20 Helpful Tools to Jumpstart Your Freelance Writing Career

Many years ago, a writer like you would survive with a typewriter and a cup of coffee.

The invention of computers, as well as the birth of the World Wide Web, branched out into different other types of technology. This phenomenon has hugely affected the lives of writers, from their lifestyle to getting their works published and distributed to the hands (or gadgets) of their readers.

Here are the top 20 tools you need and may consider to use as you jumpstart your freelance writing career:

1. Personal Computer / Laptop (with a high-speed Internet connection)

This is where the magic runs, rests, revolves, and rolls. From conceptualizing to editing, the computer serves as the extension of the writer’s mind. It should be in good condition for a smooth flow of work, from its Random Access Memory to your bestfriend, the keyboard.

It would be ideal to have both of these so that you have a backup when one breaks down. However, a laptop is ideal for a writer who is always traveling and gets more inspiration when working outside the house.

Bonus Tip!

When using the computer, make sure that you are observing the proper typing posture. According to Dave Schafer, sitting correctly would allow one to work more efficiently.

2. Mobile phone

Some freelance writers have a phone for business transactions and another for personal use. Having a mobile phone will for work will allow you to stay in touch with a client or check work even if you are running some errands or during a vacation when you choose to not bring any other gadget. You may also use this for calling your prospects or clients for better communication on the road.

3. USB flash drive

Having extra storage for your work is ideal because computers may crash or acquire virus. Make sure that your USB is kept in a safe and dry place. It is also useful when you attend writing conventions and the event allows the participants to save the presentations and documents in their flash drives.

4. A printer/scanner/photocopier/fax machine set-up

This is optional. But for those whose works have to be printed as hard copies and those with clients who they see in person, this set-up is a must. This will help you save time and makes you more efficient.

5. Microsoft Office for your computer

George Sheldon, author of the book Start Your Own Freelance Writing Business and More, Microsoft Office remains to be the predominate software in use in the business world. It has a word processor (Word), the program widely used by writers, a spreadsheet (Excel), a presentation program (PowerPoint), and an email/contact manager/calendar (Outlook). It also has a database program (Access) and a desktop publishing program (Publisher), which is also helpful for writers.

Most companies are looking for writers who are skilled in using Office programs. For those who want to learn more on how to use Microsoft Office, especially Word, here are links to some tutorials.

6. Open Office

In an article, Gregory Ciotti, SEO consultant and founder of the Sparring Mind, explains that OpenOffice is “a fully featured writing platform that allows easy exporting to PDF, making it perfect for e-Books, guides, pamphlets, and other necessary documents to be easily shared on the PDF format. It comes fully featured with a similar selection of fonts and other tools (charts, formatting, etc.) that Microsoft Office has, all while being.”

A PC World review notes that writers can do the following with Open Office: document templates, frames, mail merge, a style manager, and section-based headers and footers. It also features a sidebar docking feature that allows you to see and access all controls easily. According to the review, “the layout and design options are flexible, but not quite at the level of Word 2007. For example, if you select a ‘banded’ table style, and insert or delete rows, the banding does not automatically adjust; you must select the table and re-apply the style.”

7. ZenWriter

This writing tool has no editing capabilities but you can send your work to Word or WordPress for the revision. It has adjustable fonts and is said to be ideal for longer writing projects. In a post by Windows.AppStorm, ZenWriter is built for distraction-free writing:

ZenWriter hides the other programs on your computer to remove the distractions and temptations that could get between you and your writing. The idea is nothing more than out of sight and out of mind. Your other programs are still there and you can always tab to another program or minimize ZenWriter as you would with any other Windows application. ZenWriter doesn’t force you to ignore other items on your computer, it simply makes it easier to do so.

By default, when you type each keystroke provides a sound similar to a electric typewriter. For those without the nostalgia of typing out long documents on one, or like me have rather negative memories of editing before word processing, you can change the sound effect to water drops or turn the typing sound off under the Typing Sounds menu.

8. Byword (MAC)

This program is often compared to ZenWriter. Byword is commended for being straight to the point because only the word and character counts are visible. In a review, one of its highlighted strength is the built-in Markdown preview. “A quick ctrl + opt + plaunches it, rendering Markdown for quick easy viewing. From the preview the contents can be copied as HTML to the clipboard, or exported to an HTML file.” Another strong point mentioned about this program is its ability to sync with either Dropbox or iCloud.

9. Dropbox

Used for storing, backing up, and archiving files and documents, Dropbox can be a venue for sharing files for writers. This will be useful because it can also produce an offline copy on your computer “so that even if you are traveling or somewhere without Internet access, you will still be able to work on your documents.”

Richard Smith, founder and managing director of IT and cloud solutions company Tegen LTD, in an article, stresses the benefits of using Dropbox:

  • Dropbox is always available. No matter what device used, it is always accessible and users can always get into their account from anywhere.
  • It is easy to use in terms of navigation and ease. Sharing files with groups is a good feature adopted by Dropbox.
  • File synchronisation is very easy, after the document has been uploaded.
  • Dropbox provides many applications that could be considered, useful. They are also accessible on any device.
  • Dropbox shows all the history of your files. However, please note that you are unable to restore most deleted folders and files.

10. iCloud

This service allows a freelance writer to access all files and programs without any computer or flash drive. One of its features that can be helpful to freelance writers is the set up for Mail, Contacts, Calendars, Notes and Reminders. Brandon Widder of Digital Trends explained that for those with iOS-compatible devices, they can enable Mail, Contacts, Calendars, Notes, and Reminders by accessing the main iCloud options within the settings panel and toggling on the various services. “Mac users will want to access the various iCloud services within the System Preferences panel and select the checkbox directly left of the various services, while PC users merely need to select the checkbox directly left of Mail, Contacts, Calendars, and Tasks within in the iCloud Control Panel. Additional options specific to each service are available within each app’s respective settings panel.”

