For many of us, annual goals follow a predictable pattern. We make clear resolutions, often including writing goals like “Finish that book!”, and are steadfast about keeping them … for the first few weeks. After that, life tends to get in the way. We’re too busy to hit our target word count for one morning, then two. Before we know it, we’ve slipped right back into our old habits.

These five writing tools won’t achieve your writing goals for you, but they’ll give you the best chance of achieving them. From low (or no)-tech to cutting-edge, here are five tools that will help improve your focus and make it easier to hit your writing goals this year.

#1: Noise-canceling headphones

Whether you’re writing from the road or simply trying to find a bit of quiet in a busy household, noise-canceling headphones can be an invaluable focus tool. 

Like magic, they block out any outside noise that might distract you while you’re trying to write, from screaming children to road or airplane noise. Instead, you can listen to whatever helps you focus, from music to piped-in cafe noise. You can even use them to create a cone of silence, if that’s how you work best.

Bose is generally agreed to have the gold-standard offering, but far less expensive options serve the same ultimate purpose. For guidance, explore a few online reviews like this one from Wirecutter.  

And while you’re at it, check out targeted mood playlists (like Spotify’s) to give you some aural inspiration while you write. 

#2: The classic notebook

The notebook is about as low-tech as it gets. There are some fantastic options on the market, and we’ve listed our favorites below. But you don’t need anything fancy—and that’s why we love this tool. 

If you’re the type of person who likes to write by hand, you probably already carry a notebook with you everywhere. You never know when inspiration will strike, and the best way to capture those moments is to write them down

Notebooks come with considerable perks. They require no battery power, they aren’t generally a target for theft, and you can use them just about anywhere. Lower-end options can be purchased at the dollar store, or you can invest in higher-quality favorites like Moleskine or Leuchtturm.

For those who like the look and feel of writing on paper but prefer the versatility of tech, check out a thin paper-like tablet like the reMarkable tablet, which can convert handwriting to typed text.

#3: Word count apps

If you’re the goal-oriented or competitive type, tracking your daily writing habit will probably prove a powerful motivator. Once you string together a series of days in which you’ve hit a word count goal, momentum tends to build. After all, if you’ve committed to writing 500 words a day and you’ve shown up for the last 30 days, you’re far less likely to break your streak on day 31.

Here are a few tools we’ve found helpful in sticking to daily word count goals:

  • Scrivener: Scrivener is one of the fancier word processors for writers, and one of its many features is a word count tracker that allows you to see how your actual word counts stack up against your targets.
  • Gamified apps: Apps like 4thewords turn the act of showing up to write every day into a game, complete with a narrative arc—and you know we love those. 
  • Habit trackers: There are countless habit tracking apps for both iPhone and Android that allow you to self-select goals, like daily word counts or writing times, and then check off each day you complete them. Productive is one of the most popular (they have an Android version too) but search for habit trackers and you’ll find dozens. Play with a few to see what you like best.

#4: Dictation tools

Writing every day is easy when you can write from literally anywhere. Notebooks, tablets, and laptops are great in most cases—but what about those moments when you’re taking a walk or stuck in traffic, with time to write but without the means? That’s where dictation can help you stay productive.

Here are some indie author favorites for dictating on the go:

  • Apple Dictation is free and comes standard on Apple products, so this is a great entry point for iPhone users. You’ve got your phone with you anyway, so you may as well use it. Siri can even help the native dictation tool improve over time by learning your voice and speech patterns. One caveat, though: Apple Dictation isn’t great for long-form writing. Use it for quick notes or snippets of text, but look to other tools for long periods of recording.
  • Google Docs also has a free dictation tool, available only in the Chrome browser. You can record for extended periods and even edit as you write. If you’re looking for the best device-agnostic free dictation tool, Google’s option is a strong contender. However, you need an active internet connection to use it, so it won’t work in remote areas with no WiFi or cell signal.
  • Dragon is a paid Microsoft-based software that uses AI to produce highly accurate dictation. It requires some time and investment to download—but once you’ve got it, it’s one of the most popular tools around. Dragon offers advanced AI, high accuracy (99%), and versatility across a range of Microsoft software platforms like Word or email processors. 
  • Otter is another AI tool, but with a free option that makes it a bit more accessible than some of its pricier competitors. Otter offers limited transcription time at no cost, so you can try before you buy. It works mainly on recordings, so you won’t get a live voice-to-text transcription, but it doesn’t take long to generate a written record. You’ll need to download the text to another application, so it isn’t as seamless as other workflows—but nonfiction authors will love it for transcribing interviews and other audio-centric research.

#5: The Cloud

We’d be remiss if we didn’t call out the cloud for the great work it’s doing. The cloud makes it possible to sync progress across all your devices. You can start a writing project on your laptop, pick up where you left off from your phone, and finish the whole thing on your tablet.

Syncing your work to the cloud (instead of saving to a specific machine or paper file) enables you to pick up a project anywhere. Even if you were last writing on your laptop at home and now find yourself with a few spare minutes in line at the post office, phone in hand. 

Cloud-based apps like Evernote, Apple Notes, and Google Docs enable real-time syncing between devices. If you use a digital paper tablet like reMarkable, you can even access those notes from any device synced to that account. For writers, this means that scrambling around looking for work in one of a dozen different files is a thing of the past. With an easy-to-access searchable database in the cloud, your work is always ready when you are.

Now—throw on those noise-canceling headphones, get an author playlist going, and write away!