Favorite Writer Resources and Tools

Mary Keeley

Blogger: Mary Keeley

The amount of research, details, and terms to manage can become daunting and consuming. Along the writing journey, authors stumble upon resource tools they especially like and go back to again and again. I’m going to list some examples of perhaps little known but interesting tools I’ve discovered that may save you time and make your writing time a little more pleasant and efficient.

My hope is that you’ll join the conversation by sharing your favorites and all of you will come away with new resources to add to your writer toolbox. To get you started, here are a few I’ve found:

Grammarly. This resource touts itself as an automated proofreader and grammar coach. You can also get help with word choice. At a time when publishers are looking for near perfect manuscripts at submission, this tool and others like it will become automatic favorites.

Citation Machine. Answer a few questions and this tool formats everything for your bibliographies. Imagine how much time this will save.

Muse Creations. This website offers free access to thousands of character names. One source mentioned 40,000 names. A newer version quotes 60,000.

Library Insider. I’m sure many of you are familiar with this resource, but it’s worth mentioning again. This resource helps authors market their books to libraries. Better than other library resources, the database of library contacts is updated monthly, and it offers many additional benefits to help you with your strategy and presentation.

Videojug. Here you can get information and details about everyday life activities. Let’s say your character is pruning her rose bush, or your hero came to the rescue to repair her car, you can find those little how-to details on this site. It isn’t a source you could use for historicals, however. Does someone know an equivalent online source for historical information?

Surflater for PC and Notebook for Mac. These software packages help authors organize Internet research, and they work with most browsers.


  • Platform University is platform mogul Michael Hyatt’s new venture. For $25 per month you can everything Michael has learned to grown his multi-faceted platform.

Refer to Janet Grant’s January 15, 2013 blog to learn more about the next two resources.

  • Google Analytics measures your social media efforts to drive people to your website.
  • Klout scores your influence based on your social media activity.

Today I was corresponding with a client about an idea for a future project. The thing is, it will require a lot of research in the US. The client lives in the UK. If the project is a go, a research trip to the States is in order. Besides government websites, what online resources for the history of a particular area would you recommend?

OK, let’s hear about your favorite resources for any area of the writing life.

76 Responses

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  1. Lisa says:

    Thanks so much, some of these are new to me! (Historical societies and their fearless leaders usually have a wealth of information for a particular area.)I also really love old photographs. They give you such a visual representation of a time and place.

    • Me too, Lisa. Historical societies not only know the best places to visit, they often have on-line pictorial archives, or at least know where to find them. Many historical societies publish their own books on local history. Plus, they can tell you which other published books are good/accurate and which aren’t worth your time and money.

  2. Jeanne T says:

    Wow, Mary, I hadn’t heard of any of these! Thanks so much for sharing them. One of my favorite resources is the Emotion Thesaurus. It has really helped me understand how to write what my characters are feeling more effectively. I also just discovered a website that describes temperaments. It’s at keirsey.com. I just found it last night as I’m trying to determine what my hero does for an occupation. I can’t find the exact address for the occupations section, but it was very helpful.

    I’m off to take my littles to school. I can’t wait to hear more about resources!

  3. Sarah Thomas says:

    Awesome resources–thanks for the list! One of my favorites is wordle.net. Paste your entire MS in there and it makes a word picture with the words you use most often the biggest. Excellent way to find those sneaky words you overuse. Like “little” and “just” in my world.

  4. Thank you, Mary, for this information. I’m anxious to explore them, particularly Muse Creations. Character names are so important. I like reading materials with quirky information, like The Book of Useless Information or even Reader’s Digest. Those aren’t exactly writing resources, but they are terrific places to pick up ideas.

  5. Ooooh, thank you so much, Mary! With the exception of Grammarly, I hadn’t heard of these! A wonderful little resource that I’m sure I’m going to bookmark and use over and over again. While the one I find particularly helpful for me isn’t writing related, it does come in handy and keeps me on track. It’s StayFocused and it helps by blocking certain sites that you set up after a certain amount of time has passed. I love it, but I must admit there are times when I ‘forget’ to use it…ahem. 🙂

  6. Grammarly and I have become best friends this year, but I have a quick question for the Books & Such Blog follower gang. In Grammarly, aside from the “technical” option geared for a specific writing style, which proofing option do you recommend for women’s fiction, first person past tense? (General, Academic, Creative, Casual) I’ve waffled between a few, and the suggested edits, (suggested being the key point), contain huge variations.

  7. Thanks for this amazing list of resources. I’ve used Grammarly and Library Insider. I’m still not sure if I understand Google Analytics and Klout, but I’m using them. :)The others were new to me. Videojug sounds fascinating.

    When I was writing longer stories instead of picture books, I used http://www.storytoolz.com/ I used it mostly for their word counter, which would help motivate me by allowing me to see my progress. It also analyzes your work, helps get rid of cliches, and has a story idea generator. Now, if it had a “Stop the World So I Can Catch Up” button, I would be all set.