Meanwhile, Kevin Smith, in his article on Business Insider, shares the following tips when using iCloud:

  1. Make iCloud like Dropbox. To make your iCloud more like Dropbox, first make sure Documents & Data is turned on in iCloud System Preferences. Next, open the Finder window and hit Command + Shift + GA dialogue box will open and inside. Type ~/Library. This will let you into your hidden Library Folder.
  2. Take advantage of the documents in the cloud. You need to check Documents & Data in the iCloud sync settings as this will allow features, such as text documents, presentations, and drawings, to be uploaded to iCloud.
  3. Use Reading Lists to sync articles you downloaded from the web to all your devices.
  4. Photo Stream is used for automatically syncing the photos you take to other devices. “If you take a photo with your iPhone or iPad, it’ll automatically show up in iPhoto on your Mac. There’s no need to sync by plugging your device into your Mac.”

11. Skype

This program is simply like a telephone with a video feature online. The best thing about this is it is free and easy to use. This is the cheapest way to get in touch with your international clients. You can hold meetings, discussion of writing assignments or even interviews.

12. Plagiarism checkers

Nowadays, with vast information available online, it is difficult to detect articles with stolen ideas and sentences. Sometimes, plagiarism can be accidental too. According to the Harvard College Writing Program, plagiarism means drawing “any idea or any language from someone else without adequately crediting that source in your paper.” To make sure your work is of quality, you can use different plagiarism checkers online:

  1. Plagiarism Checker
  2. Plagiarism Detect
  3. Turnitin
  4. Copyscape

A decent overview of plagiarism checkers is also available on grammarcheck.net.

13. MindMeister

When you are working or collaborating with another writer or a bunch of editors, artists or designers, Mindmeister is highly recommended as a mind mapping application. According to Oregon State University, mindmapping is a visual display of concepts. It starts with a main concept, illustrated by a word or image, that will produce new yet associated concepts and ideas. In an article, Sam Mauzy of digital marketing agency QuickSprout explains that Mindmeister allows users to create an unlimited number of folders and mind maps, share mind maps directly from their mobile device, and perform functions such as zoom in and out, pan, drag and drop. Elements like themes, styles, colors and icons can also be added to the mind maps to make them “visually interesting and stimulating.”

14. Dictionary apps

We, writers, are crazy about words, their meanings, their functions, even in the way they sound. Dictionaries are part of our everyday routine. The following are dictionary apps you can download and use:

15. Echosign

This electronic signature solution basically functions for contract signing. Business analyst and freelance writer, Willy Kelly, in his review, shared that with a free account, he managed to get the following:

  • Secure document archive of my last 5 signed documents
  • e-Signatures offering a cursive signature
  • Fax back signature enabling recipients to fax back their signature to an EchoSign fax number
  • Adobe Reader integration and I see this integration as where electronic signatures will get the most play
  • Biometric handwritten signature written with a stylus or mouse
  • Mobile sign enabling signatures using a mobile app like the EchoSign app for the iPad and iPhone
  • Web Identity enabling signing with LinkedIn, Facebook, or Google account credentials. This method seems good in principle but not sure I could see some more security conscious organizations accepting of this option.
  • Multiple signers per document

Pricing / Subscription Options

  • Free: Free (1 user)
  • Pro: $14.95 / month (1 user)
  • Team: $40-180 / month (2-9 users)
  • Enterprise: $299 / month (10 users)
  • Global: starts at $399 / month (10 users)

16. Google Apps 

Ciotti stresses that Google Apps are a must for every freelancer. They are efficient and easy-to-navigate apps, from messaging to task functions, such as Gmail, Google Talk, Google Calendar, Google Docs, and Google sites.

17.  Practical Spreadsheets 

This site has practically everything you need to organize your home and business finances. As a freelance writer, you are now in charge of everything, from healthcare to taxes, from home necessities to bills, so it is ideal that you organize your budget and business resources before you give your rates and sign a deal. The website offers printable sheets for all uses, such as business forms, financial statements, home organization, loans and calculators, and even diet and fitness calculators.

18. Hootsuite 

Acting as the nest of all your online networks, Hootsuite is helpful to writers who need to promote their work or their output for their clients on social media. This program can help you organize your posts and people you connect with. A review from eFrog Press shows that Hootsuite is commendable because of the following:

  • Hootlet plugin
  • Shrinks your links
  • Easy editing box
  • Can RT with comments
  • Also can control Google+, LinkedIn, Facebook and more

19. MailChimp

You need an email marketing system as a writer. This will help you share your published works directly to your readers. If you have a personal blog or website, this is a great way to keep your audience growing. It is also possible that you might receive a task to write articles as emails. Mailchimp has tools for building and distributing campaigns and autoresponders that makes it easy to use.

20. WordPress

If you will be creating your portfolio or personal blog to showcase your work, services, and testimonials, WordPress is the ideal venue. According to Designedtoconnect.com, using Wordpress is advantageous because of the following:

1. Easy to operate.  You can make changes to the website yourself without having to know any HTML coding.  Adding pages, blog posts, products, images and editing current content is easy on WordPress.

2. Cheaper to build.  WordPress offers a huge variety of themes which can be used to build the website.  When you begin with a theme, you cut down significantly on the amount of time it takes to build a website.

3. The highest number of developers creating themes and plugins for it.  WordPress offers more paid and unpaid themes and plugins than any other Content Management Systems.

4. Search Engine Optimization is made simple. WordPress offers several great search engine optimization tools that make doing your own on-site SEO simple.