“Why write? Where does writing come from? These are questions to ask yourself. They are like: Where does dust come from? Or: Why is there war?”
Lorrie Moore nails the fugue state that the act of writing induces in most humans in her essay “How to Become a Writer.” But for today’s content marketers and content creators, there is hope. There’s a boatload of writing tools that can help you beat back the existential dread of an empty page.
In this piece, I’ve laid out a few of my favorite writing tools, apps, books, and more. These resources help keep me honest, organized, and efficient throughout the content creation process.
I’ve bucketed out my list of go-to resources into four categories:
- Tools to identify trending topics
- Tools to organize your ideas and research
- Tools to help you just write (write more, write faster, and write without judgment)
- Tools to edit and improve your writing
Finally, I’ve also laid out a few resources to keep your writing ambitions alive, including the books, blogs, and guides that keep me going in a bind.
Tools to identify trending topics
Before you publish anything, stop and ask yourself, these questions:
- Is this a topic my audience cares about?
- How has this subject been addressed already?
- Where’s the white space?
By “where’s the white space?“ I mean, where can I add more value to the topic at hand?
If you’re in the thick of things in your industry, you might be able to offer informed answers to these questions off-hand. But in my experience, a little data in the topic research phase goes a long way.
Luckily, there are plenty of tools to help you quantify audience interest. At the most basic level, typing a few keywords into your Google search console and perusing the related queries will surface the hot topics around the subject at hand.
From an SEO perspective, there are quite a few paid tools that will also make recommendations for keyword targeting, such as the related topics surfaced by MozPro. However, Google Trends is actually pretty accurate in telling you which terms are more popular for keywords, too.
My favorite tools to help identify trending topics and relevant keywords are:
- Google Trends
- Moz Related Topics
- Google Adwords
- Google Trends
Relevant and therefore not-so-shameless plug: identifying trending topics is a sweet spot of ours over here at TrackMaven. If you’re interested in taking a look, let us know! We’ll show you how it works with your brands own data.
Tools to help you organize your writing, research, and ideas
The writerly persona is not one most would associate with extreme organization. Overflowing notebooks and strewn scribbles of paper are the more cliche writerly accouterments.
While the tactility of pen and paper may never be replaced, there are a few key digital tools that make it easier to track and sort through all of those moments of inspiration.
I’ve never personally cracked the code with Evernote, but have worked with both Trello and Workflowy with success. To track relevant articles,I’m a huge fan of Pocket, an app that lets you save articles and videos to read later (even when you find yourself without wifi).
There’s also a social network element to Pocket, where you can see what friends and colleagues are reading, and share your favorite reads with them.
My favorite tools for content organization and research are:
If you’re in the market for an editorial calendar for your team, CoSchedule is one popular option. Tools like Contently have editorial calendar and workflow functions as well. Here at TrackMaven editorial, we plan our content calendar in a Google spreadsheet.
If you’d like a copy of our editorial calendar template, you can grab a copy here. (It’s free!)
Writing tools that help you just write
Once you’ve done your due diligence, it’s time to just write. But for many of us, the hardest part about writing something is planting yourself in a chair and actually writing the thing.
Nothing cripples one’s efficiency at the writing stage quite like distractions and self-doubt. So how do you learn to write without judgment?
One new tool I learned about this year’s Content Marketing World (CMWorld) is ilys.com, a platform that promises to make you “love writing again.”
MarketingProfs’ Chief Content Officer Ann Handley plugged the tool in her presentation at CMWorld, and after a quick test run, I can’t say I’m hooked… but I am intrigued.
The tool is unique in that it prompts you to set a word count goal at the start of each session. Once you start writing, you can only see the individual letter you’re typing.
That means no deleting, and no editing-as-you-go. In fact, the screen blinks red every time you hit the backspace button.
If you truly want to try to find your creative flow, this tool is worth a try. That being said, for more in-depth, highly structured writing assignments, this is not the best tool in your arsenal.
For those moments, I stick to another distraction-free writing app called Ulysses. For long-form pieces, Ulysses has built-in navigational functions and syncs your work across devices (which I find handy to keep notes from my commute and my working drafts all in one place).
That being said, WordPress has its own distraction-free writing view. And when all else fails, you can always disconnect your wifi and type away in a good old fashioned Word doc.
Writing tools that help you edit and improve
Congratulations, your piece is done!
Now it’s time to give it a polish. When another set of trusted editing eyes are scarce, I turn to Grammarly, which has a free version that checks for basic grammar, spelling, and punctuation mistakes. My favorite thing about Grammarly is its free Chrome plugin, which you can you to check and correct your writing on social networks, Gmail, and even in WordPress (which I used for this post).
Wordy.com is another reliable alternative but can become pricey on its pay-per-project basis.
To help me edit for clarity and concision, I turn to the Hemingway Editor. True to its namesake, the Hemingway app aims to make your writing bold and straightforward. The editor flags usage of passive voice and sentence complexity in your drafts with color-coding:
For quick cross-organizational grammar reference, a style guide is always handy. At TrackMaven, we follow the AP Stylebook, but the Chicago Manual of Style is also popular with businesses.
My go-to online editing tools include:
- Hemingway Editor
- AP Stylebook
Must-read books and resources on writing and grammar
Finally, here are a few of the books and resources on writing that never fail to inform and inspire. Bookmark them for whenever you need to indulge your inner bookworm:
- How to Become a Writer by Lorrie Moore (quoted at the opening of this piece)
- Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English by Patricia T. O’Conner
- Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss (which I also love for its pro-Oxford comma propaganda)
- The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century by Steven Pinker
- On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King.
- Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
- The Studio by John Gregory Dunne (This one’s about the movie business, but offers a look at the craft of writing alongside Old Hollywood nostalgia.)
- The New Yorker’s Comma Queen video series
For marketing-specific advice on improved writing, Ann Handley’s Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content is gospel. There’s more where that came from in our list of 51 Must-Read Marketing Books.
Those are my tried and trusted writing tools — but I’d love to hear yours. Let me and your fellow marketers know which tools ease your content creation process in the comments below.
Kara Burney is the Director of Content at TrackMaven, the integrated marketing analytics platform used by hundreds of the world’s best brands. Before focusing on marketing for B2B SaaS companies, Kara worked in creative development at major production companies and literary agencies. Follow her on Twitter at @wkndatburneys.