    • Mary Keeley says:

      Cheryl, thanks for adding this versatile tool to our list. Yes, a “pause for catch-up” button would be useful.

    • Elaine says:

      A pause-to-catch-up button sounds wonderful until it occurs to me that I would come to rely on it and probably be in that mode all the time. I think, for me at least, God did the right thing by not giving us one.

  8. Jan Thompson says:

    Cool! Thanks, Mary! Never heard of the Citation site. I must check it out. I second Google Analytics. Good stuff.

    Chicago Manual of Style Online is a good one too. However it does require an annual subscription: http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/home.html

    For character names, I use baby name books leftover from when I was expecting.


  9. Larry says:

    I think tumblr allows for one to make a website, including a unique web-address, which I assume might give more of a professional aura to ones’ social media platform, instead of something like a wordpress or other similar blog platforms which require (I believe) the name of the blogging service in the web address.

    • Larry says:

      Also, I cannot help but notice that Mr. Hyatt charges twenty five dollars a month for access to learn the secrets to building a successful social media platform, and be reminded of that old joke about the guy who sees an ad in the paper about “Learn how to make money FAST! Send money to…”, takes out his wallet, dumps the money into an envelope, sends it to the address, and gets a letter reply that says, “To make money FAST, put an ad in the newspaper that…..”

      Not to say that Mr. Hyatts’ intentions are less than noble, or that his services are not worth the price, but the whole concept made me recall that joke.

    • Jan Thompson says:

      You can get unique web addresses anywhere. WordPress began as a blogging tool. You still need hosting, and with that, you can get a unique domain name. Companies like AuthorMedia will be able to help you with your “aura”. HTH.

    • Mary Keeley says:

      Larry, thanks for adding Tumblr to the list. David Karp focused on making this tool easy to use.

  10. What a great list of resources, Mary. I’ve never heard of most of them, so this is excellent information. I’m especially excited to check out Videojug.

    One resource I’ll never part with is a book called “The Baby Name Wizard” by Laura Wattenberg. I originally bought it for picking out my children’s names, but I’ve ended up using it even more for character names. Things I love about it: Name snapshots that show popularity, nicknames, plus commentary regarding any major considerations (i.e., what celebrities might have that name and the association it might bring). It also lists sibling names that fit the same tone of the name listed. I’ve used this as I develop characters and look for names for their siblings.

    The last section of the book groups names into style families, including decades, which has been a huge help for me as I find names for characters from different generations.

    I’ve used this book so much, the binding is falling off. It might be time for me to invest in a new copy…or maybe a roll of duct tape. 🙂

    • Sarah Thomas says:

      Oooh! I want a copy!

    • That sounds like a good one, Sarah.

      If I may, I’ll add the naming books I use:

      1. ‘Baby Names Around the World’ by Bruce Lansky (matching names with ethnicity)

      2. ‘Names through the Ages’ by Teresa Norman (most common names for periods throughout history, plus names of kings, popes, etc)

      3. Baby Namer app on my iPhone (uses a graph to show the popularity of a name from 1880 to present. This is invaluable in discovering if a common name of today was even used ‘back then’.)

      I’m sure there are website that give the above info, but sometimes researching on line is too distracting.

    • Mary Keeley says:

      Ooh, I’m not familiar with this book. Thanks for telling us about it, Sarah.

  11. I’ve used Google Earth quite a bit for details on my setting. It sure doesn’t beat going there in person–and I hope to do that this spring–but in the meantime, it’s been a huge help.

    And my setting’s a pretty famous place so when I zoom all the way down to street level, it has actual photographs I can look at, all 360 degrees as if I were right there. Now I just need them to update the pictures to the season my book’s set in. 🙂

  12. Kiersti says:

    What great resources–thanks, Mary!

  13. Jenny Leo says:

    I adore Grammarly! It makes me laugh while reinforcing the finer points of grammar and style–a great combination.

  14. Thank you for this great list of resources, Mary. I can’t wait to check some of them out. One of my very favorite online resources is http://www.etymonline.com. As a historical writer I need to know when certain words and saying became popular to use and this online dictionary does just that! For instance, I’m currently writing a book set in 1898 and I used the term “pipe dream,” but didn’t know if it would have been used then (actually, I was a bit skeptical) so just today I went to the etymology dictionary and discovered the term became common around 1870. It’s a tool I use almost every time I sit down to write.

  15. Most of my character names come from my genealogy ressearch. It’s great for historical fiction since the names coordinate with a specific time period. That way I ‘know’ that the name is true to the era.

  16. I love Thesaurus.com!
    It’s a great way to find a word that you want and then totally rabbit trail yourself for a half hour and ohhh and ahhh at all the possibilities.

    Now I have to go and bookmark all these sites people are mentioning.

  17. Leah E Good says:

    Quick question about Grammarly. I clicked the link and it offers a free seven day trial. How much does it cost for a subscription?

