Writing Software Reviewed
Unless you write everything by hand or on a typewriter and pay someone else to transfer it to a computer for you, the software that you use to write or edit your next masterpiece on is an important factor to consider. Whether you’re just starting out, or you’re looking to give something else a try, there are a lot of different options out there for you. But which ones are any good?
Microsoft Word is kind of the default writing software that people go for. It does everything you’d need for writing, unless you’re after something very specific (like eBook formatting, for example.) It’s easy to use, easy to get hold of and works on pretty much any computer. It can be installed on either Mac or Windows and can be downloaded onto your phone or tablet, whatever operating system they run on. If you use the latest version then all of these will be linked to your One Drive account, so you can pick up where you left off, regardless of what device you’re working on. You can turn off One Drive if you would prefer, and it can be used offline. MS Office—which you have to buy to get Word—is a subscription-based service now, with Office 365. You can buy one copy for £5.99 a month or £59.99 a year, which gets you 1 computer, 1 phone and 1 tablet installation. Alternatively, you can get 5 computers, 5 phones and 5 tablets for £7.99 a month or £79.99 a year.
The cost is quite a big downside of Word. There are numerous free alternatives to Word that will do most, if not all, of what Word can do. It’s a lot of money when you don’t have to spend it. You do get the whole Office package for that price, but if all you want is Word, then Office may not be for you. Its broad spectrum of uses does also mean that it definitely falls into the category of ‘Jack of all trades, master of none.’ Dedicated software for creative writing definitely have more powerful features that can help increase the quality of your writing. Having said that, Word is becoming more and more powerful recently in this category and highlights a lot of issues with your writing instead of just the usual spelling and grammar.
OpenOffice by Apache is the first of your free alternatives to Word. It can be downloaded on Mac, Windows or Linux. It does just about everything that Word does and it does it just as well. It can be used offline. The downsides of OpenOffice, however, are that it doesn’t have an inbuilt cloud storage system or a mobile/tablet app. If you bounce around between devices/computers, you’ll have to move them around yourself with a memory stick or manually upload and download to a cloud, or use a personal One Drive or Google Drive account to keep everything synced.
This is a great piece of software if you only work from one place, but for anything else there are probably better alternatives. It’s not a bad option to keep this around though, and once everything’s been written in one of your other programmes you can use this for some finishing touches or formatting errors.
LibreOffice is another free alternative to Microsoft. It’s, essentially, the same as OpenOffice. It’s available on Windows, Mac or Linux and works well. It suffers the same issues as OpenOffice in that there isn’t a mobile app or built in cloud storage.
WPS Office is an Office Suite like LibreOffice or OpenOffice. It, however, has the one thing that the others are missing: cloud storage. They have an inbuilt cloud that allows you to save your documents across your devices and it has a mobile app that allows you to access these documents on your phone. And it’s completely free. There is a premium version, available on a subscription for $3.99 per month or $29.99 a year. But the free version does everything you need it to. I do like the tab system that they have. Your documents are listed in tabs that you can easily swap between. It is quite slow, however, when you first load it or do something complicated.
Wordpad comes standard with Windows. It can do just about everything you need for your writing. It misses out on many of the options you have available from other free alternatives, but it’s good enough for what you need. It can’t save as a pdf, however.
Pages is your Apple made version of Word. It’s slightly faster and feels lighter. It can do most, if not all, that Word can do but it doesn’t feel as overbearing as Word can. It also has iCloud support built in for sharing across your devices. It has a cost attached to it, £19.99 for your Mac and £9.99 for your iPhone if you want the app.
One Drive is your Microsoft cloud storage and has an inbuilt writer that you can use called Word Online. This is completely free with your free One Drive account. It does has its limitations as it’s not the full version of Word, but it does everything you need for basic writing. Because you’re working online, it means that you pick up where you left of wherever you work and you can go back to an earlier save if something goes wrong. It is online only and you will need the separate Word app if you want to write from your One Drive on your phone or tablet. But, the basic Word app is free as well. The issue I came across, however, was that you can only download or save the files as a .docx, .pdf or .odt. 99% of the time, that’s fine, but you will still find some people out there who want a straight .doc. It’s not a massive problem but you will need to convert your file in those rare instances.
Google Docs Online
Google Docs is very similar to One Drive’s Word Online. I found less features in Google’s online writer, but having said that it covers everything you need to write and format a book properly. If you have a Google account, it’s really easy to get started with Docs online and it’s free. You can download the documents that you’re working on but, much like Word Online, you’re very limited in the file types you can download as: .docx, .pdf and .odt.
