authenticity, and accuracy.
  2. Staying active and feeling more productive even as you wait to hear back from beta readers, editors, agents, etc.
  3. Setting work aside to work out kinks more naturally, rather than trying to force solutions in the moment.
  4. Being able to practice different types or styles of writing
  5. Improving time management through more serious task scheduling and prioritization
  6. Being less stressed and allowing yourself to quit what doesn’t work because you know all of your eggs aren’t in one basket

But this doesn’t mean you should overdo it. Ambition is great, but there are limits to how much you can bite off and chew. If you have some great ideas for articles, novellas, books, etc. but already have yourself scheduled, it’s okay to push those ideas out. Just jot them down with enough detail that you can pick them up later. Ask yourself which writing projects best fit your overall writing goals, and leave the ideas that aren’t ideal for those goals on the shelf.

As for how to pick your writing projects, ask yourself

  • Will this project bring in income?
  • How will the project influence my relationships?
  • Are any projects more timely, or are they evergreen?
  • Which projects do I keep coming back to or thinking about?
  • What type of commitment does the project involve in terms of time, expertise, and resources?

Personally, I’ve found that having two or three big projects (e.g., novels) and 5-10 articles a week is plenty of variety. You might find that you can handle less or more, but you absolutely need time when you are not writing. It’s during that time that your brain gets a chance to recover and you can experience all the amazing things that later can be fodder for the page. Be self-aware, find your rhythm, and then don’t quit.

5 Things You Should Be Doing to Build a Platform as a Writer

A “platform” as a writer refers to the channels you use to engage with your audience. The more channels you use and the more people you engage with regularly, the bigger your platform is. So as a writer, you want to create a platform that is as large as possible so you have a great reach to lots of readers. To build that platform, here’s what to do:

1. Create your author website/blog.

This gives you a place to drop pieces of your writing so you can direct people to a portfolio. It also offers the opportunity to interact with readers through comments, polls, giveaways, or other fun events. Just about every publisher, agent, or editor will want you to have a website if you start pitching, so you might as well get it established early so you can show good history and activity.

But one of the most important parts of having your site/blog is the ability to build an email list. Putting a simple subscribe button on the site and linking it to a reliable email subscriber service (e.g. AWeber) means that you can contact your readers or followers any time you have something to announce. You also can send convenient newsletters and include social media buttons so people can follow you on those accounts.

2. Interact on social media.

This isn’t just logging in and dropping links to your blog posts. It means going in and posting things that show readers who you are and what you are up to in a transparent and authentic way. Find some good writing groups to join and post on their pages. Share links that might be helpful, such as an upcoming book sale on an online site, a book-to-movie trailer or a great video about storytelling. Share fan art or ask what people think about different books, conferences, or techniques.

The basic rule here is that, although it is OK to throw in a little self-promotion, always do it in a way that makes the value to your reader clear. Don’t only self-promote, because nobody likes to be sold to all the time. Focus on creating a relationship with people and they will read you by default. Make sure that you choose your groups selectively, as well, because the reality is you are going to do better checking into a handful of pages consistently than signing up for a bunch you never have time to go to.

3. Talk to people.

This might mean going to a conference or attending a group at your library. But it also means reaching out to other writers and professionals in the industry to share resources and gratitude. Once you have a little bit of a connection going, then you can ask for mutual favors, such as referrals, beta reading, or an introduction.

4. Publish cross-platform.

Ever hear that old saying, work smarter, not harder? As a writer, that means repurposing content across different channels. For instance, sites like Medium typically allow you to repost your pieces on other sites after a certain period of time. You simply copy some or all of the content into the new platform and include a little blurb about where it first appeared, along with a link to the original version. The only caveat is that you need to do some minor tweaks, such as swapping out your headline, so that Google doesn’t see the new post as an exact copy and drop the page in search results. Don’t worry too much about the duplication, though, because a lot of your new readers will discover your content through the specific channel’s main pages, feeds, or search features. Others will already be following you and thus will have opted in to see when you post something new.

