Focusing on productive creativity
“I sit down at the computer with the intention of getting that next article/chapter/story done. The next thing I know, two hours have passed and I haven’t written a word!”
Sound familiar? If your social media accounts and web-surfing habits are costing you hours of writing time, why not restore some desktop discipline. Try some of the following browser-based tools for writers. We’ve compiled some of the best tools on the net to help you get the most out of your creative time.
If you’ve got a million ideas but can’t figure out how to get them onto paper, it might be time to try a different approach. The following tools can help organise your thoughts and ideas into words and sentences.
- Wridea – a site dedicated to managing ideas. It offers a “collection of brainstorming tools” and the ability to share your ideas with friends. Many writers find this site appealing because it is very user-friendly and sign-up is free. Use it when inspiration strikes – it’s a fast, easy place to jot down ideas for future use.
- TiddlyWiki – a note-taking app that is free to download and store. It is non-linear, giving you the freedom to store and retrieve notes according to your personal thought structure, and one of my favourites for brainstorming ideas and making those connections in a busy plot. You can take notes, add hyperlinks, images and freehand sketches, use tabs, tables and tags, and bookmark websites for research. You can also share ideas as files or links.
Procrastination is a major problem for writers – I used to spend an unhealthy amount of time worrying about the paradox of time travel and cataloguing the contents of my bathroom cupboard when I should have been writing. Then the net came along and I had every reason in the world to waste even more writing time. If you find it hard to escape the entanglements of the web, try using the following tools to cut down distractions and keep your mind on the plot.
- Pomodoro Technique – this simple technique advocates taking regular breaks that include physical activity to increase productivity and avoid burnout. There are plenty of browser-based ‘tomato timers’ available – it’s just a matter of deciding which one you like best.
- Cold Turkey – This site blocker for Windows is an absolute ‘must have’ for web junkies like me. You can block nominated social media sites and web pages, and the free version has some great features including the ability to group pages into lists, and a timer for blocking lists at particular times. A paid upgrade includes a scheduler and the ability to block game apps as well.
These fantastic tools are easy to use and will appeal to (and slightly distract) devoted wordsmiths. Used correctly, they free up more time for writing and help you avoid poorly written, cliché riddled prose.
- Cliché Finder – sometimes you simply have to let every dog have its day, but don’t fall into the habit of overusing cliché. If you’re unsure about a phrase, copy and paste your text into the box on the site, click on ‘find cliché’ and let this handy tool do the rest. The only down side to this tool is its time-wasting potential –I couldn’t help testing Cliché Finder’s ability…over and over again! NB: this tool only supports English.
- Grammarly – if you’ve spent hours worrying about dangling participles or agonising over colons versus semi-colons, get ready for the joy of Grammarly. With an online thesaurus, a detailed online Handbook, a Q&A section and a blog included, there’s plenty to learn on the site. Grammarly makes it easy to check your grammar and make sure you haven’t inadvertently stolen someone else’s magnum opus. The annual subscription fee of less than $AUD20 is well worth paying for the benefits of an online grammar coach and plagiarism checker.
- BibMe – this bibliography tool will probably only interest students, academics and the odd pedant or two. If you fall into any of those categories, you’ll know how time-consuming and frustrating bibliographies and footnotes can be, especially for large publications. BibMe is a fantastic resource that cuts the time spent building your bibliography in half, rates your essay if required, and generates a bibliography in your choice of style (e.g., MLA, Chicago, etc.).
So there you have it – for every time-wasting, brain-draining site on the web there is an equal and opposite site designed to block the siren song of procrastination and release the grip of writer’s block. All you have to do is pick the tools that work best for you and get on with the business of writing.