Most writers are familiar with the big players in writing apps: Final Draft, Scrivener, and Microsoft Word among others. While we believe everyone should explore and use what works best for them, we also know that some of these high profile apps and services can be expensive, and that not everyone creates (or is motivated to create) with the same tools. So we asked some of our staff to share what free and low-cost tool they use when writing. These options are not just for the act of getting words down, but also tools to use in revision, motivation, and inspiration.
Other than a screenplay formatting app, I keep it pretty simple, honestly. My big “secret” is that I like to export treatment passages or screenplay scenes to a PDF, and then via Apple’s text-to-speech feature, have my device (Macbook, iPhone, etc.) read the PDF aloud back to me so I can make editing notes in real time. It’s a different process than simply re-reading it yourself on the page. That one-step removal from the words you’ve been staring at for hours on end makes it feel more fresh, easier to visualize (if it’s a movie or show) and objectively review. The two apps would be Apple’s Preview app or Adobe Acrobat Reader – both are PDF viewers and in fact any PDF viewer will due on Apple devices. I’m sure PCs have a similar playback feature as it’s also an accessibility tool.
I sometimes use the mobile app Ananda while writing or revising in public spaces (http://getananda.com/). It has a series of binaural beat tracks to choose from, each one to activate a different mood or focus, and you can set it to run for specific lengths of time. It’s best with noise canceling headphones. I don’t know if it really works or if it’s just enough of a suggestion to make me feel like it does, but I enjoy it! I got the tip from April Shih when she was a guest on The Write Process podcast.
Aside from my trusty and reliable Notes App where I’ve been keeping random snippets of story ideas and text for years, my favorite apps are actually productivity apps to help keep me on track with my writing goals. I use Habit Tracker to track my daily and weekly progress (I love that I can enter things like a number of pages or minutes I want to hit for the week and build up from there, and I can set both weekly and daily goals) and Focus To Do where I set myself pomodoro timers to work in sprints. I also think that I owe a lot of my creativity to the Calm App – when I find myself getting blocked, I always come back to meditation and slowing myself down. This is the first thing I do when I find I can’t sit down to write.
My favorite writing website is Subscript. Not necessarily a writing ‘app,’ but just a space where you can write and publish for free.
For the basics, I’m addicted to Google Docs. I use it for outlining, notes, and early drafts because it’s easy to use and accessible on every device – phone, laptop, iPad, etc. Sound is really important to me while writing, so I have a ton of videos and playlists built on YouTube depending on what I need to focus on – and I often use the WP’s playlists as well. I’m also a big fan of pomodoro style writing sessions, so like Jennie I’ve used Focus To Do, but again there’s also a lot of YouTube videos for it, with variances in writing time, soundscape, music, and more. And when I’m really stuck and just need a blank page, I return to 750words.com to pour out ideas and snippets without feeling pressure of them really being ‘recorded’ anywhere. You can access your texts later, but there’s something freeing about having the blank screen and just going for it.