Editor's Picks

The best online productivity tools for writers in 2019

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We can’t speak for everyone, but life as a writer can feel like a constant race to get things done. We’re either going full speed ahead, banging out a few pieces of content last minute or trying to combat our worst time-wasting habits.

One second, you’re trying to come up with your latest greatest blog post and the next, you’re looking at socks on Amazon and skimming articles.

And look, there are so many productivity tools out there, but for writers, many of them present more distractions than they aim to destroy.

What makes a great app depends on several factors: your process, the type of writing you do, where your productivity challenges lie. Are you a blogger, a novelist? Are you writing a company handbook or trying your hand at a passion-fueled screenplay?

Here, we’ll look at some of the best apps for writers – be it a distraction-free digital space or a better way to work out your big ideas.

Best productivity apps for writers

Things

Things iOS and desktop

The Things app is probably the best to do list app, at least in our opinion. It’s a paid app, and it’s a little spendy for a lot of folks — but if you need a task manager that can do it all, this is a good choice.

The reason Things is a good thing for writers is — it’s not complicated.

In fact, it kind of feels like a mashup of Google’s tools and the apps that come standard with your Mac — you know, Notes or iCal. The benefit is, Things brings the basics together in a central hub — so you can track your deadlines, write down new ideas, and turn your notes into checklists.

What’s more, Things comes with a searchable archive, as well as the ability to set long term and short-term goals — that’s more important than one might imagine.

Things Download Free
8

Scrivener

Scrivener writing app

Scrivener is a favorite among the screenwriter set, as well as those taking a crack at a novel.

The productivity benefits you’ll find here are primarily formatting oriented. You can use the platform to create comprehensive outlines, break your writing into scenes or chapters, and move full sections around without the risk of messing up your masterpiece-in-progress.

This isn’t necessarily the best tool for bloggers or those writing shorter pieces of content. But, if you’re writing academic content, this app is a real lifesaver.

They’ll help you stick to Chicago or AP guidelines, no problem. And Scrivener takes care of your formatting woes. When you start a project, you’ll select a template that matches the pilot episode, nonfiction book, or whatever creative project you’ve got up your sleeve.

Scrivener Download Free
7

Ulysses

Ulysses mac iOS

Ulysses is a writing environment app with a cloud-based component. Basically, it’s a clean digital space that seeks to eliminate distractions while you strive to meet that word count minimum.

And while there are a lot of “writing environment” apps, this one brings more to the table than some of the others we’ve encountered.

Honestly, it looks like a better version of Apple’s Notes. And it also syncs your content across all devices — so you can work on your laptop, make some edits on your phone, and review your work from the iPad.

Ulysses Download Free
8

iA Writer

iA writing app

iA Writer is a distraction-free writing app for iOS, Android, Mac, and Windows. The app offers several features that help users get more done. iA writer supports full markdown language and makes it easy for bloggers that need to translate their final draft into Medium or WordPress. What’s more, the app allows you to embed images and tables into the document — which any web writer knows can be a real time-waster.

iA Writer is a minimal tool — offering few distractions and a few handy tools. Syntax highlight highlights specific parts of speech, while focus mode highlights one paragraph or sentence at a time.

iA Writer Download Free
10

MindMeister

MindMeister sample map

MindMeister is an online tool that allows you to capture and work out ideas as a visual map. While it might not sound like a writing tool at first glance, this tool is a great way for users to work out just how they want to tell a story.

This tool works on Mac OS, Windows, and Linux — or you can just keep things in the web app, download-free. MindMeister is sold with a collaboration bent, but we envision this as being just as useful for solo brainstormers as the whole team.

There are several features built in, but we liked that this tool comes with an online storage system for all inspirational materials — like Evernote, but connected to the mapping feature.

Unpaywall

Unpaywall extension

Ever spend way too much time cruising the internet for reputable sources — only to find reports that cost like $200 just to review? Yeah… us, too.

Unpaywall comes in to provide a workaround. It’s a digital library of 50,000+ journals and open-access repositories. Their goal is to bring scholarly articles to everyone — whether they’re writing an article or have a school project due.

Okay, Unpaywall isn’t really an app — rather it’s a free Chrome extension. How it works is, you’ll conduct your research as usual. And when you come upon a paywalled research paper, the extension looks for a free version posted on another site. If something is available, Unpaywall displays a green icon on the right side of your screen — click it to read the article, free.

Now, it doesn’t work on everything, but it will make your life easier, especially if you need to find some stats that make your article all the more credible.

Wrapping up

The best writing tools aren’t necessarily a choice between whether you prefer Scrivener over Google Docs or Microsoft Word.

Rather, the goal is to develop a productivity stack that works for you.

We’ll say this from experience — little tasks like formatting and finding good sources can eat up a lot of time, on par with surfing the internet when we should be working.

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