“Human beings want to know where things came from, how they were made, and who made them. The stories you tell about the work you do have a huge effect on how people feel and what they understand about your work, and how people feel and what they understand about your work effects how they value it”
– Austin Kleon, Show Your Work
While I’d like to think the above quote sums up the purpose of this blog, I realize that I haven’t talked too much about how I share my work with you, my readers. That’s why today I thought I’d give you an overview of all the cool websites and programs I use to create Grammar Is Sexy. Consider it a look at my digital workbench, if you will.
If you’ve ever thought about starting a blog, these are the kind of tools you would use. Even if you have no interest in blogging, I hope you’ll enjoy this in the same way you might a tour of your favorite celebrity’s home or favorite musician’s studio.
For easy reference, I’ve grouped the tools as websites, software, and mobile apps (though some are web apps, so there’s a bit of crossover).
Let’s do it!
Anything you’re reading here on Grammar Is Sexy started its life as a note in Evernote. Evernote is a writer’s dream come true, a way to quickly outline a blog post or even write an entire article. Where it beats other word processing software, though, is its organizational capabilities and clean interface. Not to mention its search function. Even if you’re not perfectly organized, it’s easy to find anything you’ve written.
From the creators of Evernote, Skitch is a free program that allows you to easily take screenshots. Before I got Skitch, my process for taking screenshots was inefficient. I would hit Print Screen, open Photoshop, open a new document, copy the image, crop it appropriately, and then save it to the appropriate location and format.
With Skitch, all I have to do is open the program, select my type of screenshot, and take the screenshot. You can also add annotations and blur sensitive information, no Photoshop required. Easy and efficient. I took all the screenshots in this with Skitch.
I don’t need to explain what it is, but I’ve been using Photoshop from the beginning of GIS. While Adobe’s decision to switch to a subscription-based model may be annoying to some long-term users, it made the software accessible to college students (and general bootstrappers) like me who don’t have large amounts of cash on hand but can easily afford $11 a month.
I use Photoshop to retouch original photos for blog posts, resize stock photos, and perform any other image editing necessary. I’m not Photoshop ninja, but I will offer this advice to any new user of the program: learn to record Actions. It will save you so much time.
While I of course use it to talk to family and close friends, Skype has also been a networking game changer for me. I use it to talk to clients and chat with other professionals in and outside my field. I’m sure I don’t need to explain how to use it, but I do recommend that if you’re scheduling any kind of professional call you discuss in advance whether the person prefers audio or video. It’s courteous, and it also prevents awkward freezing if one of you has a bad connection.
I don’t use it every day, but when I was writing my e-book Blogging Is Sexy, Scrivener was invaluable. Sure, you could write a book in regular word processing software, but it quickly becomes a pain to manage so many large files. Scrivener solves this issue by allowing you to view all your chapters from within the same program, easily organizing them and previewing the final product.
It makes book writing, dare I say, fun?
When it comes to the actual Grammar Is Sexy website, WordPress is the meat and potatoes. Every blog post may begin its life in Evernote, but WordPress is where it matures.
WordPress is an intuitive program for managing your website and blog. There are a lot of tutorials out there on how to use it to create a website, but I recommend either this one by Thomas Frank of College Info Geek (Full Disclosure: I write for this site) or this one by Pat Flynn of Smart Passive Income.
While I use Evernote and WordPress for creating my own blog posts, Google Docs is my go-to for editing other writers’ work. Until recently, Microsoft Word was the preferred tool for this purpose due to its Track Changes feature, but Google Docs recently added a similar featured called “Suggested Edits,” so now editors can take advantage of the convenience of Google Docs with the efficiency of Track Changes.
To learn more about how I use it as an editor, check out my slideshow on how I edit.
For keeping track of time-sensitive events, Google Calendar is my preferred tool. I have it synced with the Calendar app on my iPhone so that I can keep track of my appointments anywhere. Make sure to enable some sort of notifications. I have my phone set to notify me of an event at least thirty minutes in advance, and it’s saved my ass on more than a few occasions.
Task management systems and programs are a very personal choice. I’ve tried many tools including Wunderlist, Trello, Remember the Milk, and even a paper notebook, and Todoist is my favorite. They have an excellent app, one of the few on my phone with notifications enabled.
