My workday would not be the same without the Web-based tools I use for research and writing. The good part is they’re simple. I may be a tech writer, but as my husband will attest, I an not an early adopter. Whether it’s a computer, software program or cell phone, I stick with the tried and true as long as possible because learning something new takes time away from paid work. I’m sure that’s true for other freelancers. So if I can use this stuff anyone can.
Here’s my list of 10 basic Web tools for freelance writers:
Firefox 2.o – I dumped Internet Explorer a while ago and never looked back. It’s fast, it looks good, it gets the job done. I don’t use lots of extra bells and whistles, but I do open multiple tabs at a time. I also drag and drop URLs of the Websites I use most often onto a toolbar at the top of the screen so the buttons are always there.
Google - My search engine of choice. Google News weeds out everything but recent news stories on a topic. Set up Google News Alerts to send daily or weekly notices to your email inbox of articles that come out on whatever topic you’re tracking at the time. I also use this to see who’s linking to my stories and blog posts, a good thing for tracking possible copyright infringement.
Google Desktop – Interviewed somebody but can’t remember where you stashed the notes? Can’t find an email address any of the obvious places? Google Desktop can sniff it out. It’s a search engine for the files stored on your computer. Download it for free.
RSS – A format for rounding up info from blogs and Websites you read on a regular basis and having it come to you instead of vice versa. Step 1: Get an RSS reader or a Web-based reader like Google Reader or MyYahoo. Step 2: Visit your favorite places and click on the RSS button to have the feeds delivered. I use My Yahoo because I signed up a long time ago and I’m too lazy switch. My own page is a mix of news, weather, stocks, and feeds from favorite blogs like BrazenCareerist.com and MyHRGuy.com, the yin and yang of Gen Y career advice columnists.
WordPress.com – How do I love WordPress? Let me count the ways. It’s a blog. And a free place to stash my resume. And an online clips file. Do you know how much time you can waste checking your blog stats? Can you tell I’m a fan?
Akismet – Nobody tells you that as your blog gets more hits, it gets more spam. Akismet gets to spam before it gets to me. WordPress.com has this spam-killer software built in, but if you blog somewhere else, you can download a copy for free.
Del.icio.us – A service for bookmarking Websites. People use Delicious to share their bookmarks with other people, that whole social networking thing. I use it to keep track of Web pages that have information I need for stories.
LinkedIn – I’ve waxed poetic about how freelancers can use this business networking site to build a contact network and change how they describe themselves. So far, LinkedIn hasn’t led to any $10,000 writing assignments. But that’s not the point.
Freelance Success – This is the one thing I pay for. Freelance Success is a newsletter for serious freelance writers. There’s a member database, archive of freelance-related documents and weekly newsletter with info on writing for various publications (Disclaimer: I’ve written a story for the newsletter.) But the best part is the members-only message boards where writers dish about anything and everything related to freelancing – who’s written for magazine X, what’s the email address for editor Y, if anybody’s had trouble getting paid by client Z, etc. It’s worth the $99.
There are other Web tools for writers out there. Skype is on my to-try list. What’s on yours?