When it comes to writing, the tools we use can be essential to creating the right environment for success. The Internet gives us access to hundreds of free and premium applications to write how we want, but what about finding the right tools for you? Creative writers need a different set of features from technical writers, for instance, and furthermore everyone is different and reacts to different stimuli.
Today I bring you a Writing Software Catalog featuring dozens of amazing writing tools, all personally tested. This post will only be going over a handful of cherry picked applications, but you can find the full list below where I detail the different software, where to find them, how much they cost (most of them are free, or at least have a free option), their feature list, and some personal thoughts on what makes that program unique.
Are you ready to find your new writing tool?
Let’s start with the essentials: writing software. This is any program with a dedicated text editor designed to let you write. There are several types of writing software, from the most basic to the more complex, and finding the one for you can take some time. You should first determine a desired set of features you want to utilize, and start narrowing down the list from there.
The most simplistic and bare-bones, that’s how the developers and users want it. This type of software is designed to make you focus on getting your words on screen and nothing else. If you want to go with the most stripped down focus writer, it will probably have nothing more than a basic text editor and a ‘focus mode’ which makes the program full-screen to eliminate all distractions. The more feature rich focus writers will have things like ‘typewriter mode’ (where your text will be vertically centered on your program’s screen) as you type. Good examples for this software include Calmly Writer and iA Writer.
Probably the most well known kind of writing software, these programs generally include a primary text editor and strong formatting options. These lack features like focus writing or night-mode, which can make them more stressful on the eyes for longer writing sessions, but are great for laying out documents with nice formatting. Microsoft Word is the most well-known word processor out there, but great free options with full feature sets include: Google Docs, Libre Office, and Open Office.
A place for you to break up and separate your writing into workable chunks. These programs are great for planners, organizers, and non-fiction writers. Break up long chapters into digestible scenes or sections that can be easily reorganized, or set POVs apart with ease. These types of editors offer writers the ability to nest elements. For example, if you have Chapter 1, then you would be able to create little files within that chapter for each scene. Scrivener is a good breakdown editor, but other great options include Wavemaker and Bibisco.
Among other types of notable writing software are planning tools. This type of software may or may not include a text editor for writing your novel, but this is because the main purpose of these applications is to help you plan, organize, and lay out your writing project. There are a few types to consider when you’re perusing the many useful applications out there.
These relatively specific programs are designed for creative writers to help them lay out the pieces of their novel from story summary, to scene breakdowns, themes, characters, and locations. Story planners are particularly useful for long, complicated, or multi-character stories that deal with different points of view and multiple narrative threads. My personal favorite software for this is Novel Factory, with Manuskript as a good alternative.
Software designed to lay out the elements of a world. This usually deals a lot less with the story, and a lot more with details about the world. Characters, timelines, encyclopedias, history, and more. This is great for writers (like me) who have hugely complex worlds to go alongside their stories. Beware of distraction though, don’t forget the whole reason you’re writing this! For desktop, I use a program called Campfire for worldbuilding. There’s also a fantastic website, World Anvil, that’s all about creating and posting your unique world for people to see, if that’s your thing.
When you’ve finished writing, it’s important to go back and check over your work. Not all writers are spelling and grammar experts, and while most text editors offer spell check, there is a distinct need to make sure your work is grammatically accurate. There are over two-dozen well-established applications for grammar, spelling, and content purity and just like with writing software, each one is a little bit different.
Unfortunately, due to my background in English and editing, I don’t have as much of a need for these types of grammar applications, so I’m not the best source on which ones are better than others. My Software Catalog still covers over 20 different programs and websites, so you’re welcome to try them out and find the one that works for you. According to fellow writers, though, Grammarly and HemingWay are very good.
Other Useful Software
Aside from your text editor or story planner, there are other types of software that can be of great use to writers. Sometimes these other programs can be great to help you find inspiration when you’re in a rut.
Aeon Timeline is great for those complex stories with multiple characters and storylines, and can create things like custom calendars for fantasy worlds, or help you set a writing schedule for a project or a blog.
Wonderdraft and Inkarnate are excellent map making tools that anyone can pick up and use with ease. Inkarnate even has a fully functional free version that anyone can use, though it’s browser based. Wonderdraft will set you back about $30 USD, but it’s a one-time payment and can make huge, sprawling maps.
iMindMap, while a little pricey, can help you turn a basic idea into a solid concept for writing.
Choosing Your Tools
Now comes the difficult (but fun) part: Choosing the right program(s) for your toolbox. Like any good craftsman, your toolbox should be equipped with a collection of tried and tested equipment that you find yourself using often. You don’t need three different hammers, just a single good one that fits right in your hand. The same goes for you.
Most of the programs I have listed above are either free to use, have a free version (often called ‘Freemium’), or have a free limited trial. This lets you test out various programs until you find the one that’s just right for you. I highly encourage you to find an application that fits your specific needs, because we’re all different.
For instance, I’m very prone to headaches and migraines. With that in mind, an application’s UI (user interface) is very important to me. I like dark UIs with text-editors that aren’t white, because it’s much easier on my eyes. I also like to plan out my stories and worlds meticulously, so I like planning software over general text editors.
Your needs will probably be different from my own, though, which is why my catalog contains a description and feature list for each program, to help you narrow down the best options for you!
Productivity Or Distraction
Be careful with getting wrapped up in complex programs or ‘over-planning.’ Even I have caught myself spending more time planning and plotting than actually writing. Try not to let yourself get distracted by details so much that you forget to work on your writing! Just remember that no matter how detailed your world is, nobody will enjoy it if you don’t have a story to tell in it.
Finally, I would like to take a moment to thank all of the amazing developers who have worked on and created these programs. There are dozens that I haven’t listed here, and all of them deserve appreciation and credit for how much they help writers every day. A lot of these programs aren’t well known, and I hope that this list and post might get readers to pick up a new program and give it a try.