3 Helpful Writing Tools That Won Over Reluctant FreelancersBy Stacey Freed March 16th, 2021
Knowing when to use “your” vs. “you’re” is a core part of a freelance writer’s job description—and for some, even part of their identity. So it’s understandable when writers get miffed that a machine thinks it can do a better job.
Reluctance to adopt automated writing tools is about more than just ego, though. There’s often a mental hurdle associated with learning new technology. But writers can’t do everything—find work, research, pitch, interview, write, rinse and repeat—on our own. And we shouldn’t have to. There are some surprising tools out there that enable writers to be more creative, precise, and productive if we can get over the Lone Ranger attitude.
Here are three writing tools that won over skeptical freelancers and changed their work for the better.
Grammarly: For a second pair of eyes
At first, Ann Handley, an accomplished author and the chief content officer of MarketingProfs, was skeptical of the browser extension Grammarly. The digital writing assistant provides grammar suggestions based on artificial intelligence and natural language processing. “I work with a human editor who looks at everything. Why would I need this?” Handley asked herself.
But now, Handley’s changed her tune. Grammarly often helps identify problems before her editor does—and that interim step actually speeds up the editing process. “As much as I will read and reread and move things around and get persnickety with my writing, it’s nice to have someone looking over my shoulder,” she said.
You can have Grammarly check your writing on Facebook, Gmail, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other sites, as well as on your computer and other devices. You can customize it, and it’s pretty easy to learn.
Grammarly works best if you’re already paying attention to your grammar. While it might not catch context-specific nuances, it does a good job of identifying straightforward snafus like redundant language, ambiguous modifiers, run-on sentences, inappropriate punctuation, and more. For some, there’s also a fun element to facing off against a machine. As a writing pro, Handley told me she enjoys going against Grammarly’s suggestions on occasion.
“If it tells me I spelled something wrong, but I did it for effect, it gives me pleasure to reject Grammarly outright,” Handley said. “The luxury is that I know the rule and I can reject it.”
Cost: There’s a free version of Grammarly, but like anything else, you get what you pay for. The premium version for individuals starts at $11.66 a month.
Scrivener: For weaving together writing materials
Folders with PDFs. Random audio files. Sixteen documents’ worth of drafts. When writers are piecing together longer articles, books, or scripts, there can be hundreds of puzzle pieces involved. Scrivener helps organize everything.
Once Stephani Sutherland, a science journalist, realized she was drowning in bits and pieces as she tried to create a book proposal in late 2019, she knew something needed to change. Around the same time, she heard other freelancers talking about Scrivener and decided to try it. Even though she was initially reluctant to try out a new technology, now she’s hooked. “I’m glad I made the investment,” she said. “I used it to write the book proposal and thought, ‘Oh my God, this is amazing.'”
While it was daunting to learn a new platform at first, Scrivener made it relatively intuitive with online tutorials. Once Sutherland got the hang of the software, her effort was rewarded. She was able to weave together documents and put all her files and notes in one place.
Scrivener offers a variety of templates. You can easily jump from section to section of a project, editing one chunk at a time or the entire thing as a whole. You can also pull elements apart and stitch them together any way you want. The tool lets you import research from other files, apps, PDFs, and web pages. There’s even a digital “corkboard” to help keep your thoughts straight.
“Looking back at the way I did things before seems crazy and incredibly clunky,” Sutherland said.
Cost: Download Scrivener for free for 30 days, then it’s $49 for use on a Mac or PC. There’s a discounted license for educators.
PerfectIt: For proofreading
Adrienne Montgomerie, a science editor, works mostly on instructional materials, technical reports, and collateral for professional training. In the past, she didn’t want to use automated writing tools for her work because she felt she couldn’t trust them. “[Algorithms are] often bad at understanding English phrasing or detecting homonyms and synonyms,” she said. “In my work, I get a lot of ‘right angels’ when it should be ‘right angles.'”
However, six years ago in a Facebook editors’ forum, Montgomerie discovered PerfectIt, a tool for checking consistency and adhering to style guides. The first project she used it for was a 300-page parenting manual for new mothers.
“’Breast feeding’ was spelled three different ways, with instances appearing hundreds of pages apart,” Montgomerie recalled. “PerfectIt found all the spelling variations and asked how I wanted it. It made me look like a hero with my clients.”
The platform also makes it possible for editors to share their customized style sheets in a community forum. Users can adjust preferences to reflect specific stylistic choices for punctuation, spelling, blacklisted phrases, and more. “I can share a style sheet with people in an organization and keep everyone on the same page,” Montgomerie said.
Montgomerie got the hang of the features after an hour-long tutorial. While she was able to use PerfectIt “right out of the box,” there was a little bit of a learning curve. She didn’t understand that the software only checks for consistency at first. “I had to learn how to set my preferences and create a style sheet,” she said. She admits that she still hasn’t learned all of the software’s intricacies, because it is “endlessly customizable.”
“It made me look like a hero with my clients.”
Still, writing tools like Scrivener have made it easier for Montgomerie to do her job. She runs PerfectIt on every file now. “I could live without it, but it would take me longer to do things, and they’d be of lower quality.”
Cost: After a two-week free trial, PerfectIt is $70 a year for up to 39 users. The platform can be used on a Mac or PC.Image by MicrovOne