7 Digital Tools for Writing

Even though I’m a tech teacher by profession and a geek by desire, my default approach to writing is pen-and-paper. It’s got to do with grabbing a wrinkled piece of paper and jotting a note that I woke up thinking about or shuffled through my brain on a long commute. Something about pen scratching on paper or the even flow of the letters beneath my hand helps me think. But, by the time I’m ready to unravel whatever hijacked my attention, I’ve either forgotten what I meant or lost the note.

For the new year, I’m improving my productivity by going paperless. Before beginning any writerly activity, I’ll take a moment to decide if there’s a digital solution that not only saves me time, but adds less trash to our throw-away society. Here are seven ideas I’ve come up with:


Use one of the many digital note-takers that live as apps on my phone and iPad. It can be as simple as iPhone’s expanded Notes or as varied as the integration of text, images, photos, and videos in Notability.

Digital annotator

Instead of printing out agendas and rosters, I’ll load them onto my phone or iPad and digitally annotate them with the basic simplicity of Adobe Acrobat (free) or the fully-featured approach of iAnnotate (fee).This includes conference schedules and submittals at my critique group.

digital writing toolsBrainstorming

There are so many great tools that make brainstorming with colleagues simple. And, if you’re planning your next story, brainstorming is a great way to get the basics down before fleshing out the plot. Start with the title in the center bubble of the canvas, add characters, setting, and plot. Put the details in as you figure them out and drag-drop them to their right place. You can do it as a timeline or a mindmap. Many brainstorming tools are infinite screens so you can pinch-and-drag to put as much information as you’d like on a canvas.

If you click the links for ‘timeline’ and ‘mindmap’, they take you to a list of popular, mostly-free options for either tool.

White Board

If you like to draw out your thoughts, any of the free or fee digital white boards are perfect. Draw out your ideas, add colors and text, with maybe a lined paper or grid background. Most are simple, uncluttered, and focus on getting your ideas on paper without the confusion of nested tools A few are collaborative and most can be shared with others. AWW is a simple, functional start, but there are lots more options here.

Voice notes

This is one of my favorites because it lets you continue whatever else you’re doing while saving that elusive, brilliant idea. One of my favorites is iTalk–a big red button on your screen that shouts ‘Print to Record’. There are other great options for phones here.

digital writing toolsMapping

There are a wide variety of mapping tools that let you track your characters and setting geographically around the planet. Google Earth is my long-time favorite, but Google Maps and Waze are just as good. These have become critical to my plotting and scene development, preventing me from putting a bistro or bus stop in the middle of the Hudson River.

Word processing

A digital writing list wouldn’t be complete without adding the tool that turns data into a story. Word processors include MS Word, Google Docs (not great for long manuscripts or highly-visual non-fiction), and fancier tools like Scrivener. All of these make it easy to edit your words, move parts around, and back-up your manuscript so you don’t lose it if the house floods.

These are seven that come to mind as I consider how my writing couldn’t happen without digital tools. How about you? What do you use that wasn’t around when your mom was writing her stories?

More on digital writing:

6 Tips That Solve Half Your Tech Writing Problems

10 Digital Tricks to Add Zip to Your Roadtrip

How to Write a Novel with 140 Characters

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer,  a columnist for TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her book at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning.


10 thoughts on “7 Digital Tools for Writing

  1. Microsoft’s OneNote is a tool that I think does not get enough mentions…it’s for note taking and such, but it is so much more. I use it for notes/ideas, of course, but also for categorizing daily thoughts, poetry, story chapters, etc. It lacks the more powerful features of MS Word in terms of formatting, perhaps, but that’s really not its purpose.

    Also, it is basically seamlessly integrated with OneDrive. As a result, I can edit using OneNote on my computer or on my Windows phone and it’s essentially the same experience (and same data) either way. I believe they’ve released a version for iOS and Android now, too, though I have no experience with those platforms.

    Since I have my whole family on Windows phones/Windows computers, we all have a shared set of OneNote documents that we use to update grocery shopping lists, to-do lists, meal planning, vacation planning, Christmas lists, etc. My daughter uses it for school work (even though they require Google docs, she does it all on her phone in Word and OneNote, then transfers to Google at home when she is on the computer, since Google limits its functionality for Windows phones).

    In my opinion, OneNote is worth a look, at least.

  2. Great suggestions. The only digital tools I really use is MSword and a Firefox browser to do my research. Even thought I am a high tech guy at work, I tend to be a bit of a Luddite at home. Yes, I should do more fancy tools, but I just don’t.

  3. I do nearly all my writing on computer MS Word and at this time don’t feel the need to add more digital devices. Some of the ideas you’ve listed, like note taking and brainstorming, can be accessed with a new Word Doc instead of an app just for that feature. But for some people, these tools would be great additions.

    • You are right. And for many, that’s easier (sticking with one program). That’s why I think so many like Scrivener.

      • Scrivener is one tool I have not given enough time to. I open it up, look at it blankly, and then close it and go back to the trusty ol’ MS Word doc. I hear it’s great, but I haven’t figured it out yet.

        • I heard a horror story about it from another blogger just this past week. It had a happy ending, but it definitely scared me off of using the program.

          • Often those “horror stories” are ultimately user error. Clearly, software is software and therefore bugs happen, some of them horrible and all of them at the worst time possible. But quite often we end users are the biggest issue, you know? Note: I write software for a living so I’m casting stones with the knowledge that I’m kind of part of the problem from both sides.

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