Tools of the Writing Trade

Software to Make Writing, Editing, and Publishing Easier

The links in this post are to tools that I personally use. They are not affiliate links and I do not benefit if you click or sign up!

Have you seen images of The Watsons, an abandoned manuscript of Jane Austen’s, during the editing process? Fragile-looking pages with handwritten text, insertions and replacement paragraphs attached with straight pins. Can you even imagine? I certainly can’t.

Writing is hard enough: Putting your thoughts on paper. Trying to make it clear, accessible, interesting to your reader. Overcoming writer’s block, imposter syndrome, and any number of other mental hurdles.

close up of black computer keyboard

Luckily, the mechanics of writing in the digital age are only getting easier and easier. Here are some of my favorite tools for writing, editing, and publishing content.


There’s no shortage of project management systems out there, and the very best way to choose the right one for you is just to give them a try. If you already know what features you’re looking for, that can help you narrow your focus. But everyone works a little differently, and you can’t go wrong with giving your shortlist choices a quick trial to see how it goes.

I like Trello because I can easily use it for personal and household to-do lists, as well as for client work and business administration tasks. It’s also useful for collaborating, whether that’s building a grocery list with my spouse, planning a trip with my sister, or drawing up an outline for a client project.


Ideas for our writing can come from all manner of places, of course, and we don’t always have a choice in the matter. But even if you’re working on an assignment for an employer or for a client, it helps to be able to supplement those topics with additional inspiration.

A great place to start is to find out what people are already searching for online. If you’re writing about laundry best practices and you learn that lots of people are going to search engines to compare soaps vs. detergents or to get information about water temperatures, that’s added value you can include to meet that need. Answer the Public is a fantastic way to do just that and find out what people are asking about.


The ease of managing so many aspects of our lives online has its drawbacks. I frequently find myself losing things, opening videos or articles or pages to look at later—and inadvertently leaving them there for days (or even longer). My default browser of choice, Google Chrome, is already pretty good at keeping a history for me if I accidentally close a window with 29 tabs. (It’s happened. More than once.)

But Workona has changed my life because it allows you to create separate workspaces, meaning I can have 29 tabs open for one client—and then quickly switch to my own administrative workspace, where my email, calendar, and invoicing system is waiting for me. I don’t lose tabs, and I don’t have to have everything open at once.


One of the surest ways to promote clarity is to pick a style guide and stick to it! This can help you both conform to standard language rules and ensure consistency in your writing. More “rules” than you probably realize are simply style preferences—whether that’s including a serial comma before “and” in lists, spelling out some numbers but not others, or capitalizing headings and subheadings.

There are plenty of style guides out there, and you can also create your own! AP (The Associated Press Stylebook) is most common in journalistic settings. MLA (Modern Language Association) is the standard for most academics. APA (American Psychological Association) is the go-to for many social sciences and business texts. I use The Chicago Manual of Style for most of my work, for instance. Even so, I will make exceptions for certain clients based on their audience needs.

Looking for additional help with your writing project? I offer editing, proofreading, and even ghostwriting services—and I’d love to talk to you about what you’re working on!

Editing Your Own Work

Four Tricks to Publishing Error-free Copy

In an ideal world, everything you publish gets the benefit of an editor’s eyes—and even a bit of copyediting and then a round or two of proofreading. But if you’ve ever rushed to get a blog, email, or social post out there, you know that sometimes there simply isn’t time for all that thorough review.

But you can catch a surprising number of things when you give your own writing a second look! The trick is to do a little more than merely rereading what you’ve just typed up.

Here are my favorite four ways to edit my own work.

open laptop on a desk next to an open notebook and a ceramic mug

1. Read It Out Loud

This sometimes catches people off guard. Your readers aren’t likely to read a blog post or email newsletter aloud to themselves, after all—and unless you’re writing a script for audio or video content, neither are you.

Even so, reading your writing out loud can help clue you in to awkward phrasing, repetitive language, or errors that your eyes glossed over but your ears picked up right away.