Remember, too, that cross-platform doesn’t mean only writing-based activity. Lots of writers, for example, now have podcasts where they read pieces verbatim or discuss their original content on the fly. The same is true for video sites like Youtube or doing livestreams. It is a terrific way to expose completely new audiences to the same ideas and concepts and bring them into your community, AND it can allow you to reach people who have specific difficulties such as visual impairment.

5. Be a guest speaker.

You don’t have to get up in front of hundreds of people here, although you certainly can if that invigorates you. Options like webinars, podcasts, or hosting a workshop at your local library all are good opportunities to show others your expertise as a writer. The key is that you have to let others know you are available! Don’t be afraid to ask if people can use you, and be confident in yourself enough to sell your strengths and experiences well.

Platform building takes real effort. There’s no beating around the bush about that. But if you create real strategies around the points above (e.g., scheduling 20 minutes a day to interact with the social media groups you sign up for, aiming to cold email one person or organization every day), then slowly but surely, the foundation solidifies. Be patient, show your grit, and never put down your tools.

Yes, Opinion Writing Is Real Writing with Real Value. Here’s Why

Image by John Hain from Pixabay

Let me start by saying I don’t lose the irony that this entire post is, in fact, going to be my opinion.

With that out of the way (phew!), I’ve been trying to spend more time interacting with writing groups on social media, and not too long ago, someone happened to make the comment that opinion or editorial writing had no value compared to “real” journalism. They accepted the philosophy of Bill Bullard, who quipped that “Opinion is really the lowest form of human knowledge. It requires no accountability, no understanding.” It’s a sentiment I’ve heard before and likely isn’t going to die any time soon.

But it’s also a sentiment that, to me, is flat-out wrong.

I’ll make it clear that I have intense respect for “real” journalists, the people who go out and report news and studies with serious integrity related to the facts. They are absolutely storytellers in their own right and have a fantastic understanding of how to both inform and engage people quickly. Done well, those stories can change how people think and inspire them to take action, even if the journalist achieves relative objectivity in the way they report.

But opinions can be transformative, too. As an example, I’ll point to Steve Jobs. As Simon Sinek summarizes in his TED talk, for years, people believed that to sell well, you need to focus on the product, highlighting its features and quality. The “what” came first, and the “why” was secondary. But Jobs believed that the real way to engage people and market was to tap into emotions. If you could communicate the why behind your business and get your audience to feel something first, then you could find the people who shared your vision and get them to respond not just to a single product, but to any product you made. That’s why Apple customers don’t just buy iPhones. They buy music players, televisions, speakers, computers, and all kinds of tech gear. If Jobs hadn’t asserted his thinking and challenged the status quo, then Apple wouldn’t be the successful company it is today.

Or take Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He didn’t step up to the podium and give an “I have the facts” speech. He simply communicated a dream. A vision. An opinion. His work dramatically changed the course of the Civil Rights Movement. And in the same way, people today lobby for different shifts based on what they believe, including women’s rights and sexual orientation. Protections and liberties that are in place exist only because enough people came to hold the same views.

Some of the most well-known and respected authors of all time are also some of the best thinkers, writing their observations and concepts about the world. Ralph Waldo Emerson, for instance, wrote many essays on nature, self-reliance, and experiential living. Jean-Jacques Rousseau championed the idea that the people had the right to rule, and he also promoted education and moral character. Friedrich Nietzsche wrote on everything from history to religion. Should we ditch all of their manuscripts simply because they don’t require fact-checkers or appear on the front page of The New York Times?

In sum, writers have penned opinions–and subsequently changed the world–practically since the beginning of time. This is not to say that their work is superior to traditional journalism, but rather to say that neither form of writing should be minimized. Both have purpose, influence, and sway, because people always will want to understand as much as they want to connect. They want to know what other people experience and feel like insiders. That’s one of the reasons why real-life autobiographies, along with reality TV, are so popular.

So if you want to write a news piece to inform, do it. If you want to share your views or a story from your life, do it. And it’s okay to do both–I’ve written advice-oriented pieces about my experiences or ideologies on the same day as I’ve written about a science study, and often back-to-back. You are not limited or confined, and you shouldn’t let anyone discredit you because you’ve written one style or the other. The only rule is that you write in a way that is clear and easy to understand. Follow that, and to hades with the trolls.