Before I took the leap into the freelance writing business, I worked as a
tradesman in the construction industry. Jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none was my career focus, and I've carried many job titles over the years.
tradesman in the construction industry. Jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none was my career focus, and I've carried many job titles over the years.
I spent the better part of a decade framing walls and setting trusses as a residential carpenter. Then several years came when I craved independence, so I decided to work as an independent contractor installing satellite television systems. While living in Hawaii, I tried my hand as a finisher on a drywall crew, worked as a maintenance man for an apartment complex and built cabinets at a shop by the beach.
I've been called a mason, a landscaper, an electrician, a handyman and a bunch of other titles that have since slipped my mind. While all of those jobs are considered labor-intensive, they're actually pretty different in scope. One thing that they do have in common, however, is the need for tools to get anything done.
When I first began writing, I was excited to finally have a job that didn't require lugging an overstuffed box or belt of heavy items back and forth to work every day. But over the years I have come to realize that a successful freelance writer should have a toolbox of their own.
This list covers just a few of the more important apps, programs, sites and extensions I keep handy at all times. I will add more as I find them and will update the post with the best tools from your comments, so be sure to let us know your favorite freelance writing resources. Plus, just by commenting, you'll be entered into the Grammarly Giveaway. More info at the bottom of this post.
1. Jotform - Form Building Made Easy and Free (for the most part)
Okay, so this isn’t what you probably expected to see at the top of this list. But it could help your freelance writing business in more ways than any distraction eliminating word processor or Web based editing program. It’s all about thinking outside of the box when imagining how Jotform can benefit your specific content strategies. Let me explain my thought process regarding the benefits of this Web app for writers.
First, if you’re serious about being a Web writer, then you have an online portfolio and probably a blog. Now, if you’re like me and tighter than a New Jersey face-lift with your money, then you’re not about to pay someone to build those sites. But that can lead to certain situations where you may be left scratching your head wondering what the hell compelled you to build a site from scratch. Fortunately, some totally awesome dudes and dudettes decided to take pity on us “normies” and created Jotform.
Building a functional form can be difficult without a damn good grasp of several coding languages as well as an understanding of all that server-side mumbo jumbo. Hell, you probably don’t even have enough time to work on your paying jobs much less learn some complicated hieroglyphics. That’s why Jotform is one of my most beloved tools.
Even if you have a basic portfolio site, you probably have a contact page on there somewhere. (If not, then you’re missing the point of an Online portfolio) The limitations of those provided by most Content Management Systems like Wordpress, Blogger, Weebly etc, etc leave a lot to be desired.
Since the main point of your portfolio is to show the best face you can to potential clients, sending them to a shabby and out-dated contact page that’s limited to three or four data fields can make you look unprofessional and amateur to say the least.
Instead, imagine creating a contact page with personalized questions and dynamically updating fields that your clients can adjust or remove. Perhaps you want people to upload additional info in the form of a Doc or a JPEG, a PDF, a video or any number of other formats. Now imagine what you could do with any of your portfolio pages and even widgets in sidebars or emails to your clients.
Do you offer detailed services that aren’t easily explained? Provide answers via a client questionnaire and gain insights into the real needs of your customers.
Maybe you sell Online training courses or special events that require detailed scheduling? You can drop a sharp looking calendar or seating chart right into a form that tracks attendance, organizes ticket purchases or simply gives the client power to choose a time and date that is convenient for them.
With Jotform in your quiver of freelance writing resources, you’ll never look at that crusty old portfolio or blog the same way.
As if it wasn’t already insanely awesome, Jotform is also virtually free. There are some paid levels available, but they’re unnecessary until you have a lot of traffic and a huge email list. At that point, you’ll happily toss them a few bucks a month for more submissions, a bigger chunk of storage and the ability to add team members.
So, if you haven’t heard of Jotform, you should check it out right now (in a new tab of course). Look at the categories of pre-made templates before you begin. There are hundreds available and browsing through them will give you an idea of the kind of things you can do with Jotform.
Pssst.... I’m making a Choose Your Own Adventure Storybook with Jotform. It features my daughter’s most favorite equine cartoons… My Itty Bitty Ponies (Don’t worry Hasbro, I ain’t trying to rip off your horsey swagger)
Do you cringe when you have to update your writer's portfolio because Wordpress is "too in-depth?"
