One of our 2016 goals at Proof is to write better and more often. Sounds simple enough, right? In theory, yes, but good, consistent writing takes practice, purpose, and planning. Thankfully, there are a few free tools out there that have significantly lowered the barriers of entry to writing for me, for us, and hopefully, for you as well.
Organize your ideas.
If you missed the big news last September, FiftyThree’s Paper App (a best-seller for tablets) is now available for iPhone, and it’ll organize your thoughts as quickly as you can jot them down. As tablet sales and usage declined in 2015, the folks at FiftyThree smartly introduced their app for a wider market. And since the best ideas often come out of the office, that’s good news for everyone with an iPhone on-hand. Pull in photos and downloads, craft notes, make to-do lists, create sketches (with just your finger)—whatever you’ve got—and keep your ideas fresh, alive, and ready to morph into a masterpiece when the time comes. Half the battle of writing is research. Half the battle of research is organization. Here comes Paper to the rescue.
Increase your vocabulary.
While Merriam-Webster’s “Word of the Day” is still a great way to increase your vocabulary, a game of wits is a little more fun (and perhaps more memorable). The same organization created Quizzitive, a free interactive game that uses timed quizzes to master “1,000 words worth knowing.” With Quizzitive, you’ve got four types of games to choose from, and any words “missed” from a previous game are reintroduced in the next round. Verbiage misuse is one of the biggest obstacles in successfully expanding your inner-dictionary. So, with that in mind, these games are designed to hammer home definitions until you get them right. Bonus: it’s the perfect office challenge (if your crew is down for that) / excuse to “play” during the workday. Win or lose, your word bank will grow. Guaranteed.
Concentrate and stay focused.
Distractions are a writer’s greatest enemy. At Proof, we’re working on lowering distractions by minimizing email check-ins, respecting “head down” time by limiting interruptions, and blocking our calendars. But when you’re writing, whether it’s during the workweek or at home on the weekends, technology makes it easy for the mind to wander. You’re writing about a new diet—that makes you think about this recipe you wanted to try, which makes you think about that one episode of Friends, which makes you wonder where in the heck that actress is now. The truth is, distractions are everywhere, which is where StayFocused and Forest come in.
StayFocused has been around for a while. But it’s kind of a forgotten gem. With the “Nuclear Option” you can: 1) add certain sites to your “blocked” list; 2) block all or some of the content on those sites; and 3) set a timer to block sites immediately or at a specific time. It’s specifically for the Chrome Extension and is one of the least bug-y desktop installs for this kind of plugin.
Ah, the smartphone. It’s like a constant cheating device. Maybe you turn the sound off or hide it when writing, but it’s all too tempting to check it when you get writer’s block, even if it’s in the other room. If you’ve got distracting sites “blocked” with StayFocused, the Forest app is a great tool to encourage you to keep going without completely disabling your interface. To get started, you “plant” a tree—make it 30 minutes and you’ve got a full-grown prize. Leave the app and the tree dies. The more 30-minute victories you acquire, the larger your forest grows. It’s easy, it’s pleasant, and you really do become accustomed to those trees.
Get a head start on topics.
One of the biggest writing challenges is simply getting started. I’ve asked myself a million times, “What should I write about?” So, a great exercise for your creative muscles is a good old-fashioned writing prompt. There are lots of prompt apps out there (most of the good ones come at a cost) but Brainsparker is a great option, housing a collection of random ideas, questions, images, and quotes within different categories designed to open your imagination. The free decks are a little random (for instance, “be persistent” and Leonardo da Vinci’s quote “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”) but that’s the point—you’ll learn how to interpret the vague and focus your reflection. Plus, you can always add new cards for a small fee.
Of course, the real change in skill comes with committing to using tools like these regularly and writing daily. Armed with these freebies, we’re setting our writing goals in motion here at Proof and encourage you to do the same. Write on, writers!