You don’t need to make a big production out of it; sometimes just saying the words out loud as you type them can make a big difference. So can whispering them to yourself when you’re done with a first draft. Of course, if you are writing a script of some kind, taking it a step or two further and recording yourself reading it back can be extra helpful before you decide to call it finished.

2. Read It Backward

Just as our eyes have a tendency to gloss over suboptimal sentences, they also have a habit of fixing typos before we actually see them. If you’ve ever seen one of those “the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef” posts on social media, you know that your brain is exceptionally skilled in skipping mistakes and still grasping the meaning of misspelled words.

That is great news for being able to read or skim with ease, but it makes proofreading especially difficult—particularly when it’s your own work. You already know what you’re trying to say, so errors aren’t likely to trip you up.

Starting at the end and working backward makes it much easier to spot mistakes. That’s because you’re working against the flow of your writing, giving your mind enough of a pause to see what’s actually on the page—instead of what you’re already expecting to see.

3. Read It Formatted

You might draft your writing in a plain old Word document or Google Doc (or maybe you’re super old school and handwrite it). So try reviewing your writing once it’s formatted! Don’t spend your time editing in that draft file. Instead, get those words into the social media platform, web editor, or other publisher you’ll be using and review your writing in ready-to-publish format.

Like reading it aloud, editing this way can help you go beyond misspellings, typos, and missing words and find issues that aren’t strictly errors. That’s typically when you should be doing your proofreading anyway. That way, you can catch spacing concerns, bad line breaks, broken links, and problems with photos, captions, or other design elements.

4. Read It After a Pause

This is the best tactic I use for my own writing. Rereading something right after you’ve written it isn’t likely to help you see gaps, mistakes, or other issues. If you’re short on time already, letting a piece of writing sit for a day or two (or even longer) before you come back to it may not be possible.

But take advantage of any time you have available. Stepping away overnight or for a few hours—or even just for 10 minutes to take a body break or to think about something completely different—can make all the difference in being able to read it with fresh eyes.

It’s true that it sometimes feels like we do our best proofreading after we’ve hit send. That’s why I still like to reread what I’ve written right after I click publish or post. In most cases, I can quickly edit that caption or blog before too many people have seen it. And even if it’s irrevocably out there—like with email—at least I’m aware of it and can decide whether I need to send a correction or just steel myself to catch some grief over that typo.

Pro tip: This one can be especially useful when paired with one of the first three suggestions! Force yourself to walk away for a bit and then come back to read it backward, out loud, or as formatted copy.

Bonus: Hire a Proofreader

I help my clients hit send or publish with confidence!

I’d love to talk to you about reviewing your marketing emails, sales newsletters, blog posts, white papers, press releases—whatever you’re sending out into the world to connect with your audience and attract customers. Tell me what you’re writing!

5 Tricks for Dealing with Writer’s Block

Strategies for Overcoming the Blank Page

No matter how prolific a writer you are, writer’s block is an inevitability we all face from time to time. If you’re like me, you find yourself sitting at your computer, fingers poised over the keyboard, and . . . nothing.

Vintage typewriter with blank page. Photo by Daniel McCullough on Unsplash.

Maybe you don’t know how to start. Or you get stuck and can’t get going again. Or a few words trickle out, but it’s just not quite what you had in mind.

Whatever block you’re facing, I’ve found that these five tricks help me and my writing find our way again almost every single time.

1. Walking Away—or Just Walking

Taking a walk is my go-to solution for writer’s block because it’s the one that works the best the most often. Sometimes I’ve got too many different things floating around in my head—multiple client projects, maybe, or a long list of miscellaneous to-dos to tackle—and my thoughts can’t settle on the writing at hand.

Getting away from my desk helps because I can actually do the thing I’m thinking about (move the laundry, check the mailbox). And sometimes taking my mind off forcing the writing helps me return to the keyboard with fresh eyes and fresh ideas.

Still, I try not to give in to the temptation to walk away too quickly. If I notice that I’m struggling, I’ll make a note of the time. If 15 minutes or more pass and I haven’t managed to get anything down that I feel good about, that’s when I’ll call it quits for a bit.

