A Writer’s Toolbox

Toolbox My first attempts at novels were handwritten in spiral-bound notebooks. It was kind of a pain. I eventually got over my terror of someone reading the file and took my thoughts to a computer, thus wading out into the great wide world of writing programs. Here are just a few that I’ve encountered in my adventures as an internet-faring writer, as well as links to where you can get more information about each one, particularly how to procure said software.

(And so we’re perfectly clear, I’ve only personally used the first five programs on this list. The rest came as recommendations from writer friends, but I did spend a few hours nosing around their websites to get a feel for the software.)

Microsoft Word– There are probably very few people with the ability to read this post that have yet to encounter Word. It has the advantages of being easy to get a hold of, having a useful range of formatting features, and being pretty easy to work with. And although not free (you can purchase Word for $10 a month or $109 all at once), it comes as part of the package in most computer purchases. My main beef with it, however, is that it can be tricky to navigate an entire novel in this program, making editing a challenge.

OpenOffice– Pretty much the same as Word (with sister programs for each member of the Microsoft Office Suite), if a slightly different layout and not a regular feature on most computers. But free for download! (Just keep in mind that most of the time you’re sharing this document, folks will want to see it in a .doc or other more widely used format. You can save it as such with OpenOffice, but it’s an extra step to remember. This little caveat applies to all the other lesser-known programs.)

Google Docs– All the same features and problems as Word and OpenOffice, save for these: Google Docs saves on the cloud, and is therefore relatively easy to access wherever you are and basically immune to computer meltdowns. These are great, but you must have reliable internet to access your document. Also, there is a size limit on the files. Not an issue for most writing, but it can be for your 200k opus. Regardless, the price is right; anyone with a Google account can access Google Docs for free.

Write or Die– One part elating, one part terrifying, Write or Die is great for those of us who write most efficiently on sprints, but don’t always have other sprinters around to keep us on the ball. Write or Die features an array of punishments (and now rewards, too!) to kick your butt into getting those words down. Although you can check out the trial version online for free to type up a scene (which I admit is all I’ve done so far), the full version is pretty affordable at $20, with discounts for students and educators.

Scrivener– At $40, Scrivener is on the pricey end of the spectrum, but NaNoWriMo winners historically receive a 50% discount, and anyone can download a month-long free trial. Changing default settings can be a bit of a pain in this program, but for day-to-day writing, it’s pretty awesome, breaking your story down into manageable chunks by chapter and scene that are easy to navigate with the sidebar, which is great for outlining and editing. (And for those of you with unreliable computers like me, it saves automatically every two seconds and backs up changes each time the program closes.)

yWriter– Another heavy hitter that’s easy on the pocketbook, yWriter is comparable to Scrivener but absolutely free (and made by a fellow wrimo, too)! Its increasing popularity is a testament to its easy learning curve and useful array of features, including pretty much everything other dedicated writing software boast of. Of all the programs in this list, this one came the most frequently recommended.

Liquid Story Binder– Also similar to Scrivener and yWriter, LSB has many of the same outlining and writing features, but I have to say, this one is the prettiest to look at, at least on its website. (Seriously, I just felt more creative looking at it.) Its producer offers a free month-long trial, after which continued use costs $45.95.

RoughDraft– This program earns high marks for its notepad feature, which allows you to tack a sticky note of names, dates, pages, whatever onto each file you have open, and for its ease of movement between tabs. Like many of the others on this list, RoughDraft is a free program, but, at last check, there’s no Mac version and no intention to make one in the future, and the possibility of future development at all on this program is a bit hazy right now.

StoryBox– The most interesting thing about StoryBox to me is that it specifically markets toward self-publishers. Although useful as writing software (or it wouldn’t be on this list), it includes features that go beyond drafting and editing, most notably exporting tools for taking your manuscript directly to online publishers. (It also has a sister program for easily tracking sales from multiple outlets. Neat!) After exhausting your forty-five day free trial, it’ll cost you $35.

This list is by no means comprehensive. If you have any other writing programs that you love (or if you want to describe the above programs better than I have), let us know in the comments. But whatever program you use, use it well and often. Happy writing!

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