I use Todoist to manage Grammar Is Sexy to-dos, writing for other websites, school work, and any errands I have to run. Since task management is so personal, I invite you to try all of the systems out there and any program you can find. Consider the tools I mention a starting point.
What can’t Fiverr do? It’s a site where you can hire people to do or make anything that can be delivered over the internet. It’s sort of like the Etsy of digital goods.
I used it to hire someone to design the Grammar Is Sexy logo and the cover for my e-book, but there are really no limits to what you can use it for. Be careful, of course, since not all gigs (the term for a Fiverr project) and sellers are created equal.
While I do use Pandora and Spotify for music listening, Youtube is my favorite for listening to music while writing and creating blog posts. It loads faster than Spotify (which I don’t like having open in the background), and it allows me to create specific playlists, unlike Pandora. I have a couple playlists specifically for writing that really help me get in the zone. Oddly, I’ve found that dubstep music (which I don’t normally enjoy) makes excellent writing music.
If you listen to NPR or podcasts like Reply All, Startup, or Mystery Show, you’ve probably heard of Mail Chimp. It’s the tool I use to send out emails to my subscribers. There are more sophisticated tools out there, but for a website and audience of my size, Mail Chimp is perfect. One of the best parts of Mail Chimp (and other email management programs) is that it allows you to schedule your emails in advance. Time travel really is possible.
If I’m looking for a beautiful photo for a blog post, Unsplash is where I start. It’s a repository of high quality, gorgeous photos of unconventional subjects. You won’t find any contrived, generic stock images on this site. They have a great search function, and best of all, every photo is licensed under Creative Commons Zero, meaning you can do whatever you want with the photos, no attribution required.
Photopin isn’t actually a stock photo site, but rather a tool that searches a variety of sites Creative Commons licensed images. It even gives you the attribution links to the original photos right from the original site. Not as beautiful or high-quality as Unsplash, but they have a much larger selection, perfect for if you need a very specific image.
These aren’t your average stock photos. After a free sign-up, you get a pack of original, hi-res photos emailed to you each month. You also get several bonus packs when you sign up. They have a paid option that gives you access to their archives, but even with the free option I’ve found lots of useful images. Each photo pack includes a theme, making the monthly emails fun as well as useful.
Ever wondered how some people manage to Tweet so much? It’s possible that they’re just addicts, but it’s likely that they’re paying someone to do it for them or using a tool such as Buffer. Buffer allows you to schedule your social media posts on Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, and Pinterest in advance. You provide the text and any relevant links or photos, and Buffer will determine the ideal time for posting it. I’m currently using the free plan, but I’ve seriously considered the Awesome (paid) plan, which allows you to schedule more posts and connect more accounts.
They also have one of the best social media blogs I’ve seen, and I don’t even like reading about social media. Seriously, it’s that good!
Buffer’s social media scheduling software has been around for a few years, but they recently released an additional free tool that I love. Pablo allows you to create attractive featured images for sharing your blog posts on all the above-mentioned social networks. I also use it to create featured images for each post on my site. They have an attractive library of images built in, but I usually use an image from one of the stock photo sites I mentioned above. If you use an external photo, make sure to resize the image to a reasonable size before uploading it.
Many of the tools I mentioned above have mobile counterparts that I use, but I also use these mobile-only tools.
I don’t usually use this while I’m working, but I do credit it for much of what I’ve learned about online business. Downcast is a podcast player app that is a huge improvement over the built-in Podcasts app on iPhone. The built-in Podcast app has definitely improved since I got Downcast, but it’s my preferred tool for listening to podcasts such as the College Info Geek podcast, the Smart Passive Income podcast, Listen Money Matters, and a host of other shows that both inform and entertain.
Last, but certainly not least, Drafts is the tool that I use to jot down any thought that occurs to me while I’m away from my computer. Whether it’s an idea for a blog post, something I need to get at the store, or a great quote I hear, Drafts is my place to record it.
When you open the app, you’re greeted with a blank screen with a blinking cursor. You can then append your notes to everything from email to Dropbox to Evernote. I prefer appending Drafts notes to Evernote over making notes directly in the Evernote app. While it’s a quality app, it takes a while to load and create the note. In that time, I could already have made the note in Drafts.
I hope this post gave you some insight into how I create Grammar Is Sexy. I’m planning a post describing how I create a blog post from start to finish, but I thought this list of resources would be a good place to start. What tools and resources do you use to create your site? Let me know in the comments.
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