Do you cower at the thought of endlessly adjusting hexadecimal color codes in an attempt to make your site look less like a toddler's coloring book and more like Da Vinci's Mona Lisa?
If you despise WYSIWYG site builders, then you'll probably hate Jotform. If that's the case, allow me to build your forms for you.
Simply click the Michael's Portfolio link and find the Request a Quote menu item. Schedule a Consultation, and we'll discuss your options. Any cost will be based on discounted friend prices and depending on the form's complexity, I may just build it for FREE. The Request a Quote and Consultation is free, too, so what are you waiting for?
2. Lazarus Form Recovery - A Firefox and Chrome Extension that May Just Keep You from Murdering Your Computer
Here’s the setup: It’s 3 AM. You’ve been writing all night to meet a 6 AM deadline and are putting the finishing touches on a 2,000-word blog post for one of the many Wordpress sites you manage. Suddenly, the power goes out in your home and your heart sinks as your desktop computer blinks off. The sheer amount of emotions brewing and bubbling within your chest makes your eyes twitch with an anger that any outsider would be wise to avoid.
Every single word you wrote just disappeared like a small puff of smoke. All that hard work... gone in an instant. The only thing that remains is an impending deadline and the likely fact that you’ll have fewer clients in the morning.
You reach for the computer tower, committed to its destruction as a means of revenge. From a dark corner comes a timid voice.
“Please, Daddy! Don’t kill the computer," your daughter says meekly.
You ignore her pleas. Murder has filled your twitchy eyes and not even a super cute little buddy like her can prevent the death of this tower. Rationality took flight when those words disappeared from the screen.
But wait a minute psycho... Didn’t you install a new extension called Lazarus the other day?
Isn’t it supposed to recover form data on Webpage’s just like this one?
I mean, that was what the Lazarus extension page said when you installed it,
So, let’s hold off on crushing that tower for just a second. Okay, buddy?
Yep, that’s exactly what this God-send of an extension was created to prevent; the innocent deaths of computer towers everywhere. And the Lazarus creators couldn’t have made it easier.
After you’ve taken a few deep breaths and counted to ten, turn the power back on and open a Chrome or Firefox browser (Sorry IE, maybe you should think about not sucking so much). Once on the Web, open the tab you were working in and look for the little Lazarus symbol on the side of a form field. Click it and watch as all that hard work reappears without a single exasperated scream or irrational act of violence.
Pssst.... Some folks say that the Firefox version is more reliable than the Chrome variety. I use Chrome, and it has saved my computer’s life on countless occasions without any failures. Supposedly there are some site forms that it isn’t compatible with but I have yet to find one.
3. FocusWriter - Distraction-Free Writing without All the Distractions
Many writers, me included, are easily distracted by the fun things and addictive diversions filling the 21st century Internet. Having a distraction-free workspace where we can escape may be the only reason we actually get anything done.
There are literally hundreds of different distraction-free writing tools available on every type of device out there. This huge supply must mean that a large percentage of us find it hard to ignore a thirsty farm or a candy crush even when we should be putting pen to paper (fingers to keyboard?).
Some of the programs have so many options and settings that they become a distraction all their own. Others cost a small fortune for what amounts to nothing more than a glorified Notepad with a few aesthetic touches or unique settings.
One called WriteOrDie actually holds your words hostage and deletes them if you fail to meet a preset goal. (You can change this setting, but I had to laugh at the extremes people will take to force themselves to write)
After testing many of the choices available, I was going to suggest that you might have a better experience lugging that old typewriter down from the attic and simply turning the computer off. But then I found FocusWriter.
And before you ask the answer is YES.
Yes, FocusWriter being FREE had a lot to do with my choice.
Yes, I don’t particularly think you should have to pay for something that REMOVES things from your screen.
Yes, I would find it very, very difficult to spend a dime on something that has roughly the same amount of options as Notepad.
No, I don’t think that makes me cheap. I prefer frugal.
