My tips and tools of the trade to keep you writing.
The humble notebook
Inspiration will come to you from anywhere, at strange hours of the day, and sometimes, not at all conveniently. This is why you should always carry a notebook. I cannot stress enough how much better a notebook is compared to a notes app on your phone at times. I am not an archaic traditionalist of a writer, and in no way deny that phones have their functional time and place, but it’s not a good look to whip out your phone in certain situations. Nor is it any help if it’s out of juice. That’s when you can always trust your humble little notebook.
I am a fan of the classic pocket-sized soft skin Moleskine as it always looks polished, fits in anywhere, and feels good in the hand. Whether it’s hard or soft bound, flip cover or book style, dotted or lined; use whatever notebook tickles your fancy. As with any tools of the trade, find one you’d actually enjoy using.
To that end, invest in one (or two or three) nice pen(s)
It goes without saying that since you have a decent notebook to write in, you should have a pen that writes well. In fact, you should have several, because if you become well-versed in the art of handwriting notes, you know that you can and will get tired from using one constant pen. I’m not talking about boredom and needing a change-up for kicks and giggles.
Cramping is a common affliction to the enthusiastic notetaker, so you should think about investing in a set of pens with different sizes, weight, and feel. Equally important is to always be prepared. If you’re heading an interview, it is completely unprofessional to run out of ink; so always have more at the ready.
I have no one favourite here, but for cheap and cheerful, this ever-popular Muji gel pen proves time and time again (and again in 0.38) that smooth writing is really the low-cost therapy we all need. I also keep going back to the Pentel EnerGel RTX, another low-cost pen for all-out fast scribble. For a sense of refinement with equal parts cool, we can’t look pass the cult ballpoint classic Caran d’Ache 849. But when the hexagonal barrel starts digging into my fingers too much, I like to give myself a break with the lightweight Lamy Al-Star, which is refillable and has a range of pen tips. Again, here are a few to get you started but pens are each to their own. Choose what feels best in your hand that writes well for the longterm.
Lightweight laptops over PCs
Unless you plan to do all your writing at home, a laptop is almost always better for the freelance writer or communications executive than a PC. You will most certainly have deadlines and urgent requests. At times it will be imperative to work from whatever place you happen to be called upon, be it a cafe, an airport lounge, or mid-way through a picnic (it’s all happened to me before). You’ll save yourself frantically trying to get home in the middle of peak hour. No one needs that stress before what is supposed to be an excellent write-up.
There’s a plethora of options for laptops which I won’t detail as plenty of people more expert than me have done the research for you. But I will remind you to invest in one with an all-day battery life; that is lightweight; boasts high-quality graphics and audio; and a decent camera (for those Zoom interviews). I’m using an Asus ZenBook 14" UX series, and not once have I had to charge while working away from home.
Evernote: For ideas on the go
Not into notebooks and a pen? If inspiration calls out to you while you’re busy on your feet, and you just don’t have time to sit to take it all down, then here is where your phone device — more specifically, Evernote — will take care of all your note-taking needs.
Syncronisable to any device with your Evernote account, record your ideas via voice, captured photo, scanned documents, or mad digital scribble. Though better for the quick note or list rather than longer forms of writing, it is simple yet sophisticated enough as an essential app for the busy writer.
Otter: For interviews and multi-channel content
I hope that this application is not new news to you. But in case it is, let me tell you that Otter will save your sanity, no less, your career.
Do you remember using those old, archaic devices…
Having to make intelligent guesses on how long you should press the forward or rewind button to replay snippets of whatever it is you hope to remind yourself of; Or constantly stop-starting to quote word-for-word, whilst mumbling under your breath and scribbling haphazardly to get it all down?
Well we don’t even need to try to remember that forsaken era. Otter has revolutionised how I do interviews and manage multi-channel content, and I’m never going back.
Free for the first 600 minutes of recording for individual use, Otter does so much more than record audio. Its powerful live transcription function will make you love the write-up as much as the interview itself. The searchable transcript and simultaneous playback means you can find exactly what you need, fast. And the next best thing? Every recording and its corresponding text is saved to the cloud and are shareable as multiple formats.
This may sound like nothing special at first, but Otter’s generous sharing capability means you can save yourself a bucket load of time if you’re managing multiple marketing and social channels too. Let’s say you recorded an interview. From the auto-generated transcript, edit the text for a profile feature. Then share the audio as a podcast episode. While we’re at it, let’s upload to a YouTube video, too. That’s three content channels covered from the one recording! If that’s not a workhorse of an app, I don’t know what is.
Online writing tools
Eventually, hopefully, your freelance writing career will take off, and you will be dogged with so much work, you’ll feel that pressing need to get some help. As much as we like to think we’re across all the finer details, it’s just smart to use smart functionality. Here are my go-to writing tools when I need to get on top of my writing efficiency.
Grammarly: If you’re still using your Word spell check, please stop. Grammarly is many times over more sufficient in finding your silly mistakes. It also makes real-time suggestions for better vocab whilst cutting fluff, so you can feel confident in writing concisely and sounding smart at the same time.
Autocrit: Although pegged as a tool for novelists, there’s nothing about this editing app that isn’t useful to other writers. Hone in on your prose; revise dialogue or editorials; and compare your writing to others in your field. Autocrit will improve your self-editing skills so immensely, you won’t even realise you have become a better writer until you revisit that ghastly first submission from way back when.
Scrivener: Specifically for long form writing, it doesn’t do the writing for you like the first two handy helpers above, but it presents your monster writing in a way that isn’t daunting, so you could keep writing. Order your pages to what makes sense to you: make a mess, build your story organically, and rest easy knowing that it will all stay organised and presentable for your editor and publisher later on.