  18. These are my favorite blogs for keeping up to date on social media/internet marketing/blogging!


  19. Darby Kern says:

    Strangely, or not-so-strangely, my local library and the various branches around town continue to be a wonderful source of information. I may start at Wikipedia or somewhere comparable and then order books or other resource materials from our library or interlibrary loan.

    Because, after all, this internet is a fad that’s gonna end someday…

    • Mary Keeley says:

      Chuckling at your Internet comment, Darby. But so true about libraries. Sometimes it’s refreshing–even calming–to settle in among the rows of printed books (and yes, online resources too) and absorb knowledge the old-fashioned way. Hmmm, can I fit that in tomorrow.

    • Elaine says:

      I use books.google.com to track down books by subject for my historical research. Most of the books have a preview that sometimes give me information I want. Some old books are even available for free download. Then I use interlibrary loan to order whatever looks most useful. I can’t get every book I want this way, but I can get some. Even if I think I want to buy a book, interlibrary loan gives me a good opportunity to decide whether it’s worth it to buy my own copy.

  20. Thank you Mary for these resources. And thanks to everyone else for so many more suggested sources.

    Hope everyone has a fabulous writing weekend!

  21. Mindy says:

    This post feels like a birthday present! I had no idea most of these resources existed. Thank you Mary, and thank you everyone who responded with more!

  22. Wow, Mary, these are all great resources. And to remember them, I’m going to add them to my #1 research organizer – OneNote.

    OneNote if usually bought in the same package as Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. Sometimes it comes installed in your computer. I also have the OneNote app on my iPhone so I can access all my research, craft files, business files, etc, while on the road – provided I create it to store ‘on the web’.

    It’s important to create it to store ‘on the web’ because it will then use SkyDrive to protect your data in case your laptop crashes. I learned this the hard way. Now, I can switch from different laptops to my iphone without problem.

    I also use http://www.wordhippo.com and http://www.etymonline.com for when I can’t remember the word, but know everthing else about it.

    And finally, I have an iphone app for all those submissions. It’s called, STORY TRACKER. It keeps track of who I sent a submission to, the word length, it’s income (someday), how many days it’s been waiting for a response, how many rejections it’s rec’d, etc.

    I started with the free Lite version of Story Tracker which is good for 5 submissions, but as I sent out more manuscripts and contest entries, I ran out of room and bought the full version – now sitting at $7.99. It has a couple quirks I’m not crazy about, but overall, it’s the best tool I’ve found to keep track of my projects.

  23. Extremely helpful. I knew of only a few of these. Thank you, everyone. Be blessed.

  24. May I add one more resource to your fine list which I enjoy perusing occasionally.

    “All things canine”. For when you write that magnum opus (that we all have to write at some point) the perennial favorite: A boy and his dog story.
    Myself, I can’t get enough of them.

  25. Lisa Nieman says:

    Wow! I bookmarked several of these sites. Should be very helpful in the writing journey. Thanks!

  26. Jean Huffman says:


    I’ll have to try Citation Machine and Videojug. Thanks for the info!

    I have an oldie but a goodie help in paperback, RANDOM HOUSE WORD MENU by Stephen Glazer, that references words associated with many, many topics by subject matter.

    Say you are describing how your character is doing a certain process or you simply want to describe an item with its correct technical terms. Sooner or later you get to the place where you need the name of that “thinga-ma-bob.” You search your memory for what it’s called (or you may not know what it’s called to begin with!) With this book, you can peruse all sorts of words associated with that subject (given with definitions of each word).

    Thanks again for your helpful insight on all things writerly–


    • Mary Keeley says:

      Jean, thanks for adding a favorite to our list of helpful author resources. That book has been updated since it was first published in the late 1990s. I’m with you. I enjoy using the old stand-by’s along with the newer technologies.

  27. Sue Harrison says:

    Mary, I don’t have any additions for your list, but thank you! These are great resources!

  28. Minkee Robinson says:

    I cannot thank you enough for all the great and truly USEFUL information I get at this website every time I check in to see what is going on.

    • Mary Keeley says:

      Thank you so much, Minkee. That’s our goal. We love authors and try hard to provide balance between realism of current industry trends and helpful information with lots of encouragement.

  29. Michelle Lim says:

    One of my new favorite resources is saving time in Social Media for Writers. Edie Melson’s:

    Connections: Social Media and Networking
    Connections for Writers


  30. Mary,

    Thanks for all of these great resources.

    Sometime when I get stuck I’ll ask people in my FB groups if they know the answer or have a source.

    For instance my hero is a veterinarian,and I found a writing friend who works for a vet. She’s been tremendously helpful.

  31. Mary Keeley says:

    Ah, the person-to-person resource network chain. Thanks for this addition to our list, Jackie. Sometimes this resource is the quickest, most reliable method.

  32. Lyn says:

    Thanks so much for these links, I hadn’t heard of any of them.

  33. Joan says:

    Thanks for all the suggestions. I’m working on an historical set during WW II and found the
    Social Security website for popular names of the 1920s to be helpful. You can search by decade, from 1880s to 2000s:


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