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At this end of the year, you’d be forgiven for having a brain that feels a bit frizzled.

Writer’s block really takes its toll around this time. I find myself staring at a blank page more often than usual, or spending ten minutes obsessing over crafting a heading that sounds right, or trying to work out how on earth to write a conclusion to the 800 words I’ve just put on a page that sums them all up but also offers the reader a new bit of insight to take away.

At times like these, there are a few simple, back-to-basics resources or ‘cheats’ I turn to again and again to get the words flowing.

Often, they get you to think in a new way. And that might be all you need to get back on track when you’re stuck.

So in no particular order, here are five of the top (and most lo-fi) writing tools out there. Confession: I use all of these way more often than any fancy app or toolbar.

  1. Pen and paper

Writing by hand is satisfying. It’s tactile and involves visible trial and error – you can see your thought process in all your mistakes and weird tangents and crossings out and edits. If you find yourself stuck and staring at a blank, backlit page in Word, move away from the computer and pick up a pen. I often use this technique to brainstorm heading ideas, or if I’m having trouble expressing something; the distinct physical action seems to trigger new ideas. With a tool like you can rewrite your sentences and create a better structured article.

  1. Thesaurus

I’ve written about this before but basically, contrary to what writing teachers might tell you, the thesaurus can be your friend. Conditionally. Not if you’re going to use it blindly to swap every short, ‘common’ word for a longer one. But if you find you’re repeating a certain word too much in your copy or you’re looking for a word that means ‘good’ but sounds snappier in the context of your heading, it can be a speedy solution. As long as you make sure you only use words you understand.

  1. Wikipedia

Another one you might have been scared off using by teachers and lecturers, Wikipedia can be a great resource for brushing up on subject matter you’re not familiar with. I’m not advocating you use it as a source for your PhD, but if you need to write a blog post about cloud computing and don’t know the first thing about it? I’d point you to Wikipedia. Just don’t quote it.

  1. Rhyming dictionary

Another good one for catchy headings and taglines and the like, a rhyming dictionary like RhymeZone does what the name suggests – you put in a word, and it spits out every word or phrase that rhymes with it.

  1. Reading

The best writing tool of all. It works in two ways.

One: if you’re stuck in the middle of writing an article about superannuation reform, stop and read articles about superannuation reform. Not necessarily for research –you should have done that by this point. But you’ll pick up on the language, the themes, the current conversation around the topic. It gives you the momentum to go back and keep writing.

The second one is to read. Just read. Read a lot, and read whatever you like. Novels, magazines, newspapers, fashion blogs, sports reports, cereal boxes. When you read you absorb on the ways writers use rhythm and style and tone to communicate. It manifests itself in your writing. You get inspired. You start to notice what works and what doesn’t.

So over your holidays, pick up a book or a magazine or whatever it is you like to read.

With these writing tools at hand, you should find you can write more efficiently and effectively, with far fewer writer’s block moments.


  1. […] Ditch the distractions. Lose the fancy software and apps if they’re not helping, and get back to basics. […]

  2. Mel says:

    Thank you for introducing me to rhyme zone…what a cool little tool! Although you’ve also added another procrastination tool to my arsenal (not so good).

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