For a bonus tip, take a page out of Ernest Hemingway’s book and stop in the middle of a sentence when you take a break. It often helps you pick up the momentum a little easier when you come back to your work.

2. Clearing Out the Cobwebs

On Mad Men, Don Draper goes to the movies because he says it “clears out the cobwebs.” He goes to the theater in the middle of the afternoon instead of staying stuck at his desk (was he ever stuck at his desk?).

Like taking a walk, allowing yourself to get lost in a book, movie, or piece of music does wonders for getting your conscious mind off your writing. It can also let your subconscious get to work instead. But, unlike going for a stroll, choosing an immersive creative experience has the added bonus of stoking your creative fires. Inspiration can come from the unlikeliest sources—and visiting other worlds through fiction or excellent filmmaking is often just the ticket.

If you’re not sold, take a lesson from Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, and think of it as an artist’s date. Julia says we all need, from time to time, to refill our creative wells—lest it dry up. So once a week, prioritize taking your inner artist on a date. She calls it “assigned play” and says it doesn’t need to be “artistic,” just something festive or whimsical or out of the ordinary.

Go outside, browse an interesting shop, make a vision board, build a playlist, take a drive. Come back inspired.

3. Starting at the End

A blank page can feel straight-up threatening, and the pressure of needing to start off with a solid beginning can quickly overwhelm. That’s why I often like to start at the end. Whether it’s writing the end-of-page call-to-action for marketing copy or the witty close to an essay—even the final line in an email I’ve been putting off—sometimes it’s just easier to work backward.

If I’m writing digitally (and I almost always am) I’ll often insert several returns or even a whole page break to visually remind myself that I’m merely skipping ahead a little bit and will come back later to fill it in. You’d be surprised how much of a difference this little mental trick can make!

Working this way can also be a nice reminder that writing is almost never a linear process. It’s okay to skip around and put it together like a puzzle as all the pieces come together. There’s no need to force yourself to write anything in the order it will be read, a common hang-up when fighting writer’s block.

4. Streaming Your Consciousness

Let’s take another cue from Julia Cameron with her beloved morning pages process, the practice of writing three pages (long-hand) first thing in the morning. The idea is, like going to the movies or taking a drive, to clear out the cobwebs of your mind. With stream-of-consciousness writing, you build up the habit of writing without editing or censoring along the way.

That’s the same trick you use if you’ve ever found yourself writing your way in to a piece. Often what we really want to say is buried under all the everyday stuff that clutters up our minds, those to-do lists and reminders and conversations with friends or colleagues. It’s once we get through all that junk that we can arrive at the good stuff.

Try it! Just start writing as though you’re narrating your thoughts. “Narrating your thoughts? Or should it be ‘narrating your mind’? Is that something I can Google? I CANNOT forget to buy dishwasher detergent. Maybe this is the year I actually write a book. I should go ahead and sign up for that painting workshop.” See?

You may have to scrap the first 10% (or even the first 90%) of your efforts before you find the words worth saving. But they’ll be there.

5. Changing Your Environment

Sometimes it’s simply a matter of where you’re sitting (or standing or laying down). Changing my environment is most helpful when I’m dealing with one of two situations. First, I might have been sitting in the same spot for way too long and I feel restless about the setting. Or the scenery around me may be much too distracting (whether because I’ve chosen to sit in the living room and Law & Order reruns are playing on a loop or because I’m somewhere new and I feel overly stimulated by the novelty around me.)

Simply turning the position of my chair and laptop 90 degrees can feel refreshing. So can adjusting ambient sounds—whether that’s turning off something distracting or putting on some white noise to fill the silence.

There have been times when I feel like I need to completely overhaul my surroundings or state of mind to feel like I can get into the flow, but most of the time it’s making a small tweak that reignites the process.

Were any of these strategies familiar to you? Do you have another helpful hint for getting through your writer’s block? I’d love to hear from you!

Home Office: Creating the Perfect Work Space

Since I began building my business in earnest about two years ago (and made the leap to full-time solopreneurship almost two years ago), my home office has undergone approximately 67 iterations.

As a serial furniture rearranger and someone with packrat tendencies, I know it will never be a static environment, but I’ve finally settled into something that’s working—and a desk space that I love.


