Professional writers have wings. Hacks. Apps. Tricks. When you write for a living, you want to get past the barriers—fear, the first sentence, the blank screen – as fast as possible so you can meet your deadline. Knowing this, app developers are out there trying to help us. Don’t you just love ’em! I’ll include some I use, some I’ve heard about and haven’t tried, and some I’ve discovered in writing this story. If you try them, please tell me what you think of them.

Navigating the comma barrier

How did we get through 12 years of schooling without the confidence to know where to put a comma? It’s surprising how much of a barrier grammar can be to confident writing. When I first hung up my shingle as a writer and editor, I did a one-day grammar course. I have used that training for the last 25 years. But today, we can find apps, many free, to help us.

Grammarly is a tool I use daily. It is not perfect, but close to it. And, if you buy the premium version, you get a plagiarism tool that is useful for finding clichés.

Oh my God, did I really write that?

Nicole Bianchi, from the Writing Cooperative, recommends a couple that is new to me. I loved the look of the Cliché Finder but I couldn’t get it to work. Perhaps it doesn’t understand Australian. Thumbs down.

Her other recommendation is Readable which scores your writing using the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level. I scored a B on my first try, sadly. Too many syllables. A few changes and I scored an A. I liked this app, but it doesn’t seem to know what an adverb is. Or is that me?

My favourite is the Hemingway Editor. Borrowing the reputation of the great American journalist and author, Ernest Hemingway, for its name, this app analyses your writing for simplicity, readability, passive voice and adverbs. (‘The road to hell is paved with adverbs’, author Stephen King.) The app also gives you a readability score out of 10 using the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level.

Cures for ‘Blank Page Phobia’?

If motivation is your problem, NY Book Editors has some ideas. 750 words is an app designed to get you to ‘do your words’ daily (read about this at Julie Cameron’s Morning Pages). Prepare to be shocked. This app tracks your writing habits in black and white. It shows when you proceed and when you get stuck and (I love this) analyses your feelings, topics, mindset and concerns.

If you have been to one of my Writing Hackathons, you’ll know we use an app that helps us to stay focused, called Focus Keeper (it used to be called Pomodoro, which is much more poetic, if obscure). Write in 25-minute sprints and then reset your intention in the five-minute break. It’s a surprisingly effective way to get words on the page.

Writer Beth Cregan recently discovered a way to kick-start her daily writing practice. Beth starts at 5 am (how’s that) and usually takes 20 minutes to wake up. Enter the BrainWaves app, which she discovered doing a writing productivity course. Bingo. Brain is alert and firing from 5.01.

Why is it so hard to find collaboration apps?

Writing has a reputation as a solitary occupation. In reality, there are lots of other people involved who need access to your work if you want to publish it. There are your editor, reviewers, testimonial providers, proofreaders, and designers. Yet, it is truly difficult to find a robust collaboration tool.

Omnibook is the closest I have found to a dedicated writing collaboration tool that works, and it is free. But it has a massive limitation from my point of view: you can only have one book per account. Since I am typically working on one of my own, and those of several clients, this is awkward. You can get around it. It’s also only a beta version and is kinda full of bugs. One of the most annoying is that it sometimes repeats text for no reason. However, its chapter structuring and task control is great.

Then I found ZohoWriter. I love this tool. So far it’s done everything I’ve wanted it to do. It is not dedicated for book writers though, so doesn’t have a chapter function. It’s beautifully simple, and the chapters can be handled as a workaround or the manuscript created as a whole. It’s stable, supported and free.

I’d love to know what you use for collaboration and what you prize as tools—track changes, accept changes, share, etc. What works for you? I’ll let you know how I go with Zoho.

PS: Want to read more? You may like The Scared Pause.