It doesn’t matter whether you’re drafting a company-wide memo, struggling through a school assignment, or working on your first novel. Writing is never effortless. It takes work. If you’re here, you already know this. Luckily, there are a few hacks to improve the writing (or post-writing) process.
I have spent much of the past decade as a freelance writer. In doing so, I’ve had to come up with tricks and ways to use technology to assist me along the way. This includes things like learning how to better edit myself to finding who has shared my published work later on. Writing may not be easy, but it doesn’t need to be impossible either.
Did you know spellcheck was once a benchmark used to measure how speedy a computer could run? Its utility was groundbreaking. Now red lines grace every text box and computational overhead is a distant memory. Tech tools for writing abound. If you write in Google Docs, you know the assistance it can provide. Its grammar and spell checking can also burn you.
To avoid missing mistakes, don’t rely on a single writing tool. Instead, combine multiple ones to better edit yourself on a first or second pass. As good as Google Docs is at finding contradicting tenses or trending proper nouns, I’ve also seen it miss plenty of obvious errors.
Similarly, Grammarly is an amazing writing assistant that can have your back in web forms or nearly anywhere you find yourself typing.
Combining multiple tools helps narrow down the mistakes. It’s like putting your writing through different size strainers. This is time-consuming to do for every writing assignment, but may be worth it for the important ones.
Beyond Google Docs or Grammarly, Hemingway App is a neat resource that will grade a piece of text and point out passive voice, hard-to-read sentences, and other ways your writing could
be improved improve.
Editing your own writing is a superpower. Few people are born with the skill. But it’s also not manageable if a writer comes to a standstill every time an editor isn’t available. I try to get my wife to read my writing when I can, but often the timing isn’t practical. So a few years ago I started using text-to-speech tech to help me proofread and improve my own writing. Hearing the words out loud, in a different voice, is game changing.
There are plenty of ways to do this. The capability is native on iOS, macOS, and Windows. If you highlight a selection of text on an iPhone, one of the options to the right is “Speak.” It will start reading the selected text. On a Mac, the option lives under the menu item Edit, Speech. This feature is Narrator on Windows. To turn it on, go to Settings, Ease of Access, and then Narrator.
Beyond catching skipped words, I use text-to-speech to uncover lacking tension or informational holes. Hearing rather than seeing your writing is a great way to find what’s missing. Listening makes it easier to be more objective with your own work. Worst case, read your work aloud to yourself—fully aloud, not just skimming your draft. Hearing the sentences aloud will help you catch places where you inadvertently wrote a run-on sentence or where you could have used different words.
If you’re writing for publication somewhere, be sure to track your work after it goes up. Whether it’s a company blog post, marketing material, personal essay, fiction story, or reported journalism, seeing how it’s shared allows a writer to get a full picture of the impact of their words.
Tracking social impact can quickly lead you into a world of SEO and marketing tools. It’s probably better to avoid those unless that’s your field, or you’re responsible for those at your job. Instead, try Muckrack’s service to track URLs and see their influence among journalists, if that’s something that you want to keep track of. You can also use a service like CrowdTangle to see how your work is being shared on social media. Its functionality has varied over the years, but it offers insight into link sharing on Facebook. You can also try tools like Authory, which also tracks how your work is shared around the web and across social media, and collects it all in a shareable profile for you to back up.
Twitter is a more open book. Copy and paste a URL into Twitter’s search to see who is sharing links without mentioning you. Authors should do this with links to their Amazon pages, websites, Audible listings, and anywhere else their book appears. Chances are good that people are talking about your work but not mentioning you directly.
Search Google for links and article titles too. Do this to discover where your work is being mentioned without a link. Knowing this information will help authors and writers build proof of their impact. Agents and editors want to know a writer’s stories can move the needle, and this is one way to stay armed with data. This can also help freelancers find new publications they might be able to work with in the future. To save yourself some time, consider setting up a Google Alert for your name, your publication, or your book title, that way you don’t have to go to the results, they can come to you.
Also, a small tangent: If you’re sharing your own work, please don’t start with “I wrote about…” Social copy may be short, but it should still be compelling. Don’t undersell yourself with a generic social lede. You poured effort into a story you want to convince people to read, so get creative.
If you track your work, you should also document it. Take screenshots of your accomplishments to better show it off. While you and I will appreciate a portfolio of text listed out and bulleted, most people need visuals.
Take screenshots of when your story gets published on a well-known, notable website. Document when it showed in a trending list. Capture the things people are saying about your writing when they share it on a social network. This is especially important as websites get bought, acquired, absorbed into their competitors, or old articles wind up suddenly going offline. You don’t want to risk losing proof of your work forever because some company bought another company.
There are endless ways to take screenshots, but I use the Firefox web browser for this task. It can take a full page screenshot without any add-ons or extensions. I remove ads with a blocker and then take a full page screenshot and then crop it to show the part I want.
Once you’ve taken those screenshots, make them attractive. Tools like BrowserFrame or Screenly will spruce up raw desktop screenshots. There are mobile tools as well, like the Android app Screener or AppMockUp website. Add those screenshots to your portfolio. Years from now, you’ll be glad you took them.
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