9 free or cheapish apps for writers that save a ton of time

Reading time: About 5 minutes

Spending a tiny bit of money will sometimes save you a whole lot of time (which, funnily enough, translates into money.) Check out these free or cheapish apps for writers to improve your effectiveness…. 

I like to work in a fast, focused way so I have more time for the other things in life I like to do — reading, cooking, walking, spending time with friends.

As a result, I’ve collected a group of apps for writers that help make my writing and business life more efficient and effective. Cast your eye over this list and see if any could help you, as well.

1-Feedly: I track some 110 blogs about writing each week. I know this sounds like an overwhelming, undoable job but it’s easy thanks to Feedly. This aggregator compiles news —including blogs — from a variety of online sources. Create your free account and then “subscribe” to the blogs you want to follow. They’ll all be there in one spot and you can scan through them quickly. I try to review my list every day but when I’m travelling, it’s especially handy to return home to Feedly and be able to review everything I missed with minimal time and effort.

2-Busy Contacts: My tech savvy friend Peter introduced me to Busy Contacts and I’ve been very grateful ever since I met it. This inexpensive ($49) easy-to-use app is a contact-management system that allows me to enter the names, addresses, phone numbers and emails of clients. Best thing about it? It scans my email account and links ALL the emails I’ve sent or received to that person to their record. Astonishing handy. Too bad it’s only for Mac users.

3-Evernote: Isn’t it wonderful how the Internet has made research so fast and easy? But isn’t it horrible how troublesome it is to copy and paste information you collect from these websites? I no longer have to endure this painful process thanks to Evernote. This remarkable storage tool allows me to load a “clipper” onto my browser (I use Chrome but the clipper will work in any browser). Then I click one button and the entire page is saved to my Evernote file. Even better, I apply a number of “tags” — words that are like index entries — to each document I save and I’m able to find the document again, whenever I need it. The versatile service also allows me to save PDFs, photos or notes to myself. Evernote is fr.ee until your file gets to a certain size. And even when you start to pay, the cost is reasonable ($9.99/month.) Also, storage is cloud-based so all your research is accessible wherever you have an Internet connection. By the way, if you’re an academic, don’t use Evernote. Instead, you should use a system that combines research storage with citation management. The tools you might want to consider are: Citavi,  Mendeley  or Zotero.

4-1password: My adorable husband has a list of passwords in a Word document on his computer. Generating new passwords — and remembering existing ones — irritates him and takes him lots of time. Do you fall into that category, too? This challenge is not only about efficiency, however. It’s also about safety. If you use the same password for multiple accounts or if your password is too easy (example: Madison – if Madison is your daughter’s name) then you’re putting your own security at risk. Please do what my husband won’t, and get yourself a password manager. Such a piece of software will allow you to use one complex (but easy to remember) password for ALL your accounts. Then it will generate individual and hard-to-guess passwords for each site. I use 1password  but there are lots of other password managers out there. Choose one. If you need more convincing, read this persuasive New York Times article.

5-ProWritingAid: This software is much less expensive and much more sophisticated than the popular Grammarly so I always suggest writers choose ProWritingAid  instead. Give the free version of ProWritingAid a try first (you’ll be limited to 500 words at a time) and you’ll likely be impressed. It not only corrects grammar and spelling but it also deals with a host of style issues, such as sentence length, word choice and sloppy diction. Check out my full review of ProWritingAid vs Grammarly.

6-Text expander: If you have a Mac, be sure to get yourself a copy of Text Expander.  (Breaking news: I just discovered there’s now a Windows version — by a different company — called Phrase Exander.) This software allows you to create abbreviations representing larger blocks of text. Simply type the abbreviation you’ve assigned and, voila, the larger block of text will appear in your document. For example, whenever I receive an email telling me someone has bought a copy of my book, 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better, I send them an email.  Do I write it out from scratch each time? Certainly not! I type the abbreviation “;mybook” and, ping, a 140-word message immediately appears. (I use XXXXs to mark the spots that need to be customized. I like the way the app saves me time and ensures my messages are consistent and thorough. I figure using this software saves me about 15 minutes every 24 hours. That’s 75 minutes per working week or 3,750 minutes (62.5 hours) per year. Amazing how the time adds up, isn’t it?

7-Wunderlist: Not everyone uses a ‘To Do’ list and not everyone needs one. But if you DO like to-dos, then have a look at the no-cost list-manager Wunderlist. I like a couple of aspects of this simple piece of software:

  • It allows me to assign all the tasks I need to do into specific categories stored on the left-hand side of the screen. When I started, I used a project-based way of organizing (eg: Client A, Client B, Client C). Now, I’ve switched to a type of work system (30-minute tasks, 5-minutes-or-less tasks). This “batching” allows me to be ultra-efficient.
  • I’m able to assign a date to each task. The record then “disappears” until the date it is due.
  • When I complete a task I get to tick a box and the software emits a cheery “ding,” allowing me to feel suitably accomplished.

8-Google sheets: Of course, I’ve known about Google docs for years, but I was blind to the existence of Google sheets, a program that allows you to save and share lists, budgets or data (basically, anything you might store in an Excel spreadsheet). I use this type of document to record the efforts of writers in my Get It Done group. I like that it’s super easy to use and I can share it with an assistant when I need to travel and am unable to track the group’s progress myself. Thanks to my friend Hester for introducing me to it.

9-Buffer: I post to Twitter eight times a day. But I spend no more than five minutes a day taking care of this. How? I use Buffer.  This app allows me to schedule tweets in advance to be posted at a specific time. I respect the value of social media but I also know it to be a time-suck so I’ll do whatever I can to use it well but minimize my time investment. Buffer helps me do that.

These nine apps all help me work better, not more. Or as Dolly Parton put it: “Never get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.”


If apps aren’t enough to help your writing routine, consider applying to my Get It Done program.  Learn more about the principles I use in a no-charge webinar, Friday, Sept. 13 at 1 pm. Email me for login details. Or, if you already know you want to apply, go here and scroll down to the very end and select the bright green “click here to apply now” button.


Do you have any inexpensive apps that make YOU more effective? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section of my blog. And congratulations to Marina Espinasse, the winner of this month’s book prize, for an Aug. 23/19 comment on my blog. (Please email me with your mailing address, Marina!) Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by Sept. 30/19 will be put in a draw for a copy of my book, 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. To leave your own comment, please, scroll down to the section, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join the commenting software to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest. It’s easy!