As a freelancer, I’m thankful for my supportive family, my unbelievably adorable two year-old daughter, a roster of very cool clients, and continued good health.
Yet, like any writer with a tech fetish, I’m thankful for a few other things – including the tools that help me write (and communicate and function) in the online age.
In the spirit of a Writer’s Thanksgiving, I present The Top Five Writer’s Tools I’m Most Thankful For:
This blogging-software-turning-small-biz-CMS is at the heart of my emerging consulting business; it quickly (and affordably) becomes the online marketing hub my small biz and nonprofit clients need.
WordPress also runs my top fly fishing blog, this writing blog, and several other sites (including my almost-ready marketing site).
In fact, choose the right web host, and you can deploy a powerful CMS site in literally minutes – one that almost any client can update, and costs as much to maintain as your average doorstop.
I know RSS feeds never really caught on with the web masses, but Google Reader allows me to stay on top of more than 400 RSS-enabled sites without carving away most of my morning.
Occasionally I’m forced to cut away the RSS deadwood, but if I limit myself to the truly thought-provoking “big think” blogs and those offering useful advice (sans an untrustworthy profit motive), Google Reader can translate 15 minutes of my morning into straight-to-my-brain, thought-provoking goodness.
You almost certainly haven’t heard of this great little tool (it just went beta, and hasn’t generated much buzz yet), but it’s a Firefox browser add-on that lets me save all those tabs cluttering my Firefox browser into groups – which I can organize and recall as a group, or one at a time.
For any kind of research, TabCorral is too handy to live without; In literally three clicks, I can add tabs to Corrals (groups of web pages) I’ve got Corrals for WordPress themes, handy writing and marketing resources, client research (including my clients’ competitors) and so on.
TabCorral remains a little rough around the edges (it’s still in early beta), but it’s so useful I could care less. According to the developers, a Chrome version is coming soon (the “Pro” version will sync your Corrals across multiple computers).
(Full disclosure: I liked TabCorral enough that I’ll be writing some paid blog posts for them. Even if I wasn’t a vendor, TabCorral would still make this list.)
A web-based social media client, HootSuite.com offers one-stop access to my twitter feeds, and – more importantly – those of a handful of clients.
It even offers access to Facebook pages, so you can update a whole truckload of social media from one screen – even as you also monitor feeds, keyword searches and other goodies.
Organizations will find it useful as it greatly simplifies multi-author access to social media streams. I wish it accessed ident.ca accounts, but at the low, low price point of “Free” (Pro version costs $5.99/month), it’s hard to complain too much.
Surprise! The Ubuntu Linux operating system offered me a welcome escape from the clutches of Windows Vista (the OS that was such a turkey it should have fed my family instead of clogging my hard drive).
Long dismissed as being for techies only, twice-a-year upgrades have rendered Ubuntu Linux as friendly as a stuffed animal, and not much harder to use.
Fast, streamlined and created for adults who don’t need nannying, the various forms of Linux let you simply get things done – but also provide a gateway to the engine room should you want to get your hands dirty.
Want a fast, lightweight version for an older PC? A “studio” version for multimedia creation? One oriented towards educational use? All are available (and all are free).
Linux computers don’t slow down over time (unlike Windows), are rarely targeted by viruses, and yes – because they’re open source – they’re largely free.
I haven’t booted the Windows partitions on my laptops in months (my desktop machine doesn’t even have a Windows partition).
With software concerns growing more trivial every day (courtesy open source apps, cross-platform apps, web apps & the cloud), your average writer pays little penalty if Linux pops up on their screen in the morning – yet the speed and streamlined interface pay dividends.
Fast, Powerful Text Editors
Given the realities of today’s online writer – who is likely creating the vast majority of their text for use on the web – I’ve largely blown off the piece-of-paper-oriented word processors in favor of programmer’s text editors, which are very fast, highly configurable and hugely productive.
Because programmers spend more time typing than most writers – and face much tougher file management issues – it’s hardly surprising programmer’s editors feature productivity on the hoof (like abbreviations, snippets, macros, split screens, file comparisons, version cotnrol, ftp and other toys).
They lack formatting controls (akin to the new crop of clean-screen editors), so you’re freed from formatting distractions, though for the same reason, you wouldn’t create a proposal in one.
The Real Problem with programmer’s editors? They assume you’re a programmer too; some implement word count and spellcheckers as an afterthought, and while you can make them do almost anything, it’s not always easy.
Komodo Edit has come the closest so far, though I’m experimenting with the bizarrely powerful Emacs editor (gVIM, Emacs and Komodo Edit are all available free on PC, Mac & Linux platforms).
Until then, I’m happy – and more productive – using a text editor instead of a word processor for online writing.
Happy Thanksgiving to all the Undergrounders.
Keep writing, Tom Chandler.