Anyways, FocusWriter is a simple but effective distraction-free writing tool as well as a time management device. It allows you to set alarms and track daily progress while keeping you motivated with the authentic clickety-clack of an old timey typewriter. And there’s nothing more motivating than an old ass typewriter clanging loudly over and over and over.
You can adjust a number of settings and personalize themes to get that perfect feel. It also includes the most common word processor elements that make writing on a computer easy and efficient.
But it’s not overloaded with options. In fact, simplicity is kind of the point of FocusWriter so if you like a bunch of bells and whistles, then this probably isn’t the distraction-free writer’s software for you.
However, FocusWriter is one of the few cross-platform options available out of the myriad of Mac or Windows dedicated varieties.
Did I mention that FocusWriter is completely free? Well, it is so go ahead and grab it.
Pssst... There’s a bunch of available themes for FocusWriter on the Web, and you can even make your own.
4. Hemingway – When You Want the Help of an Editor without All the Other Bullshit
Oh my golly, Miss Molly! This little sucker could rival Jotform for the number one spot. In fact, I use Hemingway damn near every single day. I use it so much that it has become an integral part of my proofreading and editing process.
Since I learned about it over a year ago, I haven’t let a single piece of content leave my hands without running it through Hemingway at least once. It’s the most brilliant Web-based tool a writer could ever want, and it deserves a place in everyone's toolbox.
It’s a pretty simple concept with easy-to-understand, color coded highlights. In its barest form, Hemingway is a software program that selects basic flow errors a real person would find in an article but without all the typical human crap many editors add to the process.
It allows you to polish up your writing in a consistent fashion so it isn’t plagued by an overabundance of adverbs or awkward sentences.
However, I have found that there’s a method for using Hemingway that ensures you don’t get stuck writing and fixing, writing and fixing.
That method is simple:
- I first write the article to completion in my word processor.
- Then I proofread and edit it with my own two eyes to catch any glaring mistakes.
- After that, I read the entire article out loud and further tweak the flow and word usage.
- Only after I am completely satisfied with the document do I enter it into Hemingway.
- Once it's in the app, I go through and fix all of the Red colored “Very Hard to Read” sentences first.
- Then I try to rewrite as many of the Yellow “Hard to Read” highlights that sound awkward to me.
- After that, I remove excess adverbs and adjust the Purple phrases for simplicity.
- Bingo. Bango. The article is ready for delivery to the client, and you are free to move on to the next project.
Recently, the creators of Hemingway released an updated Beta version with some limited Web style markups such as H1, H2 and H3 tags as well as Hyperlinks and Lists. There’s also a new Desktop version for those who like to work offline.
Finally, Hemingway includes a handy breakdown of base elements such as wordcount, character count, sentences and paragraphs. It also provides a nice little read time estimator.
Oh, and I failed to mention the greatest thing about this must-have freelance writer’s tool: It’s completely free! So go bookmark it or download the desktop version and add it to your toolbox.
Pssst… I'm pretty sure the Hemingway App was named in honor of a writer. But don't quote me on that.
5. MindMeister – Because this List is Already 2,200 Words Long
Hey, mind mapping is great, don’t get me wrong. But it was just as effective when we made them on a piece of paper. However, MindMeister is one of the best Internet-based varieties that I’ve tried. The public databases of user-created Maps are overlooked gems containing vast knowledge. (The mind map in the image above is a HUGE resource for technical researchers and you can find it here) The mind mapping tools are easy to use and packed with features.
I’m not going to go into a lot of detail about this tool. As writers, you all are probably fully aware of how effective a mind map can be at fleshing out any type of writing project. I chose this Chrome app over others like Evernote and Wunderlist because it’s less touted as a must-have and extremely beneficial for developing conceptual ideas. Something writers do every single day.
And would I include MindMeister if I couldn’t say that it’s free? Nope, I would not. (There's paid options but the free version is fully featured)
So if you’re having a difficult time outlining your next novel or coming up with an idea for an email series, hop over and hook your Chrome browser up with MindMeister.
Pssst… I don’t have a super duper secret to whisper in your ear about this one. Sorry, I've failed you miserably thus I shall crieth in thine car.
I'm pretty happy with the comprehensive detail of this 2,400-word Top 5 List of freelance writing tools. I believe I will say farewell here and rest my weary phalanges.
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