Writing Motivation Writing Process Writing tools

7 writing productivity tools to work smarter

Writing productivity tools and apps make it easier to structure your work and maximize what you get out of available writing hours. Here are 7 tools and apps that will help you finish a book this year:

Writing productivity tools and apps make it easier to structure your work and maximize what you get out of available writing hours. Here are 7 tools and apps that will help you finish a book this year:

1. Google Docs

Using Google Drive to write a novel

It’s tricky keeping productive when you have countless other demands on your time. Google Docs is useful for multiple reasons. Not only is it a free, in-browser word processor. You can also download the app for your phone and access your scene or chapter drafts when you’re on the go. Stuck in line? Get out your phone and resume drafting in Docs while you wait.

You can even plan and outlines stories using Docs.

You can organise your Google Docs documents in folders in Google Drive. This you can access either from within your Gmail account or by navigating directly to Google Drive and signing in. Create a folder per chapter, and keep the outline and draft for each chapter in its own, named folder. This makes it easy to keep a global view of your work-in-progress.

2. Evernote

It slows down productivity if you have to stop to try find an article you read once that was relevant to your story. Enter Evernote: This handy app lets you save full articles or quotes into Evernote for later viewing. Because you can write and organise notes, you can also use Evernote to structure your draft and stay focused.

The basic version of Evernote is free, but the premium version offers a host of additional features. There’s an in-depth post here by a staff writer for Evernote on using the app to organise your writing.

3. Scrivener

Scrivener by Literature and Latte is a useful writing app for Microsoft Windows, macOS and iOS that also makes it easier to structure your writing and plan your research.

One of Scrivener’s best features is the storyboarding virtual corkboard. Here you can arrange virtual index cards, rearranging and shuffling snippets of text visually. Incidentally, this is how the celebrated author Vladimir Nabokov wrote his novels. Nabokov wrote his best-known novels (such as Lolita) entirely on index cards.

4. Now Novel

Screenshot of the Now Novel idea finder

We’re being cheeky and including Now Novel because we founded it with the express purpose of helping aspiring writers  get and stay productive.

Working out the individual elements of your novel (such as its cast of characters, your themes and major plot points) is challenging. We put together the Idea Finder, a structured series of prompts organised by theme, to help you build your story’s blueprint. Use it to keep building your story premise until it can sustain a fleshed out story.

To keep productive this year, try to write at least 1 section of your draft per week. In your ‘Scribble Pad’ on Now Novel, you can save sections of your draft to your private member profile and share any you choose with the rest of the community for helpful feedback.

Now Novel writer

Keep organized and stay on track

Keep track of drafts with comprehensive outlines and a drag-and-drop scene builder when you upgrade.


5. Trello

If your writing productivity flounders because you don’t have structure, Trello is a useful free productivity app. Although it is not designed expressly for writing a novel, its corkboard-like structure makes it excellent for this.

In Trello, you can create a board and name it with your novel’s working title. From here, you can create titled lists and add or ‘pin’ movable cards (similar to index cards) to each list. For example, you can create a list per chapter and a card summarizing each scene in your chapter, like this:

Using Trello to organise story scenes

Another way you can use lists and cards on Trello is to organize research so you can quickly find information relevant to your story. For example, you can create a list per setting, fleshing out with place names or descriptive details:

Using Trello to organise your research

Staying organised will help you to progress smoothly from scene to scene as you draft.

6. A distraction-free writing environment

Most full-featured word processors such as Microsoft Word now have minimalist full-screen modes that let you write distraction-free. There are many good browser-based options, too. A low-distraction writing environment can really help you to stay productive for longer.

We haven’t listed a single option here as there are many good ones. Try ZenPen, for example, a simple browser-based writing app that consists simply of a white background with a bold heading you can edit and minimal text markup features. From ZenPen you can copy and paste drafts into your favourite word processor for revision and storage. ZenPen also lets you save your writing in HTML or plain text formats – useful if you plan to put together an eBook.

Calmly Writer is another minimalist distraction-free online writing app.

A tip: If you tend to go back and edit what you’ve written while drafting before you’ve completed a section, change your text colour in your regular word processor to white. That way you won’t see what you’ve just written until you highlight your text and change it back to your standard colour.

7. A web-based timer

A timer is an essential tool for boosting your writing productivity. When you track how you spend your writing sessions, you become conscious of productive versus unproductive sessions. You can also portion out writing time and breaks better so that you avoid burnout. Working for 20 minutes at a time with 10 minute breaks between stretches is one way to approach this.

There are several web-based timers you can leave running in the background. If you simply Google ‘Timer’, you can use Google’s no-frills timer and stopwatch. Leave audio notification on and your timer will beep when it’s time for a break.

Additional useful tools

Besides apps to bolster your productivity, there are many other useful online tools for authors. It’s easy to create professional designs for your social media accounts or author blog using Canva. This online design tool includes useful templates with the correct dimensions for all the major social platforms, as well as an abundance of free and stock photos, illustrations and fonts. It’s a simple drag-and-drop editor that makes it easy to create glossy promotional materials.

Hemingway App is another useful tool not in the productivity sphere. Use this free text checker to find unnecessarily complex words you can replace with simpler ones, to spot and remove weakening passive voice, and more.

Milanote is another versatile and flexible tool for brainstorming, saving story research and more. Clip articles into an organized system for retrieving factual information to use in your story, or use one of the many templates offered to structure your process.

VEED.IO is a browser-based voice-recording app and video editor you can use for speech to text or for creating video content for your author page.

Dividing your writing time and your novel itself into manageable parts is core to staying productive and building a publishable manuscript, scene by scene. Join Now Novel for constructive feedback or work with a writing coach to make smoother, easier progress.

By Jordan

Jordan is a writer, editor, community manager and product developer. He received his BA Honours in English Literature and his undergraduate in English Literature and Music from the University of Cape Town.

28 replies on “7 writing productivity tools to work smarter”

Great list. I’d like to add IndyDesk to the list of productivity tools. For project execution on its time and to check each activity on every single task, one can follow a PM (Project Management) tool to boost up the productivity.
I’d like to recommend Indydesk for it. It allows to create number of tasks, assign tasks to your team members and organize your to-do list to suit your needs at one place. One can easily manage projects, schedule, discuss, work and communicate with your team members.

Thanks for preparing a list of helpful apps. As a writer, I often get to the point when I need to use additional tools to keep productive. Google Docs, of course, is my number one tool. Another tool I always use is Evernote. It works perfectly well for me when it comes to notetaking, and organize my notes. As for time trackers, I like Rescue Time. Not only it tracks how much time I spend writing, but it also helps to analyze and eliminate distractions. These are the most useful ones for me personally, but of course, there’s a lot more I’ve never heard of Hemingwayapp, but I’m gonna give it a try.

I use to manage my tasks, I think it works better than Trello. It’s definitely less confusing. And it has a time tracking feature, so I can easily check how much time I spend on each task.

I personally blog, and in my experience, people reaching out to me in an open, honest way, clearly detailing their intentions, and making a request is the most effective way to get results. I blog and can honestly say being clear and direct catches my attention.

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