Mega List of Writing Software
Ever since I discovered NaNoWriMo a couple of years ago I found out how many different writing programs exist out there, many of them especially geared towards fiction writers. Before NaNo I knew Microsoft Word and Open Office Writer and that was pretty much it. In the last 3 years I have tried several of the smaller programs in the hopes that they would help me with the novel writing.
Of course it is entirely possible to write a novel in MS Word. Hell, even Wordpad or every other editor can theoretically (and practically) be used for that. After all, for ages authors have done fine writing by hand or with typewriters. If you really want to write you make do with anything that allows you to put down one word after another.
But the fact is that novel writing in most cases doesn’t only consist of the actual writing of the story. Most of us have to do some research for certain aspects of the story. And then there is the planning of story arcs, the character sheets, the list of locations, a more or less detailed outline etc.
When I started my first novel I did all these preliminary planning stages by hand in paper notebooks and on loose pieces of paper. That worked, but it was pretty much a mess all over my desk. After a while it was hard to find a specific information in all those pages, because I didn’t really have a system to organize it all. Now some people might like the messy approach (or might be able to actually get random handwritten notes organized somehow) and find that helpful for their creativity or something. Fine for them. For me I found the whole thing slowed me down.
So I tried transcribing the whole mess into my computer. I made a few files in Word and in Excel and tried getting everything in there. That was marginally better, but it was still a bit scattered and it was annoying to have several files open at once and then have to switch away from my actual text to look things up or jot stuff down.
Then I discovered the NaNo Technology forum where people recommended their preferred writing software. That opened a whole new world to me, because the idea that there might be such a thing as a software specifically aimed at making the writing of novels easier had never even entered my mind. After my first NaNo I spent several months trying quite a few of them, with differing degrees of success.
The first one I gave a try was yWriter (back then it was still version 4, I think). I liked the idea of structuring the whole project in scenes and chapters, the ability to keep character sheets and a list of locations and all that. Unfortunately I realized pretty soon that yWriter’s structured approach didn’t really fit my working style. For all my craving of a certain kind of structure the one that yWriter offered was too rigid for me. And the clicking around in all those little windows and boxes and whatnot took up way too much time for me and kept me from the actual writing.
Next I found Liquid Story Binder. Definitely a program with a rather steep learning curve. It has so many options to do stuff that I felt completely overwhelmed. Of course, you don’t have to use everything it offers. Most people start out with using just one or two main functions and gradually expand as they become familiar with the program. Having a look at the tutorials probably would have helped a lot, too. As it was I only installed the trial version, but soon lost interest in playing around with it and never bothered with the tutorials. Still, I think if you invest some time in the beginning, LSB is a very nice software. It’s just not for me.
Next I stumbled upon Q10, a barebones, minimalistic fullscreen text editor. The charming thing about it are the old-fashioned typewriter sounds it can make while you type in your text. I know a feature like that is a very strange reason to fall in love with a software, but I did anyway. Q10 is my favorite application when I just want to get some writing done without any distractions. I don’t need format options or any other kind of feature, just the black screen, the amber text, the lovely anachronistic typewriter sounds and the words I transcribe from my head to the screen. That’s a surefire way to productivity for me. Oh, and it counts the words automatically and has a timer function so you can write in 30-minute-sessions (or whatever timespan you like). Very practical for NaNo.
WriteMonkey is a very similar application, but with a few more features. Since I never use those other features the two programs should basically be interchangeable for me. In reality, though, I slightly prefer Q10, only because I like its typewriter sounds more than WriteMonkey’s.
There were a handful of others I tried for different amounts of time, but nothing that really excited me. A lot of the programs have a few nifty features, but none seemed to have everything I wanted and most just bogged me down with unnecessary stuff that I didn’t need or want to use.
Which brings us to Scrivener. This software used to be available only for Mac. Even so I had read many praises about it from actual published authors (among them one of my favorite authors) and had long wanted to get my hands on it – but of course not enough to actually go out and buy a Mac. So when in October a first Beta version of Scrivener for Windows came out I naturally was all over it, fully expecting to be disappointed after all the hype I had read before. But funnily, the disappointment never set in. Instead, after playing around with the first beta for only a few hours I realized that my search for the perfect writing program was over. Even with the few bugs that I encountered in the first 2 or 3 beta versions I knew that Scrivener comes as close to what I want from a writing software as humanly possible. Which is why it warrants its own post.
But the purpose of this post was to make a list of the writing programs I have found in the last few years. I haven’t tried all of them (not even half of them), so apart from the ones I mentioned I can’t really say if they are all recommendable. But since most of them are free or at least offer free trials it probably won’t hurt to give them a try. For the ones that are not free I noted the price that was listed at the time of writing of this post.
This list is far from complete. Especially for the Mac and Linux crowd there are many more options available. I have included a few Mac only programs, because I kept hearing their names so I assume they are quite good. Most of the software I listed is available in Win and Mac versions, some are online editors that don’t involve any downloading or installation and should work in most browsers on any system.
DarkRoom (Win only)
Momentum Writer (Win only)
Complete Office Suites:
MS Word (from 140$ upwards)
Corel WordPerfect (250$)
Online Editors (no installation necessary):
Especially geared towards novelists:
Liquid Story Binder (Win only, 46$)
New Novelist (50$)
Writer’s Café (40$)
PageFour (Win only, 35$)
Power Writer (100$)
RoughDraft (Win only)
General text editors:
WordPad (included in every Windows version)
Jarte (Win only)
Script Writing Software:
Final Draft (249$)
CopyWrite (Mac only, 25$)
Textmate (Mac only, 45$)
OmmWriter (Mac only)
Storyist (Mac only, 59$)
StoryMill (Mac only, 50$)
WriteRoom (Mac only, 25$)
Other interesting stuff:
MS OneNote (part of the MS Office Suite)
Dropbox (referral link, gives you extra 250MB for free)
Timeline Maker (195$)
As I said there are tons of others available. Feel free to add your own favorites in the comments.