I’m a bit jealous of all the cool apps that other creative professionals get to use to do their job. Graphic designers get Photoshop and InDesign, or they can go low budget and use GIMP and Sketch.
Photographers get to use all this cool technology to take great pictures. Even podcasters and music producers can have these great big studios, digital recorders, soundboards, and editing software.
All I get is a word processor program on my laptop.
My photographer friends need a pricey camera, expensive lenses, and all kinds of lighting. My graphic designer friends need a beefed-up computer and a monthly software subscription. Meanwhile, I can do my job with a golf pencil and the back of an envelope.
But at the same time, all I get is a lousy word processor? Why don’t I get any cool tools?
It’s not like I can upgrade as I get better, switching to a better word processor. A beginning writer can sit down with a copy of Microsoft Word, Apple Pages, or OpenOffice, or they can even go online and use Google Docs. And the pros use the exact same programs.
I started writing with Apple’s MacWrite program, sticking with it as it spun off to ClarisWorks, and stayed with it when it became AppleWorks. Then Apple switched to Pages, and I went right along with it. So I’m vastly familiar with Apple’s offerings for word processing. I can tell you that not much has changed over the years. There are new functions and capabilities, but at its heart, it’s still just a writing program — the new functions don’t help people write better.
I sometimes wish we had cool writing apps that made the same technological leaps and bounds as Photoshop and Illustrator, but the ability to create written words hasn’t really progressed much beyond a keyboard and a screen. That’s a major change from a typewriter and paper, but other than that, we don’t get the cool tools.
Of course, we don’t need them. I see plenty of “distraction-free writing apps” that promise to elevate our writing and help us create a better writing environment. Except we don’t need it.
Yes, a simplified word processor would be nice, but if that’s all you really needed, just use the Text program that came free with your Mac or Windows’ free Notepad program.
You don’t need some fancy app that makes writing sound like a mysterious, mystical process that can only be improved with the right kind of technology.
That’s like saying I’ll be a better writer if I just switched pens. Or that Agatha Christie could have been a better writer if she had switched from her Remington Home Portable No. 2 typewriter.
Writing apps do not improve writing skills.
Writing tools do not improve writing skills.
There are only two things that improve writing: Reading and writing.
If you want to be a better writer, then write. Practice your writing skills every day, even when you’re just writing an email. Work to make it the best email you can. Don’t just poke around and half-ass that email — that’s your practice right there, and if you don’t practice like you want to perform, you won’t be able to perform when it counts.
And when you’re not writing, you should be reading books. But don’t read blog articles and don’t read business books. Read widely and from a variety of authors and a variety of subjects.
An app won’t make you better. It may simplify the screen you’re looking at, it may cut out your distractions, but you’re still using the one skill that isn’t affected by the tools.
That’s why writers are different from other creative professionals. If someone wanted to be a professional graphic designer, their tools will make a big difference. A powerful computer makes a bigger difference to a robust graphic design program; a little Chromebook won’t cut it.
But a writer can use a Chromebook and Google Docs and function just fine. They can produce the same quality work as a $7,000 Mac Pro and 4K 40″ curved monitor. It won’t make a difference to your work, not in the same way it will to a graphic designer.
And it won’t be any better than what you can do with a $1.29 Pilot G2 pen and a Moleskine notebook.
So don’t get sucked into the hype of needing special writing apps to improve your work. Just focus on reading and the quality of your writing, even during regular work time.