Sunday, November 29, 2009

Holiday Giftbag: 5 Free Writing Tools

Just in time for the holidays: I decided to make a list of writing programs, tools, and resources that every writer should have.

The best part? Everything on this list is absolutely free. Go ahead. Give and give and give to yourself.

Let's get the good cheer a-rollin'.

1) WriteRoom/Dark Room - Distraction-Free Word Processing

**Update** It has come to my attention that WriteRoom is not free. Mac users can use a free, Java-based program called JDarkRoom instead (there is also Windows version available). Go here to download:

As word-processing software, WriteRoom (the original, for Mac) and Dark Room (the copycat, for Windows) are pretty worthless. You can't add tables or charts, you can't add a bulleted list, you can't even put the font in bold or italics. The only tasks you can perform in WriteRoom/Dark Room are opening, writing, and saving.

Which is exactly what makes it a perfect tool for creative writing.

What's so special about a word processing program that's so unspecial? If you're anything like me, you spend a lot of your writing time sending emails, G-chatting, and being a creepy Facebook stalker. These programs take all those distractions away. The blank black interface fills the entire screen, even taking away the program toolbar at the top of the screen and the Start Menu toolbar at the bottom of the screen. There's no clock, no minimize button, nothing calling for your attention except your own words.

I've recently become totally dependent on this program. After using it for a little over two weeks, I find it impossible to do any kind of creative writing in Microsoft Word. There's just something mesmerizing about the black screen combined with the 80s-glowy-green font. Not only is this color scheme figuratively easier on the eyes, but literally easier on the eyes as well. If you have no other reason to download this program, the reduction on eye strain is a good selling point.

Dark Room for Windows:

WriteRoom for Mac:

Special thanks to this lady for sharing these programs with me (and subsequently inspiring the idea for this post). I think she said it best: "Basically, what I'm saying is that I'd like to move my whole life to WriteRoom. Distraction-free living sounds delightful."

2) Visuwords Online Graphical Dictionary

I had a writing teacher in college who encouraged her students to keep a journal in which, once every day, they would record a new word from the dictionary. It was one of those projects that I took on with diligence but abandoned a week later (sorry, Prof. Kinzie). Finding a new, exciting word in a dictionary is actually rather time-consuming. And kind of boring.

Visuwords is a pretty sweet little dictionary/thesaurus hybrid that makes instant word maps. Or as the Visuwords website says, you type in a word, and it produces "diagrams reminiscent of a neural net." Neural net, word map, whatever. It's a nice alternative to the OED. (Which can be pretty bad-ass in its own right. Just not as pretty.)

The only catch: It works much better with shorter words.


3) WordCounter - Word-Frequency Tracker

Simple but useful little tool that allows you to check which words you use most frequently (and too frequently). Just copy and paste the body of whatever piece of writing you're working on, and it will quickly rank the 25 to the 200 most-used words (grouping variations together - i.e., "run" and running," etc.).


4) The Character Building Workshop

I'm not totally sold on the idea of the idea of "building" a character by answering a bunch of form questions such as "Does your character find it difficult or easy to schmooze?" or "Would your character enjoy or detest being stranded on a desert island?" Those are just 2 of the 260 questions (spread across three "Character Tests") at The Character Building Workshop.

On the other hand, I am sold on the idea of considering archetypes when building characters, which is the end-result of answering all those mindless questions. In addition to 16 possible character archetype descriptions, The Character Building Workshop provides a "Compatible Personality Disorder" for each archetype, just in case you want to add a little neurosis to your story.

If nothing else, it's worth a shot the next time you're having trouble defining a character. And in my opinion, this tool is not only for writers of fiction. The next time you're having trouble getting to the core of a real-life character in a work of creative non-fiction, give this tool a whirl and maybe you'll see him/her in a new light.


5) Writing Prompts for the Left-Brain, Writing Prompts for the Right-Brain

The previous four tools are all great for different stages of an in-progress piece of writing. This last tool is designed to help you get started.

What I like most about's writing prompts is the fact that they acknowledge that different types of prompts are better suited to different types of writers - namely, right-brained and left-brained types.

The Right-Brain prompts are mostly based on wordplay, such as alliteration exercises, and prompts that force writers to start with a sentence that begins with a certain term or phrase. The Left-Brain prompts are more conceptual, such as prompts that encourage writers to write in a certain voice - for example, one prompt asks students to write a recipe for an emotion, another prompt asks students to write an "unlikely" dictionary entry about a person or thing from their personal life.



Do you use any fun/interesting/bizarre writing tools?

No comments: