The Best Writing Tools Won’t Make You a Better Writer

Don’t buy something because you think it’ll fix all your problems.

The most common question I used to see in Facebook writing groups was something along the lines of, “Which writing program do you use to write?”

Some asked this question out of pure curiosity. Nothing wrong with that.

But others seemed desperate to find the perfect app that would help them get their writing done. And part of me really struggled to understand what the big deal was.

I’m a Microsoft Word/Google Docs gal. They’re simple, user-friendly, and I don’t have to fuss over any fancy functions. I just open them and start writing.

A lot of people, I’m sure, just fret over these things while taking breaks. They’re not spending all their writing time shopping around for the latest gadgets to make them better writers.

But there are some beginners who are. Even if it’s only a small number of them.

That’s still a lot of people obsessing over software instead of actually writing.

And that worries me.

I love technology. It’s the only part of me that’s truly, stereotypically millennial. I’d go nuts if I had to sit in a room with a typewriter and nothing else around to play with.

Tools are great. Sometimes they can help us accomplish things we otherwise might not be able to.

But they’re just tools. They won’t turn you into the writer you’ve always wanted to be. Not by themselves.

Tools help you along the way. They might save some time, make a few small tasks easier — they might even be exactly what you need to get out of your rut and start writing regularly again.

But tools aren’t going to fix all your problems. They aren’t going to do the work for you.

Take activity trackers, for example. More than one study has shown many people do not lose weight after using technology to help them reach their goals. But that isn’t because these trackers aren’t helpful, or that some people can’t use them to their advantage. Too many people expect an activity tracker to do all the work for them, when in reality, they’re nothing more than accountability watches. If you want to lose weight, you have to do the work. You have to change what you eat and how you exercise. A watch cannot do that for you.

It’s the same thing with writing apps, or fancy word processing software. I understand why people want these things. It’s exciting, and in many instances, something new can actually prove helpful when you’re trying to get back on track.

But a piece of software isn’t going to do the writing for you. And even though you’re aware of this, it’s possible you’re still going to get disappointed when the initial thrill of getting a new toy wears off. “Wow. I really thought this would change everything.”

You can’t just change your setup. You have to change your habits — and your attitude, too. If you haven’t been writing, and you want to, or if you’ve been writing, but you want to write better, go ahead. Buy the new thing. Get the tool. But understand that if you aren’t fully willing to do the responsible thing and work even when you don’t want to, even when it gets difficult, you’re just going to end up buying a really expensive paperweight, or take up valuable space on your phone, or whatever.

It seems like common sense. I know. But you’d be surprised how easily we’re tricked by marketers into truly believing something tangible will change our habits.

Granted, sometimes it works — I bought a Fitbit this spring after not working out for 3 months and dove right back into a regular fitness routine, and haven’t fallen out of it since. Maybe you bought a new word processing app and you’ve already written half a novel on it. I’m not saying these things don’t work.

It’s just that they don’t work the same way for everyone. If you aren’t easily self-motivated, even a low-level form of external motivation just might not be enough for you.

Be prepared for those hard moments, when even that new tool won’t be enough to get you off Netflix to get some writing done.

Remember that successful writers write. They worry a lot less about what they’re using to get the work done and a lot more about actually working. It’s fun to try new ways of doing things. I’m not against that at all. (I just bought a new camera, even though the camera on my iPhone works perfectly fine. Because I could.) Just make sure you’re actually staying productive when you need to. Don’t let the shiny stuff distract you too much from your end goals.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

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4 thoughts on “The Best Writing Tools Won’t Make You a Better Writer

  1. Timely post, Meg. I think you should re-post this every six months or so! I absolutely agree. The surge, that sometimes feels like a tsunami, of technology, is overwhelming. After hearing about it from a fellow blogger, I subscribed to Scapple . The promo made it seem that one would finish the novel in a week if they simply purchased Scapple! Well I did. I like it and I use it, but in a very limited way. I don’t use its big brother, Scrivener. Like most of the writing apps, many are good, but you are absolutely right: they aren’t going to write the words for you. I think two things shock young writers…and some older ones too…the actual labor of writing and the required time investment.

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