July 3, 2018
I started my writing life in a different era – one in which pens, paper and typewriters figured big time. There was some new kit coming in, around then, word processors and some weird thing called the ‘world wide web’. But for a would-be writer/had-to-be office worker; the old ones, for a while, remained the best.
Things have changed since then and, these days, as a copywriter and writer in general, I love tech. I still use pens, sometimes, and bits of paper. But when it comes to getting some real work done, there are several fantastic writing tools just a click away. Here are just a few of them!
‘Grammarly’ is one of the new-ish kids on the block when it comes to tools for writers. Admittedly, it took a while to really warm to it, mainly because of the advert in which the clearly illiterate Lily bags herself a great job. She just about makes it through to day-number-two of her career thanks to this particular tool.
Never mind that, the point is that ‘Grammarly’ saves the day. It should do too! Grammar is the nuts and bolts of language, especially written language. Without it, most text wouldn’t make a lot of sense or would be open to more interpretation than those who write it would really like. As a tool for any kind of writer ‘Grammarly’ is definitely an essential. For now, I’ll be keeping my copy of “Grammar for Grown-Ups” sat by my keyboard but, I have to admit, it’s begun to gather a bit of dust!
‘Copyscape’ is probably most useful for editors and project managers. It’s perfect for checking out those writers who believe that plagiarism is one of the core skills of everything from essay writing (Lily, I suspect) to paid copy-writing work. It’s not, of course, but you may as well tell Microsoft Word that ‘snog’ really is a word, and people really do use it, as tell some writers that plagiarism is just pointless! If you don’t habitually use plagiarism as your main writing M.O. then ‘Copyscape’ is less useful.
There are, however, times when it can come in terribly handy indeed. If you’ve been given a lethally boring subject to write about and there is next to nothing online about the subject, then you can find yourself in a situation that sends shivers of fear down the spine of most content writers. Stuck between a deadline and a single source. Once you’ve spun, un-spun and re-weaved that single source – running the result through ‘Copyscape’ can be a really good idea!
Similarly, if you have ten articles on exactly the same subject for one client, it can be extremely hard not to plagiarise yourself! I’m not clear, legally, if that’s even possible, but sometimes it feels like it! ‘Copyscape’ can be used to compare your articles and it should help pick up any glaringly obvious similarities that you’ve overlooked! Very, very handy!
Other word-processing software is available, of course, but for many Microsoft Word is the software of choice. It’s handy little live spell-and-grammar checking tools have long been the industry standard. Personally, I’ve had a love-hate relationship with Microsoft Word (and Microsoft) since the early 1990s. Word is rubbish if you want to be creative with spelling, or if you accidentally left it on UK or US Spelling when switching from one client to the next.
In nearly any creative form of writing, that irritating red underlining can be screen-punching-ly infuriating. Of course, that could just be down to the writing process you use! If, like mine, yours starts out with a random splurge of words all over the paper/screen until you have a mass of barely legible nonsense – with a core of what you meant to say in there somewhere – then just switch Word off till you really need it!
At that point, when the editing machete comes in useful, Word also comes into its own. However irritating it is to be corrected mid-flow, Word is an overlooked but essential tool.
Talking of overlooking things, it’s surprisingly easy to overlook the value of the internet these days. It has seeped so effectively into every area of our lives – and is now making its way into our domestic appliances – that it’s easy to forget that it’s a tool. Do not take it for granted as being just an expected feature and fact of life! Whatever kind of writer you are, the fact that you have probably the biggest reference library ever created at your fingertips is something to be extremely thankful for!
Once upon a time – and I remember those dark days – research meant a trip to the library. Today, you can do it in bed. For content writers – and their cousins the journos – it would be hard to imagine life without the internet. Only once in ten years of professional writing have I come up against a subject where the internet couldn’t help. The subject itself was so dry and boring that if anybody else had ever written on it they’d probably died trying; so sources were non-existent. Otherwise, the internet has always come good!
OK, so this article focuses on tech solutions for writers, but tech isn’t everything! It certainly makes life a lot easier but, ultimately, good writing will not (whatever Lily thinks) be crafted by tech alone. There’s a secret ingredient to writing, simply having a keyboard and some apps isn’t enough. Yes, anyone can write but not everyone can write. The article I mentioned above – the one that even Google couldn’t help me with – took a lot of lateral thinking to crack.
The internet helped on that one, in the end, but it took a lot of grey-matter and a bit of experience to pull something together. Your ability to question, to be curious and to be constantly taking notes on life around you are crucial to creating great content for any audience. It may be very old computing tech, but your brain is one of the most powerful computers of all. Use it!