Some 21st century writing tools: apps for generating ideas (and words)

Screen Shot 2013-11-07 at 4.03.27 PM

from "A Pen" by Jim Andrews 


So this is, like, the 21st century which means that not only can we chose to write with a quill pen, a typewriter, a word processor, or a pencil in a notebook, but we can use computer programs to help us write. To boldly (or itallically) go to writing places we’ve never been before.

Here are some of my favourites for you to play with and generate ideas. Or to generate raw material for stories or poems. Or they might help you with the dreaded ‘writer’s block.’

You can take the output of these generators and modify them—mix and matching results—until you’ve got some writing that you like. Or you can play around with the programs until you’ve found some interesting character names, interesting names for spacecraft, or words for evil curses. Whatever your story or poem needs.

Some of these programs take some text (it can be your own, or something that you ‘copy and paste’ into the program) and then change it somehow. It’s interesting what changes and what stays the same when these apps get their digital teeth into a text

I also like to see if I can figure out what the programs expect and then try to find a way to confuse the program, to make it do something it didn't expect.

Maybe that means giving it some very surprising text, or two very contrasting texts, kinds of texts that the program probably wasn't written for, or else letting the program work on a text and then feed that text back into the program, or into another program.

And what do these programs do with languages that aren't English? (Have you ever played with cellphone autocorrect this way?)

It's like making a sandwich with a cloud. Or typing with the ocean. Or perhaps those one hundred monkeys typing until they come up with Shakespeare. Of course, that'd never happen. One hundred monkeys? I feel sure that they'd come up with the songs of One Direction. As sung by Stephen Harper. Dressed as Beyonce. Imitating the voice of Katy Perry. And a rake.


1. N+7

This great generator replaces the nouns in any text that you feed it with the next entry in the dictionary. By the time you get to the fifteenth replacement (scroll down) things can get really weird, exciting, and often strangely wonderful.

2.  The Cut-up Machine.

This modifies text in a number of ways. It cuts it up and rearranges it. It searches for pronouns and changes their gender. It generally mangles things in interesting ways.

3. Mesostic Generator. 

You feed this program a 'spine' text and also some source text, and voila!, it generates a poem. You can take the poem 'as is' or revise it.

4. Seventh Sanctum  

(The generators are oi the column to the left.) Fantastic for fantasy and science fiction, but it’s also useful to generate interesting materials for any kind of writing.

5. Language is a Virus 

This site has a whole pile of links to interesting online writing generators and writing games, text manipulation games, text generators, name creators and more. Check the extensive list of link down the left side of the page.

6. And finally, just for fun, two online ‘games.’

a. Arteroids, a literary “shoot-em-up” video game.

b. Another device for discovering your favourite letter. A great little app for playing around with letters & fonts. You can control how it works with keyboard controls.


If you have a favourite online writing tool, let me know. Write about it in the comments!