Google’s desktop programme is more of a folder, if I’m honest. You get a folder that syncs automatically to your Drive, which comes with Google Docs, but that just took me to online Docs and it had a few compatibility issues when I tried to work on a .docx with it. There were also some syncing issues that I came across when trying to work from my phone as well. Changes made on my phone weren’t coming through on my computer. This is a problem with my phone, admittedly, but it is a problem that I had. Because you can use Docs with Drive, you have to be online when you’re using it. All in all, Google Drive is a folder.
That being said, it’s great if you want to work across multiple computers and you use another programme to write with. Just save it into the folder and it will sync when it can to share your document across your network, even if you are offline at the time. The sync can be delayed, as I found out, but it also means you can access your documents from any computer, anywhere in the world.
Don’t use Notepad to write your book. All it can do is change the font. It’s not bad if you want to write down your notes or your thoughts. Other than that, it really doesn’t have a use.
iOS Notes is your Notepad for Apple products. It does share your notes across your other Apple devices but it isn’t for writing a book. Great for notes.
EverNote is pretty good. I didn’t think I’d like it but I found myself quite enjoying using it. It’s not something you’d probably want to write your book in, due to the writer inside being basically a version of Notepad, but for organising your notes, it’s amazing. You can have different notebooks, each with their own individual notes. It allows you to download web pages for offline viewing later and is great at organising your ideas. This is all shared across your devices, phones and tablets that have EverNote installed. It has two paid options, £29.99 or £44.99 a year, but the free version does most things that you would need.
Focus Writer is probably the programme I would use for my writing if it could do that little bit extra. It’s a writer that is designed to cut down on distractions. You’re presented with a page that looks like it’s sitting on a desk, that’s it. All the menus and options are hidden away. It allows you to set goals and tracks your progress. But it can’t do what you will need it to do because of its very basic options. Some of the important formatting options aren’t there and you’re basically left with a fancy version of Notepad. It’s free and available for all operating systems so it’s definitely worth a look if you want something basic.
Scrivener is a dedicated programme for novel writing. It has a very focused purpose. In terms of actual writing, it is quite basic but covers everything you’d need. It’s true power comes in its added functions. It allows you to organise your documents into a folder tree. You have your manuscript, then you have chapter sub-folders, and each of those can have other sub-folders or written content. It has folders for characters and more specific things like that. All of these can be dragged and dropped to re-organise things if you’d like. It costs £24, roughly, but it is a pretty thorough way to organise your book. It’s available for Windows and Apple, but it is not on Android. It does have a free trial, though, if you want to give it a go.
YWriter is basically a free version of Scrivener that’s only available for Windows. It has less features, is much harder to navigate and is not particularly user-friendly. It keeps track of your goals, has your project broken down into characters, chapters, etc. and allows you to drag and drop your files. As a budget Scrivener, it does what it says on the tin.
SIGIL is Notepad that saves as the eBook format epub. It uses HTML and CSS for your writing and styles however, so if you don’t know how to write in those, you’re probably better off using a converter. It’s free and, if you only want to make an eBook, then it works. It does only save as an epub though, so if you want to do anything else, including use other eBook distributors that don’t use that format, like Kindle, then it isn’t for you.
Novlr is very similar to Scrivener in that it keeps your book organised by chapter, allowing you to assign notes and re-organise your content. The difference is that it is all done on their website. It tracks your progress as you go along. It’s quite simple to get going with it. It does have a cost attached to it, $10 a month or $100 a year. But there is a 2 week free trial if you want to see what it’s like. It’s also available offline and will save when you regain an internet connection. It’s a bit pricey for what it does; it’s roughly the same price as Word but you only get a novel writing programme instead of the entire Office suite. Having said that, I found myself quite charmed by Novlr. If you have a bit of money to spend on your writing platform, I think this one is definitely worth a look. You can export your work but not to a .doc, only a .docx, .pdf or .odt.
This list is hardly exhaustive. There are so many more tools out there that you can use for your writing. Ultimately, it’s not about what someone on the internet tells you to use; it’s about what works for you. And it doesn’t have to be just one product. You can use a multitude of these to get your book finished. Word to write the actual book, Evernote to keep your notes together and Google Drive to keep everything backed up, for instance. Find a combination that works best for you, and run with it.
© 2017 Davina Chime
Available under the Thanet Writers Education Policy
Davina Chime is a Thanet-born hopeless romantic.