After spending about a year and a half blogging specifically about everything that keeps writers from actually meeting their goals, I’ve come to the conclusion that the number-one roadblock seems to be distractions. We’re too worried about formatting or spelling mistakes. We intend to look something up online and end up on Pinterest instead of writing. We spend hours researching the best programs to write our next novel on, instead of actually writing even a sentence of that novel.
In my own writing, I have personally found only one writing app that does not distract me, is free and didn’t take me minutes to figure out. One day I opened up a blank Google Doc on my computer, started typing, and that was that.
Here’s why Google Docs have worked so well for me, and how they might benefit your writing as well.
It’s easy to use, and it’s free
Though everyone is different, I’m not the kind of writer who spends time worrying about which app or program is the best for getting my writing done. I have Microsoft Word still installed on my computer because it was a requirement for my undergraduate studies. It works, but I don’t ever plan on upgrading. I want something easy to use, and I want something free. When I’m not overly concerned about formatting, I turn to Google Drive for something simple and free. All you need to access Google Drive and any of its many features, including Google Docs, is a Google account. You don’t have to type in any fancy functions or mess around with settings: everything is right there in front of you. Its menu is straightforward. Very rarely do I have to dig deep to find a feature I’m hoping exists. Did I mention it doesn’t cost anything? I’m a graduate student living with my parents somehow making a little money writing stuff. Free is my favorite word. I’m guessing it’s yours, too.
Use the app on any device wherever you are
When I used to take the train into Chicago five days a week for work, I would carry my phone and tablet with me in case I wanted to get some writing done on my way into the city or on my lunch break. What I love about this feature is that I can work within a document on my app (as long as I have wifi, which is why it’s on my phone too), close it out, pull up the same document on my computer when I get home, and all my work is right there. I remember always having to carry my flash drive around with me if I wanted to work on a certain document. Do you know how many flash drives I’ve lost or left stuck in computers in random places in my lifetime? You never have to worry about losing your work.
Hide your spelling errors
I know I’m not the only writer who cringes when a word processing program nags me about my typos and grammatical shortcomings. Distractions of any kind have to go, if possible, when you’re trying to write a bunch of words in one sitting. It took me several minutes to figure out how to turn off this feature in my 2008 version of Microsoft Word, but less than 30 seconds to do the same in Google Docs. Say goodbye to those distracting squiggly red lines, especially if you’re a chronic self-editor who can’t continue writing if there is a visible error in the previous sentence. Google Docs has a “show spelling suggestions” feature in the top menu bar which can be turned on or off with two simple clicks.
Search Google without leaving your document
I knew this was a built-in feature but have never actually used it until writing up this post. Google Docs has a research tool which, when clicked on, pretty much opens up a Google search window on the side of your work space. It automatically pulls keywords from what you have already written to make searching easier: for example, I have a random document open right now, an outline of a book I’m writing for a client, in which the characters go hiking. The first suggested search term on my research tab is “hiking.” You can also use it like you would normally use Google, and type into a search bar whatever you want to look up. If you click on a link, the site will open automatically for you in a separate tab.
Look up words you don’t know, or synonyms to replace overused words
This feature has helped me out a lot as an editor, both in reviewing others’ work as well as my own. Some writers I edit for are overseas, meaning they sometimes use words in English I don’t know the exact definition of off the top of my head. Google Docs also has a built-in “define” tool, basically an online dictionary in a window that opens up off to the side of your document. These definitions also provide synonyms for the word you’ve selected or typed in, meaning you can change up your word usage a little bit by switching out one overused adjective with a more colorful one.
File sharing, as an editor, makes everything easier
The one thing I don’t particularly enjoy about editing is the amount of Word document attachments that still show up in my inbox every week. I get a lot of emails; emails, even for someone as organized as me, get buried. When someone shares a Google Doc with me, though, it automatically pops up in my “Shared with Me” tab in Google Drive. I can let it sit there until I can get to it or dump it into a folder I keep for documents that need editing. If you work with an editor, they likely feel the same way. In my opinion, emails are great for communication, but very inefficient for file sharing. Especially if I then need to suggest edits and make comments on a document. You can open up a chat window right in the document to have a live discussion about edits, one on one or with multiple people, if you need to.
Is there anything Google Docs can’t do?
Well, yes. Again from an editorial perspective, something Google Sheets has that Google Docs doesn’t is a feature that sends you a notification whenever a document is updated. As a writer working on your own projects, though, this isn’t typically something bothersome. Obviously it can’t necessarily let you format your pages into specific parameters like you would when editing a draft you wish to turn into a book, but as I always say, writing needs to come before worrying about those kinds of details anyway. Off the top of my head, I don’t know how you can do this without Word, but if you do, feel free to leave your suggestions in the comments for those interested in learning more.
Other useful features
- Plenty of add-on features to choose from, like a bibliography creator or more in-depth editing tools
- Voice typing, in case you want to have a robot do the typing for you (sort of)
- Word count tracking (hidden in a menu, so you aren’t constantly glancing down at how many words you’ve written as you work)
- And pretty much anything else basic you would find in programs like MS Word, but for free
Quit searching for the perfect writing app. Stop falling into the trap of convincing yourself you need to open up a new tab to do ‘research’ when really you just want to check Facebook. The best thing you can do for yourself, if you’re struggling to get more writing done, is to sit down and write. Google Docs has helped me write over 200 articles already this year and it’s what I plan on using this November during NaNoWriMo. It’s simple, it works, and it’s free. What more could an overwhelmed writer’s brain ask for?
As always, though, if you use a different program, tell me what you love about it. Why do you think spending money on a writing program is or isn’t worth it? I’m curious to hear your opinions.
This post was written as part of the Problogger: 7 Days to Getting Back Your Blogging Groove challenge. If you have been struggling to write the engaging, well-thought-out posts your blog is known for, or have abandoned your blog completely but are ready to get back into posting more regularly, consider joining the challenge today.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.