tech tips for writers / writing

8 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 eight 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.


Of course, most writers now use the internet to research. That goes through a browser. My favorite is Chrome, but it used to be Firefox (until that started crashing all the time). The only time I was a fan of IE was the pre-Firefox days.

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.


44 thoughts on “8 Digital Tools for Writing

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  4. I’ve been getting right into voice notes lately, Jacqui. Often when I’m on my long afternoon walks I think of ideas so now I just get out my phone and push ‘voice record’. I love all this new technology!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m just not able to get all that excited about technology’s gadgets for the preliminary work of writing a book/story. I do use a word processor though because my penmanship is atrocious, and it has its own annotator functions. I also use an online map, but prefer the regular Google one. I tried one of the Brainstorming programs, but found I lost my creativity using it to flesh out writing ideas. Plain old paper and a pen or pencil work better for me.

    Obviously my age is showing. 😛

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thanks Jacqui! When I started writing reasonably regularly about five years back, I started the pen-and-paper way because that was what I was used to when I used to write regularly, in school. But technology soon thrust itself in. I switched to writing on Word. I started taking notes and capturing fresh ideas on my phone instead of the little pad I tried (and failed) to carry in my pocket. Voice Notes sounds like a great idea too.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Who wants to remember the world before Voice Notes & Notability? Great suggestions. I confess, I’m very reluctant to give up my white board and learn to use the electronic counterpart – thought it is easier to carry around 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Jacqui, you are my first source for all things writerly, and especially techie-digital. Thanks for this useful list.
    I wrote my very first book (a children’s book) sloppy long hand on lined paper I then transferred to a typewriter I used at the public library in 30-minute intervals while my oldest was in school, my youngest in pre-school – about 20 words and a million mistakes a minute. A dear friend then re-typed in good typing format. One rejection letter later I was too dejected to continue pursuit of publication for that story.
    Minor arthritis makes long hand impossible for me now. I am in love with my computer but still rely exclusively on Word. Still learning to organize sensibly – as in, so I can find stuff I know I wrote.
    Love to browse the Internet but also love my 35-year-old World Book encyclopedia set, 10 pound thesaurus, 2 volume dictionary, and many other hard bound tomes, magazine articles, and personal interviews.
    I like the sound of Note-taking, may try that one.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ah, those were the days, when handwriting wasn’t cramped by arthritis. Sigh. Me too-about Word. I wish I’d switch, but I don’t do it. Despite it’s crashing, corrupting, conniving nature.


  9. Fascinating.
    I kept writing myself notes and jotting ideas and losing them. I now have a fat spiral notebook I grab fast to scribble what’s on my mind. I date everything. Slogging through the notebook to find something specific is always fun… 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I avoid pen and paper as much as I can–I prefer typing everything out. Except when it comes to sticky notes. I have them all over. They’re great for those quick, random thoughts. I do use “Notes” on my iPhone quite a bit too as well as the voice recorder. But neither keeps me from buying more sticky notes…

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I couldn’t write without a computer. Even I am not able to read my own handwriting. Over the years I’ve used a number of word processors, but MSWord is the one I most often use. For my blog writing I use Apple’s Pages in plain text mode, cut and past over and then use WP tools to add pictures and stuff. For research I just use google search. For notes I just leave tabs open in my browser of things I am interested in at the moment. Since I generally write very short things, this has worked well, but as I start looking into longer works, I’ll need tools better suited to long work.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I don’t think I could ever give up my special writing tablets and fancy pens, Jacqui. When it comes to calendars, I love to check things off my daily list of tasks on an old fashion Daytimer. I have wanted to check out Mindmap. That’s for sharing the links. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • You are in the majority of writers I think, Jill. I just got back from a writer conference and I was the only one I saw using an iPad to take notes. Everyone else had a nice fresh yellow tablet.


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