Last summer I finally invested in a computer that I can rely on without worrying about sudden restarts or having to wait forever just for a new Word doc to open. I stuck with a laptop so I can stay mobile—for those days that I’d rather spend in a coffee shop or the library—but added a dock so I can use extra screens. And then I bought two 27-inch monitors that allow me to easily write, edit, and proofread without straining my eyes (see, Ali, I hear you!).

And because my work is nearly exclusively performed on a computer, I try to prioritize ergonomics: a split keyboard, an ergonomic mouse, and a clamp to keep my monitors at eyelevel will (hopefully) help keep discomfort and problems like carpal tunnel at bay.

And for focus, I’ve found that wearing headphones can help, even if I’m only listening to white noise or not actually listening to anything at all, and these noise-cancelling wireless cans are perfect for the job.


It seems like I slogged through about a million pages of desks and tables before I found a cheap white table that’s large enough to accommodate all three screens (and the miscellaneous stuff that inevitably accumulates wherever I’m sitting for hours at a time) while still leaving some room for a notebook or a microwaved quesadilla. Plus, I just got this sweet chair that lets me sit cross-legged without risking weird leg cramps.

I of course need plenty of space to store books, whether they’re my most reliable resources or my novel-of-the-moment or reflection journals. Ali and I have several large bookshelves that hold the majority of our library, but I also use some floating shelves above my desk, a rolling metal cart, and a TV tray to keep certain titles close by.


My favorite analog office supplies are the narrow spiral-at-the-top reporter’s notebooks, tiny Post-it Notes, and Pilot P-700 pens. I usually have at least two of each nearby! I often write things down first—notes from calls, random thoughts, to-do lists and reminders, even first drafts—and then transfer them to my digital calendars and tools. (Not efficient, I guess, but that’s the system.)

Winter would be much harder to get through without a “happy light,” one of those ultra-bright desk lamps designed to help you through the perils of seasonal affective disorder with light therapy. Light has generally become an important element of my office; I often have small lamps, string lights, or candles to keep the space filled with warm light. Not missing the fluorescent office lights here!

What favorite tools do you always keep at your desk?

One Helpful Trick for Preventing Writer’s Block


I started this post intending to say that when you write a lot, you start to write better. Words come more easily, you develop a kind of muscle memory that helps keep you going.

And do you know what happened? Writer’s block.

Proving, if nothing else, that the universe has a sense of humor.

Finding the thread

Writing can be a tricky business. Sometimes I sit down to write and feel like my fingers just cannot type fast enough to keep up. Other times I’ve made myself dizzy spinning in my office chair, hoping to catch any thread of anything to say something at all interesting or valuable.

ink pen and open notebook that only reads "Ummmm..."

Practice does help. As I started building my freelance business, that’s one of the greatest things I noticed: as I transitioned out of a 9-to-5 job that only required me to write in email form—and started writing more long-form content—it became easier to write well. I was more likely to have the speed-typing problem than the chair-spinning problem.

But like so many things in life, a plateau is inevitable. You get into a groove and then it becomes a rut.

Morning pages

One tool I’ve been using to stave off such a rut is the Morning Pages practice from Julia Cameron. I haven’t actually read The Artist’s Way (or at least not past the introduction; curse you, shopping ban) but I’d seen Julia’s name in enough acknowledgements sections to be familiar with the gist of this practice that so many artists swear by: three pages of longhand, stream-of-conscious writing every single morning.

There are no rules to Morning Pages. You just have to keep doing them.

My own Morning Pages practice is still very new. But while there was some horror in showing up on day two and feeling like I’d already run out of things to think (and then write), it’s making a great addition to my day. Usually part brain dump, panic over to-do lists and deadlines, and trying to remember whether or not I’ve already fed the cat, it’s also showing me patterns in my thinking, releasing mental clutter, and giving me the opportunity to play with language that I otherwise might have thought but not written down.

It’s also a chance to engage both my inner critic and my inner mentor, to practice my real-live handwriting, and to reform that callous on my right ring finger that I’ve hated since I was a kid.

