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An Online Writer’s Toolbox

A list of useful apps and tools to make your visuals and copy stand out.

Charlotte Grysolle
Charlotte Grysolle
5 min read
Illustration downloaded from Blush.design

One of my favourite things about being an online writer is having a good excuse to try out a bunch of new apps and tools.

I’ve compiled a list of resources that I have bookmarked and have found helpful to improve my writing and the visuals I use in my content.

Some are free, some are paid. Just like in My Life Tech Stack post (which 14.5k people have viewed so far on Medium, thank you!) — there are no affiliate links; this is purely for the purpose of sharing stuff I love and genuinely find valuable.


Improve your visuals

Most articles will tell you it’s important to find the right featured image. Aside from the headline, it is the first thing the reader will see — so yes, it is important, but for me, it’s not a deciding factor. I’ve never stopped reading an article where I was intrigued by the title but put off by the image.

That said, it is good to spend a few minutes looking for a decent visual that you are allowed to use.

Most people go on Unsplash and Pexels, where you can download unlimited royalty-free images. The downside of these websites is that many pictures are overused, and you see them all over the internet (I feel like I personally know this woman, that’s how often I’ve seen this one).

I still use it as well because these are great resources. Just make sure to pick images that are not on the first pages of the search results and have a low downloads count.

If you really want your visuals to stand out, I recommend experimenting with some different styles.

Artvee

Artvee is a curated library of artworks made available by major museums and libraries worldwide and are free to use however you want. From still lifes to abstract and illustrations. Depending on the topic, context and platform, this can be an original way to try something different.

Blush.design

Have you thought about using illustrations instead of photography?

Blush.design allows you to easily create and customize illustrations made by artists across the globe. The cool thing is that you can pick a style and illustration and then customise all the visual elements (change the head, the clothes, the colours, etc.). The range of illustrations is impressive, so plenty of options to choose from.

UnDraw

UnDraw is a similar resource where you can customise the visual. What’s nice here is that you can use a colour picker to select any colour you’d like, and the visual will automatically change colour. Once you’re happy with how it looks, you just need to download it, and you’re good to use it however you like.

Pick any color to customise your graphic on UnDraw

Excalidraw

I love this tool and was so happy when I found it.

Excalidraw is a free drawing tool that allows you to draw sketch-like images. Unlike the other resources, this is a great tool for visuals to use throughout your articles (not necessarily as a featured image).

Here’s an example of what I did for my book review on Indistractable: It’s Not Technology. It’s you.

Made with Excalidraw

I liked seeing this style of visuals in other people’s posts — very simple visualisations of certain concepts or ideas. It’s fun to do and another way to add a personal touch to your writing.

What’s neat is that you can adjust the sloppiness of the lines to make it look more or less hand-drawn. You can also adjust the thickness of lines and fill in or color shapes. You can also make the text look handwritten.

If you’re interested, Khyen Tran wrote a deep dive into how you can use Excalidraw.

Squoosh

It often happens that an image is too large to be used here or on other websites. In those cases, Squoosh is a quick and easy tool to compress your images.


Improve your copy

While there’s no magic tool that can replace the actual hard work of writing, there are plenty of resources that you can use to make the process easier and faster with a stronger end result.

Headline Analyzers

Headlines are probably my least favourite thing about writing. They’re difficult. What helps (a little) are headline analyzers like Advanced Marketing Institute or HeadlineStudio. Your headline will be analyzed and rated on a variety of metrics like clarity, emotional resonance, power words, etc. It obviously won’t write the headline for you, but it’ll give you inspiration on how to improve it.

WordHippo

As a non-native English speaker, WordHippo is a wonderful tool. Having variety in your choice of words is extremely important, so I use this tool to search for synonyms and antonyms.

When I’m editing an article, I’ll go through each paragraph and see where I can swap out a word. It’s also a great way to broaden my own vocabulary.

ReverseDictionary

This is a fun one. If you desperately need a word to describe something “unpleasantly moist”, ReverseDictionary allows you to search for words by their definition.

It doesn’t always work as well, but just scrolling through the results will often remind me of other words I can use.

ReallyGoodEmails

Reallygoodemail is a curated collection of over 8,000 emails from brands in all kinds of categories. It’s a great resource for design examples, although I mostly use it for inspiration for engaging headlines and intros. Scrolling through the collection always gives me new ideas for catchy and original phrases and expressions that I can incorporate into my own writing.

Alfred (MacOS only)

Has it ever annoyed you that you can only copy-paste one thing at a time? The moment you copy something, you’ve lost the previous thing you had copied.

Cue Alfred. I came across this app by accident, and when I saw the Clipboard History function, I wanted to try it. It’s dreamy.

This function allows you to quickly locate any text, image or file you copied earlier and paste it again. You can also create your own snippets and type a short abbreviation to auto-expand them into a full-text snippet, saving yourself hours of typing in the long run. This is great for anyone who writes a lot— just think of certain emails where you often say the same thing, or your CTA at the end of an article.

Alfred has many other functions to customise actions for your Mac, so I’d say it’s worth it.


I am always on the lookout for new tools and apps, so just hit Subscribe if you’d like to stay updated on recommendations and reviews. ✌️

PS - This piece was published in The Writing Cooperative on Medium.

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