Ask any group of writers about their favorite writing program, and you’ll probably get a mix of answers — from Microsoft Word to Scrivener to Google Docs, with some lesser-known software thrown in.
Some of us use more than one. We choose the tool of the moment based on the nature of the project we’re working on.
Some prefer to stay out of the Cloud when they write. Others would rather stay in the Cloud because of the ability it gives them to bounce between devices as they write.
So, is there such a thing as “the best writing software” out there? And what are the best apps for writers in 2020?
It’s not so simple a question. But what you’ll learn in this post will clear the fog.
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Here’s what you need to consider when looking for the best book writing software:
What do you need when it comes to writing?
Are you looking for something to help you write a good story, something that allows for editing, or something that will do everything but wash your dishes?
Although you may not think much about it, you have a writing style.
I’m not talking about how you string together your sentences; I’m talking about how you work when it comes to writing.
- Do you prefer a darkened room, with just the light of the monitor glowing dimly?
- Or do you prefer sitting outside in the bright sunshine listening to the birds?
- Maybe you prefer coffee shops, where you can eavesdrop on conversations to get inspiration for stories.
Perhaps you like to create your first draft before going back to make any changes. Or maybe you write in chunks, out of order, waiting until the end to rearrange and put it all together. How you work is your writing style.
Centuries ago, pen and paper were used by everyone. Today, some sort of computer is the choice of most writers. But, the thing that still varies is writing style: what each writer needs in order to write.
The Best Writing Software and Apps for Authors
Wondering where to start when looking for writing software and apps that fit your needs? Let’s take a look at some of the basics every writer must have.
The best word processor for writers has the following features:
- Ease of formatting (headings, spacing, etc.)
- Accessibility on multiple platforms (for use on the go)
- Easy and automatic saves to the Cloud (for use on any compatible device)
- Has all the basics but is simple enough to be easy to learn
Google Docs has all of this. It’s like the Canva of free writing apps — simple enough to learn how to use it quickly and easily, though it’s still loaded with essential features.
But when it comes to choosing the best book writing software, some writers will only use Scrivener (speaking fondly of the devoted Scrivenerds in my writer circle), while many of us are fine with using MS Word or an open source alternative like OpenOffice.
The best apps for writing a book have the following features:
- Ease of formatting for either print or ebook
- Ease of converting to a format acceptable to publishing platforms
- Ease of use while writing — with automatic saves or reminders to save your work
- Compatibility with tools that minimize distractions
Some programs are better at one or two of these than others. So, let’s take a closer look at the options, so you can make an informed choice.
Scrivener Book Writing Software
When it comes to writing, most people either use the word processing program on their computer or Scrivener.
After hearing it mentioned so much in writing communities, I thought I better check it out. If I were writing a novel or any sort of fiction, this would be a fabulous program. The templates and organizing features are well thought out; I particularly like the corkboard idea.
While it’s possible to create a similar filing system within a folder on your desktop, the ease of switching between things within Scrivener is pretty sweet. There’s a free 30-day download which includes a detailed tutorial. The complete program is priced reasonably, too, even for a starving writer.
It does have its drawbacks, though. Since it’s a download, you can’t switch between devices to work on your manuscript or collaborate with others online.
You also won’t find editing features in the program, other than a basic spelling check, simple formatting and the ability to add tables and graphics. It’s all a bit less than what you can do in Word. Not too bad of a trade-off considering the organizing tools it offers.
Microsoft Word is the word processing software of choice for many writers.
If you’re planning to spend money on writing software, anyway, and you want something you can use on multiple devices (without having to pay for it more than once), MS Word gives you plenty of reasons to fork over the $6 to $9 and change each month for Office 365.
The monthly payment option seals the deal for many of us who balk at paying a lump sum of $70 (Personal) to $100 (Home) for a one-year license.
With Word, you can quickly and easily catch most spelling and grammar mistakes, format text, set up tables and lists, change margins, add graphics and blank pages, track changes made by editors, create and print mailing labels, and even translate individual words or whole documents into other languages.
I’m old enough to remember when Word came pre-installed on computers. Today you have your choice: a one-time charge for the download of Word alone, or a small monthly fee to get Word and a few other Microsoft Office programs through the Cloud.
The perk of using the cloud-based option is the ability to collaborate with others in real-time. With so many “virtual” companies out there, the Cloud seems to be the way Millennials are heading.
If you have an Apple-based device, such as a Mac, you’re probably familiar with Pages.
Pages is to a Mac as Word is to a PC. From what I can see, their capabilities are comparable. Pages even seems to be going the cloud-based route.
If you save your work to the Cloud, friends who use Windows can sign into iCloud and join your collaboration team. Pages can even save as a Word file, as well as import and edit Word documents.
More Options and Apps for Writers
As I mentioned earlier, your writing style is all about how you work. There are other options out there besides Scrivener, Word, and Pages. Depending on your needs and your style, some of these may work well for you.
With so many companies operating in the Cloud, it’s no wonder Millennials are turning to Google for their writing software needs. Google Docs works like Word and Pages.
With it, you can create manuscripts, articles, newsletters and more. Nothing to buy, nothing to install, usable from any computer, tablet or mobile device.
