Wonder Tools — Resources for Writing

Useful sites to help you craft your words

You’re reading the Wonder Tools newsletter💌 — a weekly post highlighting useful sites and apps. I’m Jeremy Caplan, dad, former violinist and Time Magazine reporter, daily chocolate consumer and director of the Journalism Creators Program [applications open now!] at CUNY’s Newmark J-School.

Here are some useful writing tools for whatever you’re working on this week.

Add useful new keyboard shortcuts to Google Docs 

Following the lead of apps like Notion and Slack, this little Chrome extension lets you quickly add things to any Google Doc. Once you’ve installed GSweets just hit the slash key, then type what you want.

  • Type /Unsplash to search for and add an image

  • /gif to add a gif

  • /table to add a table, /emoji to add an emoji 😄 etc

    (To add emojis on my Mac I usually just type control-command-space, which opens up the emoji picker within any Mac program).

It’s handy to have this capability within Google Docs. It’s a neat idea taken from Notion, which makes it easier to quickly add to a doc without taking your hands of the keyboard.

Lose the Very
A smart, single-purpose site that reminds you never to use very — there’s always a more precise alternative. 

An elegant, flexible writing app for crafting notes and prose

I’m generally happy writing in Google Docs or Roam, my note-taking and idea organization resource of choice. But if you’d rather write in an app and not a browser, you might enjoy a simple distraction-free alternative to Word or GDocs. Bear and Ulysses, both free, offer cleaner writing interfaces. And if you’re like me and often end up with dozens of distracting tabs, these app-based alternatives can help with focus.  

If you’d rather not bother with another new app, you can create a Bear-like distraction-free view within Google Docs. Just set Chrome to full screen and select the full screen option within the Google Docs view menu.  

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Good Email Copy
Effective short email communication from companies

Quickly find examples of how others phrase key email messages. If you’re looking for design inspiration as well, check out Really Good Emails.

The most polished digital writing assistant

Free for grammar, spelling and punctuation, Grammarly costs $140/year if you want premium features like help with conciseness, inclusive language, creative word choice or tone detection. That last one may be helpful if you find yourself sending the occasional angry email.

I have found the Grammarly pop-up suggestions annoying when I don’t want to see them, but you can turn off the browser extension whenever you want. If you find it useful, you can also use Grammarly with Microsoft Word or use the Grammarly Keyboard on your iPhone, iPad or Android device.

Check grammar, spelling and more as you write

If typos creep into your text on occasion, Grammatica can provide a little warning bell. It’s a Chrome browser add-on that’s useful particularly if English isn’t your first language or you’re prone to regretting hitting send. 

Google Books Ngram Viewer
View words’ popularity in books over time

Type in any terms of interest and see how their usage in English-language books has changed over time. 


Tools for Writers Spreadsheet
Here’s how one writer tracks her work. 

Make a copy of this free spreadsheet for a word count tracker, story status tracker, Kanban story progress charter and other simple sheets. Nothing particularly fancy or techie here, just a few things one writer finds useful. Note: I found this on Sourceful.us, which hosts a collection of useful docs and sheets. 

Journalists Helping Journalists
Find a mentor or someone willing to do pro bono work in journalism/communications

Writing Competitions
A list of competitions to which anyone can apply

Translate text and documents 

Paste in text or upload a Word or PowerPoint document to get a quick automated translation. A review by Golem.de, a German site, noted: “Even though the translations from English by Google and Microsoft are quite good, DeepL still surpasses them. We have translated a report from a French daily newspaper - the DeepL result was perfect.”

If you’re interested in writing in multiple languages, you might also want to get on the list to try out Fluently.so, which launches March 1. Use it to write in your native language while creating a document in one of 55 other languages.

Get unstuck with creative writing exercises

This free site offers 23 little writing starters. Among other things there’s a rhyming dictionary, a random first line generator and a list of quick writing exercises. Mostly useful for fiction or poetry, but a fun diversion to break writer’s block for anyone putting words on paper. 

Blush has free customizable illustrations you can use to add color to your published work online in a newsletter, on Medium or a social platform.

Find and use free illustrations for whatever you’re working on. Download png or svg files.

Special thanks to Michael Esser for help with this post. Michael’s a reader of this newsletter who shared several of these writing tools with me and suggested the topic. 

You’re invited to join me at 12pm ET today, Thursday, Jan 14 for a live chat with two entrepreneurial journalists — from our entrepreneurial journalism programs past and present. More info here.

Thanks for reading! Hit reply to share feedback or if you need help with something, or to let me know what you think of the adjusted fonts — Substack enabled new designs this week.

p.s. If you’re an independent journalist creating your own newsletter, podcast or niche or local site, consider joining the 2nd cohort of the 100-day online-only Journalism Creators Program at CUNY’s Newmark Graduate School of Journalism. Or if you know someone who might benefit, please pass this on. Find out more or apply here. Deadline Jan 24.