22 Tools Professional Writers Rely On Daily

Stet Masthead, May 2016

Which gizmos and gadgets do professional writers rely on? Four pros shared their favorites at recent meeting of Independent Writers of Chicago. Here’s a summary I wrote for the May, 2016 Stet, the group’s monthly newsletter. I’m looking forward to giving some of these a try.

Screen shots of the original article, followed by the text. Click to enlarge.

Photo shown in article by Richard Eastline.

Technology for Freelance Writers – What Works Best

In a lively panel discussion format, four IWOC members demonstrated their favorite technology tools that help them stay productive. Common threads included easy ways to record interviews and lengthen battery life.

Tom Lanning, Program Chair, introduced the panel with a quick demonstration of his most used “semi-digital” mobile device – a standard reporter notepad.

First up was David Steinkraus, IWOC President, whose business focuses on environment, science and technology. His first recommendation – his MacBook and his iPhone.

  • Record interviews and meetings. David recommends HDR Pro, an iPhone app. His key advice: whichever app you use, make sure it prevents the phone from sleep mode while you’re recording. In fact, David recorded the podcast for this presentation using HDR Pro on his iPhone.
  • Make and record calls. If you have not used Skype for outgoing calls recently, David recommends giving it another try: the call quality has greatly improved. If you want to record your calls, he recommends the Call Recorder plugin by ECAM software. It even records video for Skype-to- Skype calls.
  • Energize your devices. David uses a portable phone battery charger for an extra 10,000 hours of phone life, which means you don’t have to stop to recharge in the middle of the day. Before you buy, make sure the ports are compatible with your products. If in doubt, get a charger with both fast and slow ports. Other brands: Brent likes the Jackery Giant + 12,000.
  • Save your wrist. Mousing all day can be hard on the body: moving the mouse means moving your whole arm, which can be lead to neck and shoulder pain; griping a mouse can irritate the wrist and lead to carpel tunnel. David recommends a trackball pointing device, specifically the Kensington Slim Blade Wireless Trackball Mouse. In addition to saving your body, the trackball gives you greater accuracy for detailed photo and audio editing.
  • Focus on writing, not file finding. For most documents David relies on Scrivener software which combines word processing and project management. Because you can import all your research – Word files, PDFs, photos, web pages, sticky notes – to one tab, you save time looking for files scattered among several apps. Plus, it offers a dual pane view, one for writing, one for the research. Jennifer Lyng Rueff added that she loves the sidebar view, which makes it easy for her to find scenes, and drag-and-drop them to other places in her book manuscript. It exports to Word, ePub, rtf, and more.

Richard Eastline offered some life-extending ideas for your phone battery: Reduce screen brightness. Turn off Bluetooth and Wi-Fi when not needed. Switch to apps that have white type on a black background.

Next was Roger Rueff, who has a business focused on software documentation and training manuals, plus a side job as a scriptwriter. Currently, Roger writes “old school” using Vista and Microsoft Office 2003 on a 2006 PC, but he is updating to a new Samsung KO2US laptop, which brings up migration issues.

  • Streamline email storage. Roger needed an improvement over the notoriously bloated Outlook. He found cloud-based FastMail, which frees up PC space, is accessible from all his devices, has advanced filtering, prevents advertising, and offers unlimited email addresses. Because Gmail limits user email addresses to just five, it was a no-go for Roger, who has multiple email addresses just for his work as IWOC web guru.
  • Grab better screen shots. Roger relies on the advanced features of Snagit for the shots in his documentation. Snagit offers drag-and-drop screen grabs – even capturing long, scrolling webpages – a timer to get shots that include the pointer, stamps, text boxes, highlights and other special effects. PC and Mac
  • Create software demo videos. For his training videos, Roger uses Camtasia, a Snagit companion, with advanced video editing for demos, training videos and PowerPoint slide shows. PC and Mac.
  • Measure your angst. Lastly, Roger recommends the iPhone app, Seismometer, which measures impact when you bang your head on the table after a frustrating call.

Vladimire Herard, who reports on health care, pharmaceutical and senior living industries, focused on tools for interviews.

  • Interview online. Vladimire meets her subjects in conference rooms, which automatically records her sessions.
  • Record in-person interviews. Vladimire’s recommendation: the Olympus WE-802 voice recorder, which holds 1000 hours. Recordings are scene indexed to save time finding the exact quote she wants.
  • Read textbooks. She finds the Kobo reader especially helpful for reading books related to her specialty.

A word about wiretap laws. If you’re curious, the Digital Media Law Project describes state and federal laws. But the easiest thing to do – just record your subject giving consent to being recorded when you start your interview.

Brent Brotine, advertising, marketing and direct response expert, handles a lot of detailed financial information. To make sure he captures the details, he has several ways to record calls.

  • Record VOIP calls. Google Voice offers free VOIP phone numbers that forward calls to your cell phone. Google Voice calls are recorded automatically.
  • Record cellular calls. Brent uses an Olympus TP-7 Telephone Pick Up cord that connects to both his iPhone and his Olympus VN-702PC voice recorder, which is similar to Vladimire’s.
  • Record landline calls. His Radio Shack Digital Voice Telephone Recorder 43-01237 plugs into his landline phone and its headset.
  • Transcribe calls. When he needs a written script, Brent looks for transcribers on
  • Amplify your headphones. Brent uses his Boostaroo Audio Amplifier and Splitter to share movies and music with his spouse on long plane rides.
  • Amplify yourself. Brent carries packs of Starbucks Via to give himself a boost anytime. There’s always hot water somewhere!

Lastly, Stewart Truelsen, who produces high-quality interviews for broadcast, recommended pro gear.

  • Record podcast quality. Stu uses a Marantz PMD660 recorder and a Shure microphone.

Where to find all these gadgets? IWOC has no affiliation or recommendation for retailers: the links in this article (Note: I included links on the original article. I have no affiliate links.), go to Amazon, simply for all-in-one place convenience. Other hardware retailers include Best Buy and B&H Photo, a New York store that carries pro gear, often at better prices. Apple software is available through iTunes or the App Store. PC software can be downloaded.
– Laurel Johnson

What do you think? What tools to you use to stay productive? My first purchase is the Jackery battery booster. What’s yours?