Technology is pretty awesome for a lot of things. One thing I’ve found it excels at is allowing people to engage creativity. I’ve collected ten of my favorites for you today.
(Note: The title says “mostly free” because while all of these can be used for free, some of them also offer premium or paid versions as well.)
I’ve been a writer since I was 12 and wrote stories with my older sister. (Okay, it was Harry Potter fanfiction, but still.) In the 13 years since, I’ve used a wide variety of writing tools for everything from fiction to essays to this blog right here. This is what I use today to engage creativity in writing:
Available for Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, and in the web browser.
If you’re on Pinterest you’ve probably seen at least one article about the green giant. I’ve even talked about how much I use it here: I do almost all of my blog writing in Evernote. (The rest happens in my physical journal. Sometimes I need an analog touch.)
I’ve been using Evernote since its infancy. Its free vs paid plans have changed dramatically since then. (I’m actually grandfathered into “Premium” tier from their previous paid version.) But even the current iteration of free is pretty good. Especially if you’re using it mostly for text writing, which doesn’t use much of the 60MB of upload space per month.
(You can also use the web clipper to save websites that inspire you or lists of writing prompts!)
Available for Windows, iOS, Android, and in the web browser.
This one’s kind of a no-brainer. If you have any kind of account with Google already, you have a Google Docs account, because of the way all their services are combined. A basic Doc behaves very similarly to Microsoft Word or other word processors, so if you’re familiar with those the layout should come naturally to you. For those of you who need your writing space to look just right, Docs gives you access to the more than 800 fonts available through the Google Fonts library. And in the web browser, Docs has a Research sidebar that allows you to look stuff up right in the sidebar without leaving your document. Pretty cool, huh?
Some people do have security concerns about using anything Google. Since all of the content you provide to Docs is stored on Google’s servers, hypothetically Google can access any of it. Therefore, I don’t recommend using Docs for any information that’s very sensitive or personal. (Don’t put your passwords in a Doc!) But, for fiction writing, personally I feel that it’s a good tool. (You can always create an anonymous Google account if you really don’t want your writing connected to your name.)
Google also offers the functionality to create non-Doc documents like spreadsheets, forms, and presentations (a la PowerPoint). Since these aren’t really writing-related, and because the mobile apps for them are different than Docs, I decided not to go into them here. But you can learn more by checking them out in Google Drive.
Available for iOS and in the web browser.
Being a web developer by trade, graphic design has always felt a little elusive. It’s a discipline I try very hard to be good at, but I still feel lacking. Adobe Spark is a godsend in that regard. All of my title images are made in Spark. They offer a nice variety of fonts, a very easy and intuitive interface, and several great options for finding the perfect background image. And because it’s Adobe, you know it’s good. (We’ll just forget about Flash, okay?)
Available for Windows.
Speaking of Adobe, raise your hand if you can’t afford Photoshop. Mine is up, that’s for sure! Paint.NET, while sadly only for Windows, is a great free alternative. I could never get into the layout of The GIMP, but Paint.NET’s is really clean and easy to use. It reminds me of PaintShop Pro, if anybody remembers that.
I’ve used Paint.NET for years, for everything from designing web interfaces to digital painting with a drawing tablet. I’m still not very good at the latter, but the program itself is fantastic. If you’re on Windows I highly recommend trying it out. (This program is honestly one of the reasons I haven’t made the full switch to Linux yet.)
Available for Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, and Amazon.
I’ve only used Sketchbook for iOS, but I’m a huge fan. I have a bunch of semi-embarrassing art on DeviantArt that I created using this app a few years ago. The free version is restricted in how many layers you can use and how much control you have over brush customization. But in my opinion it’s still a great program to engage creativity through drawing.
Music has always been a great love of mine. But as it happens I’m awful at making it. I own a keyboard and a guitar and yet, I can only play one song. And not even well. But technology has helped me out a bit when I want to make music.
Available for iOS.
Auxy Studio lets you make beats simply by tapping notes onto the screen. It offers several really interesting sounding instruments in melodic and drums categories. The beats loop and you can arrange bars, “slides” of beats, and lots of other features. The app also comes with video tutorials to help you figure out all the awesomeness it can create. It’s a great and fun way to engage creativity musically.
Available free for Windows, Mac, and Linux. Mobile apps are also available but may not be free.
MuseScore lets you make sheet music. With a wide array of instruments available, anyone with basic music reading skills can make a tune with this program. Although knowing about music theory helps too!
(Here are some resources for reading music & music theory, if you’re interested: http://www.essential-music-theory.com/learn-to-read-music.html & https://www.musictheory.net/lessons.)
Available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.
Audacity is a sound editing program. I remember when I was in high school and pagan podcasting was getting pretty big: Everyone talked about using Audacity for their podcasts. (Because we were all broke hobbyists, lol.) In addition to recording, you can also edit sound files and apply neat effects and import & export files of various filetypes.
These are things that help engage creativity without themselves being creation tools.
Apps available for iOS, Android, and Amazon. Videos can also be watched in the web browser and many are available on YouTube as well.
I’ve recently fallen in love with TED Talks. (Partly because of my college courses including some. Partly because watching videos is the one thing my depression is fully in support of me doing with my free time.) You can find Talks on virtually any subject imaginable, so don’t shy away just because you’re not into science. There’s a lot of non-sciencey Talks, too. And some sciencey Talks that don’t seem like science at all. I’ve found they’re a great way to get my brain thinking in new ways and open to new perspectives. This can be really hard especially for us mentally ill folks whose brains try to strangle our creativity. In my experience, TED Talks can sometimes help us fight that.
(Really any kind of inspirational thing that works for you can do this. I just really like TED Talks and think they’re great.)
Apps available for iOS and Android, tones can also be found across the web.
Binaural beats are still a controversial thing in the realm of science. Although some research has shown that engaging different frequencies within the brain can aid in things like focus or relaxation, many of these studies were in the context of ongoing therapy, not single usage.
However, whether it was placebo or not, I have personally experienced an increase in productivity by using binaural beats. I encourage you to try them out and see for yourself if they work for you or not.
If you want to find out more about this topic, this website is a good place to start.
How do you engage creativity?