How to Choose Writing Software: Sorting It All Out

Choose Writing Software

As a writer, there are a plethora of writing software tools available and if you’ve shopped around at all you’ve probably come away overwhelmed by the choices. One main difference is the purpose of the software. In this article, we’ll try to clarify the different types of writing software available. The categorized lists will help you sort it all out and find the best writing tools for your needs.

To Choose Writing Software, Ask These Questions:

  • What is the Main Purpose of the Software?
  • What Features Will Help Me Organize My Writing?
  • How Much of a Learning Curve is There?
  • Does it Offer Adequate Help and Support?
  • Is There a Price Point That Fits My Budget?

Word Processors

As writers, we’re all familiar with word processing software. The big five are MS Word, Apple Pages, Google Docs, LibreOffice, and OpenOffice. Below are some others that you may want to consider:

  1. Quip is a software suite that includes word processing and is available online. Work collaboratively with other writers or in a group. Free versions for iOS and Android available. Files are all stored on Quip servers.
  2. StoryBlue is a simplistic word processor, great for reducing distractions and is good for the budget conscious writer. Includes ability to track progress and target word counts, so it’s great for NaNoWriMos too.

Text Editors for Writers

A text editor is a scaled-back version of word processing software. Think of it as MS Word or Apple Pages but simplified. Many of the advanced formatting options of powerful word processors are taken out, so the focus is on just getting words on the page.

  1. Noisli is a great text editor designed to provide you with the right ambiance for you to write and be productive. Extremely simple text editor but packed with great features that include a timer as well as cool sound clips you combine into a sound loop that blocks external noise and lets you focus on your project.
  2. OmmWRiter is a web-based text editor and available for a small donation. OmmWriter includes several options for distraction-free writing including sound effects and background.
  3. FocusWriter is a free text editor for Linux, Windows, or Mac OS X users. Includes customizable full-screen background, sound effects including typewriter sounds, and more, all designed to help you focus and write.
  4. WriteMonkey is free and Markdown compatible. It includes an outlining feature and sound effects, including typewriter sounds.
  5. ZenWriter is just $19.95 after the free trial. Includes ability to change background, music, sound effects, and more.
  6. Hemingway is available online and for Windows or Mac download. It’s text editing and detailed grammar checking combined. Includes readability assessment which analyzes sentence length, adverb use, and other common grammar issues.

Novel Writing Software (Organize Your Writing)

Word processing software or advanced text editors specifically designed to help you organize your writing into manageable pieces and eliminate all the headaches involved with tracking things like chapters, scenes, plot, character traits, and research.

  1. Scrivener is available for Mac or PC. Designed to help you organize your novel by chapter or scene, set word count targets, output a print-ready version of your book. Provides a corkboard and index card approach to dividing writing into manageable chunks and organize it. It’s well worth the learning curve of several hours.
  2. Novlr works like Scrivener. It’s web-based and offered free for NaNoWriMo participants. Paid version is $10 monthly after the trial.
  3. PageFour is a simple word processor with an organizing window on the left for your notes. Very uncomplicated writing environment.
  4. Ulysses is available only for Mac and iOS. It includes a distraction-free workspace and Markup based Text Editor.
  5. Writer’s Blocks 4 ($149) or Writers Blocks Essence ($79) This works well for those who enjoy the index card method of planning. Fantastic rearrangeable blocks for each idea or chunk of text up to 64,000 characters long. A free trial is available before you invest.
  6. YWriter5 is free and available for Windows and Linux, Designed with novelist in mind by an author and computer programmer. Writers looking for a distraction-free workspace will love the simplicity. Move between chapters using tabs. See visual flow of story elements via the Storyboard function. Looks a bit outdated but gets the job done.
  7. Novelize is web-based, so it works on any mobile device, Mac or PC. It’s like Scrivener only it’s an online app. There is a 17-day free trial followed by paid subscription at $5 monthly or $45 for the year. Novelize includes a distraction-free writing option.
  8. Storyist is available for Mac at $59 or iOS for $14.99. Track characters, plot, or setting of your novel with specialized tools. Desktop version includes scriptwriting component.
  9. Bibisco for Windows, Linux, and Mac is a free and open source software tool for writers designed to organize chapters, scenes, and manage revisions. Write with a fully featured text editor. Organize ideas and view the chronological distribution of events or characters across chapters.
  10. StoryMill writing software was originally built for Mac users. It’s a cross between a distraction-free text editor and novel writing software. The timeline feature is one that novel writers will find particularly useful.

Story Development Software for Writers

  1. Story Development Software is word processing or novel writing software that includes not only tools for organizing your writing, but elements that prompt or provide advice to make sure you include the essential elements of a good story. It doesn’t write it for you, but there’s more guidance in these than in other novel writing tools.
  2. StoryWeaver is available for $29.95, but there is no built-in word processor, so you’ll need one that integrates well. StoryWeaver does have a very intuitive system for plot development, theme, characters, and setting that writers will love.
  3. PowerWriter—for Windows, no Mac version. More complicated than other novel writing software as it includes story development tools in addition to just organizational help. Has great tutorials to help with the learning curve.
  4. PowerStructure ($99.95) It’s similar to PowerWriter, and has won awards for its story development capabilities and includes templates for screenwriters and playwriters as well as novelists.
  5. Dramatica Pro can be yours for $109. It’s a work of genius, well worth the price but comes with a huge learning curve of up to six months. DramaticaPro is the big brother of StoryWeaver. Surprisingly it lacks standard dictionary, spell check, thesaurus, and word count features. Great for screenplays or novels.
  6. WriteItNow 4 (69.95) Story development software that includes Story Board, Word Count, Writing Targets, Readability, Prompts, Character generation, Thesaurus, and ability to preview end of the previous scene and beginning of next one in Preview editor
  7. CharacterWriter is novel writing software that has extremely detailed character building built into it along with some basic plot building.

Word processing and novel writing software can have a very different purpose or focus, so figure out which type of software will help you the most first. Then research your options and kick the tires on some free trials. It’s important to give new software a detailed trial run to ensure you conquer the frustrations that naturally accompany a learning curve. Did we miss your favorite writing software? Let us know in the comments below.

1 Comment

  • Annie Woods-Thompson says:

    Thanks for the information. I wasn’t aware of many of the products listed in your article. I noticed there was no mention of voice-recognition software that might be of value to those of us who like to hear ourselves talk. (No joke.) Are there any that are purpose specific like CharacterWriter or StoryWeaver?

    How about an article listing those products?

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