Top Tools I Use For Freelance Writing
A freelance writer’s list of the most necessary tools for copywriting/ghostwriting
Professional copywriters, and freelance writers in general, have many opinions about the “best” tools to use for writing. Some swear by Word, others can’t live without Grammarly, others will never manage to write anything without checking the thesaurus every phrase (I’ve been there…).
No matter your niche, what you write the most about, every freelance writer has to use some tools to help in writing better, edit more quickly and keep track of the work to do. It’s far from a simple choice, with so many options available, most freely. Which is why I thought of writing about my top tools I use for freelance writing.
Small preamble: this is my list, of course. I’m quite minimalist in my work, only adding a new tool or process if I feel like I can’t work anymore without it or it is a huge time-saver. Otherwise, I prefer to stick with what I have already. End of the preamble.
A word processor
Yeah, that thing you actually write with. A step above the actual hardware you’re using for your job, a word processor doesn’t have to be super-complex. I used to write brief texts and quick blog posts with the vetust ViM, which is super-featureful and complicated for the simpler tasks. But I was using it for coding and was used to it anyway, so I simply kept it for content writing too.
Nowadays I mostly use LibreOffice’s word processor. It does everything I need to do and can output content in pdf or doc format, the two most popular ones. I don’t see any need to spend money in purchasing a license for Microsoft Word. LibreOffice is perfectly fine for content writing tasks. If I ever needed to branch out into actual book/ebook designing, I’d go with Adobe InDesign.
Sometimes I switch to Google Docs for shorter articles or if I need to edit something on mobile. I sync my LibreOffice documents with Google Drive anyway, for reasons I’ll explain later.
No freelance writer can know all the words in a language, and I’m clearly no exception. A good dictionary is needed and luckily there are plenty which are free and online. I nearly always use The Free Dictionary for a specific reason: it integrates with my search engine of choice, DuckDuckGo. Typing
!define word will automatically look up that word for me. Easy, accessible everywhere.
I much like to avoid big, monopolistic, companies as much as possible. Like Google. DuckDuckGo works fine. End of the excursus.
A more comprehensive alternative is OneLook. It not only gives you the definition of a word but also links you up with different dictionaries, some of them more specific (like the medicine or computing ones). It is a great way to explore and compare the various definitions of the same word in more than a single dictionary.
As I’m Italian, I write content in my language too. Same as for English, I use the DuckDuckGo integration with a very good dictionary, the De Mauro by typing
!demauro word. For Spanish I always found SpanishDict perfect for my needs (use
!spanishdict word in DuckDuckGo).
A note-taking app / pen and paper
As a freelance writer, you need to take LOTS of notes. Interviewing means taking notes of their answers; researching for a new article or a white paper means outlining and marking points you need to make; talking with clients means having to write down their objectives, requirements and hopes for their business.
Things like that. Plenty of content writers use apps for this, and for a while I did too. Google Keep or Dropbox Paper or Notion or Evernote are probably the most popular right now (2020), but as a fan of fountain pens and minimalism you may already have guessed I simply have pen and paper with me all the time.
I use a simple planner and a notebook. In the planner I note just the deadlines and any event that it’s time-related. In the notebook goes everything else. My to-do list is also in this notebook, which regularly gets filled and substituted with another one once it starts to look messy.
Some freelance writers go crazy with sticky notes, bookmarks, carefully designing each page of their notebooks and using pastels even, but I keep it minimalistic with just my faithful fountain pen and plenty of bulleted point lists. To each his own, I guess.
A grammar checker
The spell checker in your editor is fine for blatant mistakes but can’t manage to catch repeated words, call you out on hard to read content, alternative adverbs and all the plethora of grammar and style improvements that you will need to check before submitting your content to the client.
And if you think you can submit it without checking, no you don’t.
Grammarly comes to mind here, and it’s fine. I’d be wary of using their browser extension as it can leak everything you wrote. I bet other similar services have the same issue, though.
Nowadays I prefer ProWritingAid. It is free, with limited but satisfactory in number and quality features. The premium version integrates with a lot of browsers and word processors (yes, also LibreOffice). You can use their Google Docs addon, free, to avoid having to purchase the premium version. I find it not a big deal to write with your favourite word processor, locally, and then upload the first draft in Google Docs, to pass it through ProWritingAid. That’s the main reason I sync my local writings to Google Docs, the second one being having a backup copy online.
Running your content under the investigatory lens of one or more grammar checkers is vital to catch all the slips, finding all the mistakes you will inevitably miss. Plus, the readability and style checks are invaluable in knowing what type of content you’re writing and if it aligns with the requirements of your current client.
Are you using the same word over and over again? Have you used a specific adjective already 5 times in a short article? Writing “very” for the 19th times in an article makes you cringe?
