express yourself for less
Don’t let lack of funds hold you back from your dreams of being a writer.
Ideas may be free, but the tools to express them can be pricey. Fortunately there are numerous free materials to help you write without breaking the bank. These are some of my favourite free writing resources.
What follows assumes you have a least a smartphone, if not a laptop. That’s a great deal of resource already. Try this for free laptops for people on low incomes in US and for those on low incomes in the UK try here. Schemes can have differing eligibility and be withdrawn at any time, so make sure you always use the most up to date information.
Burning Books in the House of Books
Ray Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451 in 1953 on a rented UCLA library typewriter. He paid ten cents per half hour and completed the first draft in nine days for $9.80. That’s approximately $88 today.
In the age of smartphones and Google, the modern library and its librarians are often forgotten as resources. But the library provides a quiet space and is one of the very few public spaces left where you can spend time without spending money.
Libraries offer free or subsidised internet access and computer help, which are invaluable to people with extremely limited funds and/or knowledge. A library card allows you to borrow not just any book available, but also other media such as magazines, DVDs and music.
You might need to research something arcane or historical. We’ve all experienced the frustration of getting a million hits on a search but not finding the facts we need. In times of data overload, having a guide can be the best option. A good librarian knows how to find information.
Chasing new ideas can feel a lot like chasing butterflies. They catch your eye but flutter out of reach before you can grasp them. Or, they don’t arrive at all.
Try sparking your ideas by using randomly generated prompts. Need a name for a character or a first line? Need a plot idea or a first line? Look at some of these sites for a jump start.
This site generates names for different character types such as elves or warriors, as well as place names.
Multiple random generators covering first lines, story plots, images, three noun combinations, dialogue, and many more.
Generates a random line of poetry to start or inspire your next poem.
The images are licensed under the Creative Commons, meaning you can use them any way you wish without attribution. I encourage you to link to the original though, because every artist deserves credit for their work.
Lost in Translation
Does one of your characters lapse into their native language when angry? Do you want to leave an Easter egg for your readers to find? Then you need accurate translation. While Google Translate is a great start, sometimes the machine translation can be clunky or plain wrong. To test this, translate the result back to English and see what you get.
You might be lucky enough to have access to a native speaker who can help.
I use Reverso.net. It covers English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Russian, Portuguese, Chinese, Arabic, Hebrew, and Japanese.
What sets it apart from Google is the use of context. It will give several translated examples so you can choose the right one for the sense you’re trying to convey.
Getting It Right
Writing is simply a matter of the right words in the right order. Correct grammar and spelling ensure that the words make sense to readers. Searching for the right word is easier with sites such as thesaurus.com which give more options than your word processor’s built in option.
Grammar Girl is brilliant for learning all the rules of English grammar you forgot or never knew. If you don’t know where the apostrophe goes, or whether to use lie or lay, this is the place to find out.
A Place Of One’s Own
All writers should consider having a blog. This website is a place to start showing your work, practising in public, and building a following. You can blog on a personal site, or place your work with others where traffic is guaranteed to be higher.
WordPress is easy to set up and use. You can start your own website without paying a penny. WordPress offers paid options with more features, but it’s an excellent place to begin. Help to run your blog is a click away.
Medium is relatively new, but is set up so that anyone can post their work. The interface is clean and easy to read. You can post under your own name, or under the umbrella of a large publication with thousands of followers and potential readers of your work.
Quora is a site where anyone can ask a question, and anyone can answer. You can see what types of questions are most popular at any time, and you can build a following by answering questions in your area of knowledge. This can help you find hot topics to write about.
Finding Your Community
Medium is a wonderful place to read, write and connect in almost any area of interest. There’s also the chance to earn money from your writing.
Facebook offers another way to find groups who share your interests.
Twitter is not just a timewaster. You will find every kind of writer, including famous names, plus publishers, agents, and publications have a presence here. Careful sifting will yield opportunities to connect, plus promote your writing and brand to the right people.
Every genre has its own sites which offer targeted advice and information, plus forums to meet other writers and share your work. Search for your chosen genre and try some out.
In It To Win It
Writing competitions can boost your visibility and give much needed legitimacy to your career. There are lots of free options. Use Google, but I highly recommend Free Writing Events. Here you’ll find a monthly calendar of all kinds of free to enter contests.
Hang With The Cool Kids
Most published authors have their own website, with information and links to their work. Consider following your favourites. In the same vein, search sites like Medium and WordPress for blogs worth your time. Use keywords to focus on what matters to you.
Watch And Learn
YouTube has much more than cute animal videos. It’s an underrated source of knowledge, whether you need to know how to write a query letter or how to do stretches for carpal tunnel syndrome. You can watch famous speeches by authors like JK Rowling or Neil Gaiman for inspiration.
Research is easy with YouTube. I recently wrote a ghost story involving a battle from the English Civil War. History was never my strong point, but watching videos of re-enactments gave me enough information to add authentic details about uniforms and muskets.
If you’re a visual learner, YouTube is for you. Someone has already uploaded a video showing exactly what you need.
All You Can Eat
To write well, you must read widely. If your reading appetite exceeds your pocket, then look at ways of getting free books. I already mentioned libraries.
Sign up with Prolific Works, previously known as Instafreebie. For the price of your email address, you can download free full length e-books in many genres.
BookBub offers free and discounted new releases, as promotions for the authors. You can return the favour by leaving a good review.
Wattpad is beloved by young adult (YA) fiction writers and readers. If your young relative is an aspiring author, this is the place to post their early efforts. Quality varies wildly, but it’s a great place for younger and young at heart readers to indulge in YA and fanfiction.
Increasingly, the most popular titles on free platforms are moving to trad publishing or even television. Some of the biggest titles in recent history (for example The Martian by Andy Weir) started out on free-to-read sites.
The Daddy Of Them All
Google is the king of free resources.
Search for anything and get millions of results. Use Wikipedia as the starting point for subjects you know little about. At the bottom of each page you’ll find a list of reference articles. Explore those for more depth and accuracy.
Use Google Docs to write, collaborate, dictate, and edit your words. Search within your documents and add links and images with ease. Import articles into your WordPress blog with a click. And all your work is saved automatically in Google Drive.
Not Quite Free
These are not quite free, but low in cost. If you’re really strapped for cash, they make good gift ideas that are more practical use than another journal.
Magazine subscriptions are a gift that keeps giving. Each month you’ll get information on writers, writing, contests and conferences. Often new subscribers can pick up goodies such as pens, mugs, books and bags, as well as reduced cost for the first year.
The Visual Thesaurus is a treat for the eyes as well as a logophile’s delight. Search for a word, and it displays a beautiful animated tree of related words and definitions, all of which are fully searchable. It supports Dutch, English, French, German, Italian and Spanish. It’s also possible to search in more than one language at the same time. There is a free trial, after which it costs $14.95 a year.
The writer in a coffee shop is a cliché but for good reason. Being around people can break up a monotonous week, and offers opportunities to people watch. Listening to dialogue or making up stories about the people you see hones your writing skills, all for the price of a hot drink. Wifi is free and you’re forced to get dressed and leave the house, which every writer should do at least occasionally.
Information roaming free
When so much data is freely available the problem is not how to gain information, but where to find the information we need and turn that into useful knowledge.
We can access centuries of thought and progress without a second thought. Add that to minimal cost of entry, and there really is no better time to be a writer than now.
Reclaim Your Creativity
Get your creative spark back now. Claim your free copy of my ebook Unleash Your Creativity here.