“Eight Online Writing Tools to Help Liberate Your Inner Writer.” Catchy title, at least it has what it takes to make you want to take a second look. Here’s the list with very brief descriptions/comments. You can, in your free time, go take a closer look:
Marinara Timer Tells you when to take a break. How about when to get to work!? An inexpensive kitchen timer would work as well.
After the Deadline – A browser-based spell checker? Just what we need—another way to do the same thing ad nauseam.
Cold Turkey – Blocks websites that keep you from getting your work done. So does self-control and discipline, which is always more easily achieved when you focus on your work and put your primary priority on your most important priorities!
Typewrite – Write without the distraction of word processing software. Another stripped down word processor. Does a header and tool bar keep us from getting our work done? Really!?
Overleaf – A researcher? Description says, “. . . a little hard to use.” Sort sounds like you might have to use a chisel to cut a piece of paper. ‘Nuff for me! Next!
Focus Writer – Another simple interface for writers. How about pen and paper if you are that easily distracted? Try Damon Runyon’s technique—typewriter on a table shoved up against a blank wall.
Ginger’s Grammar Checker – “It’s not the most accurate tool, but with a few tweaks, it can get you there,” says the description. Where exactly is where? If you have to manage your tool, when will you have to time to get your work done? Do we want control dials on a hammer?
Mostly, these tools are not the products of writers but of people who want to service (or sell to) writers, and the writers they target are the new ones who are at that stage where they still believe in the fairytale magic that to be a writer just act like one—all you need to know are a few tricks and easy solutions.
I call this list the Lazy Eight. There are similar lists; they mostly vary in number.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not denigrating the suggested tools; it’s just that they do the same thing a dozen other apps claim—to make writing magically easier. If they actually did make writing easier, we should see apps like Plot Plotter, Paragraph Perfection, Verb Checker, Ending Examiner, Character Creator, Pulitzer Picker . . . The logic behind such apps is similar to that in the old joke: My doctor told me to quit drinking or it would kill me, but have you ever noticed there’s a lot more old drunks around than old doctors?! There are a lot more writer remedies around than . . . writers.
One of the first things to learn on the road to becoming an accomplished writer—and that is your goal—is the need for a mature and realistic approach to the craft. Sometimes it comes easy, but mostly you have to work and struggle at it—sort of like a smithy taking a piece of iron and turning it into a horseshoe. A horseshoe looks simple enough, until you examine the stages of effort involved in making one.
Perhaps the better analogy to writing is the formation of a human fetus. There are stages that take place from impregnation to the birth of a baby: zygote, blastocyst, embryo, fetus, birth. Your skills in writing have to go through a similar process, except we don’t have universal labels and reasonably “demarkable” stages, and improvements are usually nuanced. The maturing process for a writer involves learning the creative side of the creative process and how to use the tools of communication in an evermore-creative manner. Get it? The key is your creativity.
Systems and techniques touted as shortcuts are sort of like old time patent medicine remedies. Geritol and Carters Little Liver Pills come to mind. In reality, they were little more than laxatives. And because people could get “irregular,” emptying their intestines generally made them feel better. They could as easily achieved the same result by drinking more water to loosen “things” up.
There are no little pills to unplug your brain, although many children of the Sixties tried to find them. The way to “unplug” your brain’s creativity is through exercising and practicing it. When not working on writing creatively, read the words of other creative writers and analyze, analyze, analyze. But in all that analysis, remember that a creative mind is one that is loose and relaxed and lets the content flow and keeps in mind the ever-reliable adage and promise of hard work—writing IS rewriting.
Why do you think cellist Yo Yo Ma practices for hours every day? To keep on top of his game, maintain his creative edge, and achieve the little nuances of perfection. It takes practice and assessment and practice and assessment.
It’s probably better to analogize writing to sculpting rather that music. In music you practice the same piece over and over. The sculptor, as the writer, starts new each time. The edits and rewrites of a writer are the efforts a sculptor takes to bring the details of his subject to life in marble. Turn the page of your journal and you face a new piece of marble. You can use what you learned on you last piece, but your challenge is to bring perfect to your new piece.
In fact, don’t call it a journal. The minute you put such a label on a notebook you start to confine the range of your input to fit the label. Just have a notebook that you write in every day. Be it a paragraph, a page, or several pages of stream of consciousness, whatever way on a given day and in a given mood gets words on paper. But writing serves no purpose unless you read and review it and analyze the quality of your efforts. What are you looking for? Signs that you are getting better! As you build your writing muscle, you gain a little better control of the more fine and refined movements. That’s when you will see your own progress.
I have this theory that the problem with teaching writing is that we confuse it with teaching grammar. As a result, we make students so fearful of breaking a grammar rule that they plug up their literary alimentary canal to the point of stoppage. They are in a constant stage of starting over and their writing becomes forced and redundant. So many of the “short cut apps” marketed to writers are little more than “tools” to comply with the rules of grammar. The consummate art of relabeling standard concepts to sound like break-through remedies! So instead of taking the latest version of Carter’s Little Writer Pills, put your fingers to the keyboard and write. A great place to start is to avoid the Lazy Eights and pick out a beginning of something new and see where it takes you. How will you know when you’ve made some improvement in your writing? You’ll hear it when you read your work to yourself.
Your keyboard is calling.