A good thesaurus is an unbelievably indispensable tool to have for freelance writing. For English, Thesaurus.com is awesome and, again, easily reachable with DuckDuckGo with
!synonym word. I never felt the need to use another, it gives me plenty of alternative words.
Besides, your grammar check of choice may integrate one too. ProWritingAid surely does.
A graphic editor
Those with graphic design skills will probably raise their heads now and scream “Photoshop!”. Fine, I will not complain against the choice.
I have barely any graphic skills and as a freelance content writer I need only to occasionally design banners, backgrounds and such. For my meagre needs, and for freelance writing in general, a simpler graphic editor is more than aplenty.
For resizing, cutting and reducing the sizes of images for my content, I either have a couple of self-made scripts or quickly load up Gimp. I know, Photoshop is better but for resizing an image any editor will do. Gimp is free, btw. It doesn’t need much to get accustomed to the UI if your only needs are resizing, cutting and changing a few colours here and there. I see no reason to splurge for a Photoshop license if you are going to use it for these tasks only.
In case of slightly harder graphic tasks, Canva is a godsend. It comes with enough templates that you can work with it for years without having to reuse one and makes creating simple graphic projects as easy as it gets. The pro version allows you to use more images, vectors and templates, and it’s totally worth it if you are going to do more than the occasional graphic job.
Regardless of how much you write and what your content is, you got to get paid for it. If you’re mostly hanging on content mills like Upwork and Fiverr, you are already covered by their systems.
But once you go into the unchartered waters of getting new clients on your own, you need a specialised invoicing software to generate the invoices yourself (and therefore signal to the client that you will eventually have to get paid).
I’ve used Wave in the past until they dropped support for European accounts. It worked well though, I have nothing bad to say about the product itself but I’d question their handling of private data given that they “couldn’t” keep working with the more strict EU rules about privacy.
Nowadays I’m using Zoho Invoices and it has enough to get you started and working as a freelancer. Invoices are easy to customize, with half a dozen templates to choose from. It doesn’t require you to pay at the beginning, with an ok free plan that will be enough for your needs when you’re starting. You can always upgrade it later, as your client’s list grows (hopefully!).
I know that most will think of Google Calendar as their go-to planner/calendar. I do use it, occasionally, but more for events, like interviews, things that happen in real life that I can’t miss and so on. Not so much for digital events or as a reminder for my work.
I had been using a few different Todo apps for a while too, but somehow none of them had all the features I needed, or worked in ways that were counterintuitive to me. The only one I loved was Taskwarrior, which was born as a CLI little app for Linux and morphed into a whole server/client software. Powerful and extremely flexible. But it’s not very mobile-friendly, and requires a server to sync tasks between devices. A superb app if you want your to-do list on your computer only though.
Main problem with any of these apps is, I need something always with me, always available and easy, very easy to edit. Surprisingly, or perhaps not, a classic paper planner works best for this. It’s always ready to use, doesn’t use any electricity, I can use my lovely fountain pen to edit it and can fit into most anything. I just make sure that the planner has enough space every day, at least during the week, to write every activity I need to accomplish.
I love above all that it’s trivial to change plans: strike down the entry and rewrite it. Or only change the hours. Or move it on another day. Whatever needs to be done. You create your rules.
A paper planner may seem outdated, but it is rightly into my top tools I use for freelance writing. Along with my notebook for general notes, it’s always nearby on my desk.
As said before, a freelance content writer rarely needs to edit or design graphic stuff. A very simple graphic editor, even just Canva, can suffice.
But to write on your own blog, or to accommodate the request of the occasional client, a place to get photos is necessary. You can try to use your own pictures, especially if you dabble in photography, sure, but it’s impossible to take pictures of anything you’re writing about yourself.
A source of free stock photos is needed for freelance copywriting. Maybe less so for freelance ghostwriting, but still useful to have it. It did happen that clients asked to provide pictures even when I was ghostwriting for them.
For my needs, I use only two websites:
For more difficult requests, or images that have to show something more specific, where a random stock photo won’t do, Google Images has a Creative Commons switch to filter out images that are copyrighted. Creative Commons aren’t exactly free to use, do make sure you check their requirements before you use them in your projects. A large part of them can be used with just an attribution to the copyright owner. Basically, a name and/or link. Nothing that is going to disrupt your workflow.
What are your top tools?
As you have noticed by now, I’m quite minimalistic in what I use. Nearly everything is free or has generous free use tiers. I do believe that the less clutter we have in our lives, the better we can think and create. Which is vital for a good freelancer writer. I tend to choose carefully and stick with my choices for a long time. Years. Unless I find a feature missing or the UI changes to a point I can’t do my work as well as before, I don’t look for alternatives to the top tools I use for my freelancing work.
Therefore, I’m quite interested in knowing what you use instead. Let me know in the comments what you found better for yourself or better than what I use.
And of course if you have any questions about any of my top tools I use for freelance writing, feel free to ask away!