Five Online Writing Tools to Make Writing and Revision Easier

August 12, 2011 | Writing Tools, Writing Business | 7 comments

Online Writing Tools1.) If you write historical fiction, or even if you write contemporary, but perhaps have a character find a diary or old note, the Online Etymology Dictionary will soon become one of your most used online writing tools. Etymology is the study of the origin of words and the way those words, or how they are used, have changed over the years. The Online Etymology Dictionary can stop you from committing a hideous faux pas by having your Regency era Duke refer to the latest scandal as ton “gate,” which, of course, since the use of the suffix “gate” to indicate a scandal didn’t come into use until 1973 with Watergate. But it will also tell you that your 1885 merchant might comment on the “g-string” worn by some local Native American. (geestring, 1878 “’loincloth worn by American Indians,’ originally the string that holds it up…spelling with a G (1882)….” Use it for research and revision.

2.) No matter what time period you write, I’m sure at times you are at a loss for some word or another that you really do know.  is my favorite resource for that. You will find it much faster than thumbing through a dead tree version. With their word of the day, you may also expand your vocabulary. Word of the day when writing this article… “chaptalize, to increase the alcohol in wine by adding sugar.” Now, who knew that? Use it for writing and revision.

3.) How about timelines? This is a huge weakness of mine. I tend to write and lose track of time. I have kids going to school seven days a week, and three Mondays, followed by a Friday. Then I found this handy dandy timeline template for Excel to keep track of such things. It’s simple, useful and helped tremendously when I was revising my last story.  Use it for plotting and revision.

4.) How do you name your characters? Do they just pop into your head? Do you give any thought to the age of the character and where they are from? A great online tool to help you narrow your search, or get you going on your search is the Social Security Administration. They maintain a database of names from 1879 to present broken down by gender. You can also search for popular names by decade, state, twin births, and U.S. territory. This tool is useful, easy to use and free. Use it when plotting and developing your characters.

5.) How about objects? I love using a good object in my stories, but I also like to have a concrete image of that object in my mind. Or maybe I need to know the value of an object. In both of these cases, I turn to eBay! Just about everything can be found at one time or another on eBay. Want diamond and sapphire earrings for your heroine? You can find them on eBay. Want to find the going rate on some baseball card or an image of the oak hall tree in your hero’s grandmother’s foyer? Ebay. Pictures, descriptions, values. You will find them all there. Just don’t get too distracted and start shopping for yourself!

So, there you have it five of my favorite online writing tools that I like to use. Do you have any others you would like to share?


Lori Devoti is the author of paranormal romance, urban fantasy and young adult fiction. Under the name Rae Davies, she writes the USA Today Bestselling Dusty Deals Mystery series. Check out her books at and Looking for help with your writing? Lori also does developmental editing and critiques for other authors and publishers. See our Editorial Services page for contact information and pricing. Or check out Lori’s classes at the Continuing Studies Department of the University of Wisconsin.


  1. Chris

    Word of the day when writing this article…”chaptalize, to increase the alcohol in wine by adding sugar.” Now, who knew that?

    I did! :-) Being a wine geek taught me many obscure words such as chaptalize: lees, maceration, disgorgement, terroir.

    I appreciate the research ideas, Lori. Have used the SS name database with good results. Other than get an appropriate name for a person of a certain age, I use a random name generator to come up with character names. I try to give the bad guys ‘harder’ names–short, lots of consonants, etc., names that one can say with disdain and they sound evil. For the good guys, I lean toward ‘everyman’ names–so readers can more easily identify with the protags.

  2. Lori Devoti

    You definitely beat me, Chris, on knowing chaptalize!
    And I agree on the going for a “feel” with your names. :)

  3. John Waverly

    eBay. What a great tool for pictures of stuff. I can’t believe I never thought of that before. Thanks.

  4. lori

    John, I have a tiny ebay/auction addiction past. ;-)

  5. Karen S. Elliott

    I especially love the SSA – popular names of the day! Awesome post. I’ve recorded all these sites for future use.

  6. Jessica Messinger

    How about the Bible for names? Arphaxad anyone? And if you find a name and it’s just not quite what you want, write it backwards or mix up the letters. Names of towns are also fun to use for names :-)

  7. Lori Devoti

    Thanks, Karen. I love the SSA, especially to find regional and historical names.
    Jessica, Bible names were really popular where I grew up, at least for older people. Definitely a resource for certain types of characters. Towns are a great idea too. That is such a popular trend with baby names right now.