If one of the most important ingredients of good writing is just to keep doing it, Morning Pages is creating an invaluable daily space to do just that—writer’s block, be damned.

On Writing Rituals and Routines


I had a professor in college who said he had a dedicated laptop for writing. It had never been (would never be) connected to the internet. He only wrote on that computer, standing up at a podium.

Seeking a routine

I often find myself trying to create a specific writing ritual, but I haven’t found anything in particular that’s stuck. Sometimes I write at my desk on a standard desktop PC. Sometimes it’s on my laptop (at my coworking space, at the library, on my couch, in bed) or even on my phone. I write at 8 a.m., at 8 p.m. Occasionally at 2 a.m. I write in silence or with music, with coffee or without.

I’m learning that it really doesn’t matter as long as I keep going. Stephen King wrote in On Writing that “the sort of strenuous reading and writing program I advocate – four to six hours a day, every day – will not seem strenuous if you really enjoy doing these things and have an aptitude for them.”

Even as a bookworm and a professional writer, that can be a tough benchmark to hit consistently.

Setting priorities

There’s always extra stuff on the to-do list, things to be tempted by: getting trapped in my inbox, worrying about my personal brand, doing chores around the house, trying to exercise more than once a year, not shopping, binge-watching Game of Thrones with my husband.

But it feels great to make the time.

This morning I spent a couple hours on my bookkeeping and on client work, and then I spent the afternoon reading a novel from cover to cover before sitting down to write. It felt like such a luxury!

And a rejuvenation. It turns out that writing after a few hours of reading a book (especially when you’re reading for recreational purposes and not out of obligation or requirement) feels a little less harried than after a big chunk of time in front of a screen . . . or several.

Maybe one day I will have an eccentric or very specific writing routine. Until then, I’ll just keep plugging away whenever—and however—I can.

What about you? Do you have a setting, time of day, or tools that you always use to write?

Closing Loopholes: Sticking with the Shopping Ban


I’ve been requesting books almost compulsively from the library, and they’re coming in faster than I can read them.

I told myself that it wouldn’t be too difficult to give up buying books as part of our 2019 shopping ban because I’ve become such good friends with my local library branch. And that’s mostly been true. Mostly. Because some books are designed to be kept or journaled in or referred to again and again.

No renewals allowed

six library books on a shelf

I was on the waiting list for Julia Cameron’s seminal The Artist’s Way for weeks before a copy was available. And though I was delighted to get it and start reading, I soon realized that her process is intended to be followed over 12 weeks. I only got to keep the library’s copy for three weeks and—because it’s wonderful and lots of other people are waiting for it—no renewals allowed. Unless I wanted to fork over 30 cents a day for three months (and irk plenty of library employees and patrons in the meantime), I would have to give it up before I finished it.

The search for a loophole began.

Essential to my work

This could ostensibly be considered a work-related purchase! Exploring creative processes and improving my writing are essential to my work! I told myself when we started the shopping ban that things needed for the continued operation of my business would be allowed. Plus, it’s just one book. And I think I really do need it!

But I had already convinced myself not to buy new file folders last month just because they were pretty and had stopped myself from buying new wall art just to fill up blank space. I don’t need this book. If we’re being honest, I probably don’t even have time in the next 12 weeks to fully commit to the process. It’s okay to wait.

So with only a little bit of grumpiness I added it to my “for later” book list and moved on. I’ve got plenty to read—including Cameron’s The Right to Write, which is its own delight, and Notes from a Public Typewriter, pictured above and my favorite book of 2019 so far—and more than enough to do until I’m ready to dig into The Artist’s Way with the time it deserves.

Handwritten Notes

Do you write handwritten notes? I’ve always loved to send snail mail, but it can be so easy to settle for a quick text instead or to rely on greeting cards to do the talking for you.

The Art of the Handwritten Note

I’ve been reading The Art of the Handwritten Note. I picked it up at a used book store several years ago and had peeked through it occasionally. But I’m only just now reading it cover to cover. It’s reminding me of the joy of finding a handwritten note—slipped into a purse or coat pocket, in a stack of junk ads and bills in the mailbox, or from someone unexpected.