Totally free and blessed with a simple, attractive interface, Google Docs makes it dead simple to format your work and download it in a variety of formats, including Word, PDF, and OpenDocument (.odt).
And collaboration is easy. When you want to share your work with others, you can decide whether you want them to simply “view” the document, or whether you want them to be able to “comment” or “edit.” You can even track changes between various editors.
Maybe you need a little bit more when it comes to writing, though. Maybe you are easily distracted by shiny things, making coffee shops unproductive places because there are too many things to see and hear.
Go into your writing room, shut the door, dim the lights and pull up FocusWriter. This program blocks out your whole screen with a background graphic and gives you a blank white “sheet of paper” in the middle to type on.
It comes with basic word processing functions, plus the ability to set alarms for taking breaks or knowing if you’ve hit your word count for the day.
It works on any operating system and is downloaded to your computer. If you miss typewriters as much as I do, you can turn on “typewriter sounds” to hear your keystrokes. How cool is that?!
WriteWay is a downloadable software that works much like Scrivener, keeping files all in one place and easily accessible (although the free version of WriteWay pales in comparison to Scrivener).
Besides basic word processing and formatting, it includes word tracking, so you know how much you write each day. Unfortunately, this is only available on Windows. Sorry, Mac users.
Check out the following pros and cons and download a free demo, if you’re curious. It has everything you’ll find in the free Professional edition, but the printing and exporting functions are disabled. Registering your Demo edition activates them.
FastPencil is an online community for writing and publishing that allows you to create, publish, and manage your own content using their collaborative platform.
Easily convert your manuscript to the latest ebook format and invite your editor or beta readers to make suggestions and edits. The free version allows you to publish your book privately in either print or electronic form.
If you’re looking to publish a book and you need a little encouragement from other writers along the way, this is worth looking into.
When your book is done, you can publish it directly from FastPencil in a variety of formats: print, PDF, ePUB, and MOBI. Sign up for free to learn more.
Sigil is a downloadable program specifically for creating and editing ebooks (epub format). It has a bit of a learning curve, but it’s free. If your goal is to publish an ebook, you may want to check out this software.
It works on both Windows and Mac, and it converts .txt and .html documents to EPUB format for publication.
OmmWriter is a downloadable, simple, text-only application. You’ll find no formatting whatsoever here. Much like FocusWriter, this program blocks out all distractions from your screen. Headphones are recommended for the audio tracks. There is a small fee for this program, but it’s available for both Windows and Mac.
OmmWriter opens up in full-screen mode and supplies a variety of backgrounds, audio tracks, and keystroke sounds.
The minimalist design includes only basic writing functions, but if a distraction-free writing experience is at the top of your priority list, you’ll definitely want to give this one a try (if only to find out whether it lives up to its name).
If you can’t afford Office 365 (not even the monthly option), you might give Open Office a try. It’s hard to argue with free. And since it’s the “leading open source office suite for word processing…,” it sounds like something worth trying.
And it definitely works if all you need to do is create a formatted document, convert it to PDF format, and share it. It supports over 500 extensions and opens all document formats. It also works with Windows, Mac, Red Hat/Linus, and Solaris.
For free writing software with a clean, simple, distraction-free interface, it’s hard to do better than iA Writer. Less feature-heavy than Scrivener, it’s ideal for smaller projects like blog posts and articles.
Compatible with Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android devices, iA Writer is worth trying out. Enjoy its “Focus Mode,” which highlights one sentence at a time to keep you focused on writing (not editing). Learn more with the video on the iA Writer homepage.
Beyond Writing Software
Maybe you like using Word, or Pages, or Scrivener. But maybe you’re not quite as productive as you’d like to be. Let’s look at a few ways to take your writing to the next level.
Many writers will have a fan running in the room to act as white noise. One popular music program even offers a white noise station (which is really neat, by the way).
Perhaps, when you were reading about OmmWriter, the idea of audio tracks caught your attention. If so, you might like Noisli. Similar to Coffitivity (coffee house sounds), Noisli is strictly for distracting your mind from the other sounds around you.
You choose the writing software and then turn on Noisli for various sounds from nature. It’s white noise at its finest!
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When you finish writing (or maybe as you write) it helps to have an editing software program to run your work through. Three of the most popular ones are ProWritingAid, Grammarly, and the Hemingway Editor.
While you can type directly into each of these programs, they’re designed to be editors, not word processors. Each has unique attributes, and each will find errors the others missed.
Each of these programs will also tell you something is wrong at times when it’s not – this is why a human editor and proofreader should always be factored into your writing budget.
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What Book Writing Software Do You Use?
Now that you’ve looked over these options for writing software, which ones stand out for you? Sometimes just tinkering with a few that pique your curiosity can help you identify what you most want to see in a writing program.
Maybe you already know your favorite, and this post just confirmed it for you. If so, I’m glad to help.
Maybe you thought you knew the best program for your purposes, but you learned something new in this article and now want to try something else. If so, I’m excited for you. And I hope you find exactly what you need.
What did I learn? One of Ommwriter’s audio tracks has the sound of rain!
May each new discovery of yours bless you and bring new life to your writing projects.