When asked about the best writing apps or software, I used to say, “Just use whatever you have and are comfortable with.” But recently I’ve been focused on upping my productivity and wordcount, so I’m testing everything to see if anything helps. Here’s a quick review of some of the things I think are cool, and what I actually ended up using.
NOTE: none of these will actually help you write a better book, unless they’re helping with a suggested outline or content. They can help you stay organized, and some may help edit or polish your writing, but they won’t improve the commercial value of your work.
What I’m looking for…
I just upgraded my writing tools and keyboards, so now I need a system for doing quick writing sprints for the rough draft, and adding them into my main software for organization and editing. Here are some of the features I want or am looking for, which won’t all be satisfied by one program:
- easily open and save files in dropbox, so I can switch devices easily or copy+paste into main file
- display word count as I type
- set project word count goals and deadlines
- keep track of long-term writing habits and data
- make it easy to rearrange, organize notes, and keep everything together
- distraction free writing
UPDATE: There’s a new contender called Atticus which you should definitely check out! It’s like Vellum + Scrivener in one.
- Microsoft Word
Microsoft Word is fine in most cases, and I like it for organizing my outline and pulling the whole thing together… though it does freeze up and crash a lot when you have a large file. If you want to use Word, make sure you download my 24 chapter plot outline templates or my DIY book formatting templates.
For people who need more organization and to have everything in the same place, with mood boards, notes, character profiles etc – there are some great features in Scrivener… but it’s a better experience on Mac and a steeper learning curve than MS Word. I never got the hang of it so I don’t use it.
Great for making sure your writing is always saved and protected, and you can switch between devices easily; also good for cowriting or working with an editor.
The point of Ilys (pronounced “eye-less”) is to simplify and make it difficult to backspace of correct – you must keep writing forward and you can only see a few words at a time. I need more practice to get used to it, but I really like the idea of this for writing sprints and getting the first draft done.
There are other online writing apps and programs, and I almost referred to a couple here, but the truth is most don’t have enough advanced features to make them worth using. However, I recently met the founder of Shaxpir and saw a demonstration, and it looks awesome… I signed up so I could make this video.
Basically, I don’t need a program to add all my content.
What I want is a program where I can add/organize my content into a book that ALSO offers some advanced tracking, so I can see long-term progress. Something that could help with the editing, or improving my writing, would be really valuable too. Shaxpir is beautifully designed and has some really impressive unexpected features.
I’ve only shared my favorites, but if you need more options here’s a bigger list of writing software and apps.
However, I’m actually not going to be doing my writing in any of these programs, because I’ve found I can boost my wordcount during writing sprints when I’m using a bluetooth keyboard and an iphone or ipad. So what I need is a writing app that helps me focus and boost wordcount without distraction.
- iA Writer (WINNER) – the focus mode + display word count makes this awesome.
These let you record typing sessions, add word counts, set goals, and track progress. I’d rather have something simple I can use on my Desktop though (I’m hoping Shaxpir has this ability, will confirm soon). The main thing is you want something you can actually use… even a calendar where you can draw an X and record daily word count would work, though I really want something that can make pretty graphs and bars.
- 5000 WPH
The other big missing feature is accountability and motivation; this can be social – get some friends to do writing sprints with you, or even just a daily check in with word count. Some of these apps match you up with partners (focusmate) or gamify writing to give you long term rewards (4thwords).
UPDATE: I did try to build a sprinting website before, I might try again; basically it would keep track of daily wordsprints, but also allow you to make rooms and write with buddies, in a friendly competition. Community can be a big motivator but is hard to organize.
EDITING & FORMATTING SOFTWARE
Once you’ve FINISHED the rough draft, you’ll want to get started editing it. Here are some tools that help.
OUTLINING / CRAFT
This should really have been earlier, but these apps may help you organize your outline. NovelCreator is based on the Marshall Plan, which helped me when I was figuring out plotting. The Novel Factor guides you towards five key story elements: “character, situation, objective, opponent, disaster” (for more about basic story, read this).
I’m a fan of asus zenbooks mostly, but have been considering a new M1 macbook pro, mostly to use vellum on and because the new ones are pretty powerful. For my main desktop, I use a razer laptop but will probably upgrade to a new very powerful asus gaming laptop.
However, that’s because I do a lot of heavy design and video work.
For just basic book writing, I’d actually suggest something small and portable, at least for the sprints/drafting. Maybe like a freewrite, though I prefer a bluetooth keyboard and the iAwriter app; for editing, I put it in Word with my huge desktop monitor.
So, a small portable device for sprinting (maybe not at your desktop/main office) and a regular work machine.
Here’s a list of my favorite bluetooth keyboards.
Also keep in mind, this stuff is a very small piece of book writing: you’ll find the best resources to help you finish are actually my writing guides and chapter outlines.
I’m a philosophy dropout with a PhD in Literature. I covet a cabin full of cats, where I can write fantasy novels to pay for my cake addiction. Sometimes I live in castles.