I have some regular pen-pal buddies (Hi, Jessie! Hi, Kaitlin!) but I hope to send more notes in 2019. More notes to say thank you. To say I miss you. To say hello or isn’t this sunshine nice or here’s what I’m reading or I love you.

If writing more notes is something you’re interested in, I recommend Margaret Shepherd’s book. She helps you consider the words, the envelope, the pen, the paper. (“Do not write with a pencil or use blue-lined school paper, especially not notebook paper with holes punched in it. That’s like going out dressed only in your underpants. That is only for rough drafts and for people under the age of ten.”)

She reminds you both of the absolute treasure that a handwritten note can be and that done is better than perfect: you don’t need to be a professional calligrapher writing on parchment with an expensive pen to give someone the joy of receiving a thoughtful note.

4 Sites to Help Diversify the Sources You Rely On

book and notebook open in front of bookshelfDo you wish you had more diverse sources to reference in your writing?Sometimes when I’m working on a piece (or on another installment of an ongoing series) I’ll suddenly realize that I’m using the same types of resources and citations over and over again.

It can be easy to rely on the sites and studies that you know and love. And if you don’t know what you don’t know—or where else you can look—it’s especially hard to break that habit.

More and more, writers are considering not just what information they’re conveying but where that information is coming from. So if you’re thinking about promoting diversity in your work (and you should be), paying attention to whose work you’re referencing and whose voice you’re quoting is an important piece of the puzzle.

That’s why I was so excited to find out about the existence of the brilliantly named Women Also Know Stuff page . . . and then, soon after, Women Also Know History, People of Color Also Know Stuff, and Sourcelist.

These sites all provide searchable databases of women, minorities, and members of other underrepresented populations who are experts in their fields. Need a scholar who studies the American presidency and executive politics? You can find out who fits the bill—and in a handy list sorted by location and including links to their own respective websites!

Search by field or location or experience level. See content areas and read short bios and find contact information. Be encouraged by the number and diversity of voices out there who want to talk to you about what they know.

It’s not always easy to seek other resources, but this is a great opportunity to learn more, share more, and recognize the efforts of other experts! Don’t just quote the most readily available content or the voices you tend to hear the most often.

How to Write a Book: 3 Tricks to Finishing Your Novel

More than clearance Halloween candy, more than the promise of turkey and pumpkin pie, and even more than the joy of sweater weather . . . November is about writing.

Set a goal

Have you thought about writing a book? As far as bucket list goals go, it’s a pretty popular one. But where to find the time or the energy? Or even the pressure of a deadline? NaNoWriMo to the rescue! National Novel Writing Month is a free global community program that encourages you to set a goal and stick to it: write 50,000 words in the 30 days November has to offer.

I’ve attempted it several times but have only “won” once; I have high hopes of doing it again this year! Here are my three favorite tactics for making it across that word-count finish line:

Put it on your calendar

This can seem like both the easiest and the hardest thing to do. Time can feel scarce, but there’s definitely something to be said for making it a priority by including it alongside other must-dos (like work, childcare, or feeding yourself). Whole afternoons can be great when you can find them, but don’t forget to look for those 15-, 30-, or 60-minute chunks too.

Find a buddy

Nothing keeps you accountable like a friend who’s in the same boat. Get a buddy to sign up with you or find fellow writers who are participating (there are tons of great communities, both online and in real life). Check in with each other, meet up for a write-in. And when you find yourself getting stuck, remember that others are out there chugging along on their manuscripts too.

Just keep going

Even if you’re certain that what you’re putting on-screen is garbage, even if you’re sure it’s not propelling your plot, momentum counts for a lot. Whether you take advantage of sprint exercises at a community write-in event or through the @NaNoWordSprints Twitter account—of if you’re just forcing yourself to keep those fingers moving—that energy often allows you to find some clue, angle, or thread that will inspire you sooner or later to really move forward in earnest.

You can always edit later, so keep stringing those words together. Before long, you have a thousand words and then fifty thousand words. Now you’ve got a manuscript!

Signed up? Let me know how you’re doing!