Writing Software and Tools

IMG_20140408_195258Writers, like many artisans, love to talk about the tools and techniques of their trade. Honing and tweaking their systems becomes a near-obsession in itself.

I last wrote about this topic a full two years ago and thought it was worth a revisit. So, here is an updated look at the landscape.

The tools used roughly fall into three buckets, reflecting the larger workflow process from mind-to-notes-to-draft-to-refine:

  • Organizing and Capturing Research and Idea Synthesis
  • Committing Words to Paper
  • Editing. Rewriting, Revising

List of Organizing Tools

  • Sectioned Notebook / Binder
  • Index cards / Whiteboard & Sticky notes
  • Smartphone camera to take a picture of your hen-scratch and napkin sketches.
  • Hierarchy of folders with files on your computer. There is no one ‘right’ way to do this, but needs to make sense to your sense of organization.
  • Evernote, a cloud-based note-taking software that is available for download on nearly all mobile devices for free. Capture text and images wherever you are, tag them and organize them in a virtual notebook. The storage costs are based on how much you use within a month. For text-notes, a free account is often sufficient.
  • Microsoft OneNote is similar to Evernote, and free to download on Windows, Macs, iDevices and Android. Your notes are stored in web-based storage, either the freemium OneDrive service or in OneDrive for Business. The killer feature for OneNote is Microsoft Office integration, stellar handwriting recognition and its ubiquity on devices.
  • Scrivener, a full-blown writing suite that mixes both the notebook and card-sorting metaphors in an intuitive way. It is well-suited for organizing large writing projects or as a warehouse for all your writing needs. Not only is it great at planning, but it integrates writing and editing phases as well. There is a learning curve, but those that like it, like it a lot. There is a long-overdue iDevice version imminent. Those entrenched in the Apple ecosystem will be all over this.
  • yWriter, similar to Scriviner, but at a much lower price tag (free). It’s not as polished, but is a well-supported Windows option. Did I mention it was free?

List of Writing Tools

  • Pen & Paper or a good notebook.
  • Plain text, because sometimes it’s best not to worry about formatting and about getting the words out of your braincase.
  • Markdown, because sometimes a little bit of formatting is required in plain text. If you write for the web and haven’t looked at Markdown yet, you should.
  • Microsoft Word, the ‘go-to’ standard for almost everyone. It’s everywhere and it works. It has outlining, layout, styles, grammar and spell checking. Many plugins are available to extend its functionality. The best way to get Microsoft Word these days is to subscribe to Office 365.
  • LibreOffice / OpenOffice, very similar to Microsoft Office, these are reminiscent of earlier versions of Office. Even though OpenOffice still exists and is actively developed, LibreOffice is considered its spiritual successor. It’s Open Source and free to use. The biggest challenge is in document fidelity with Microsoft Office documents. If you work primarily in this tool and keep your formatting simple, you’ll be fine.
  • Google Docs, part of Google’s web-based suite, offers a complete and free-to-use document processing experience with plenty of add-ins to extend functionality. Documents are stored in Google’s own format in their cloud service but can be exported as Microsoft-compatible downloadable documents. As with LibreOffice, there are some document fidelity issues to contend with if you’re using tools outside of the Googleverse.

List of Editing Tools

  • Words-to-Kill’ list & Thesausus
  • Microsoft Word’s built-in grammar tools and your brain
  • Free/Cheap Web-based tools: ProWritingAidHemmingwayGrammarlyAfterTheDeadline. These are great tools to assist in identifying common writing errors: readability, passive voice, adverbs. They are quick-and-dirty, first-pass editing tools but no real substitute for greymatter. Your mileage may vary.
  • Desktop tools: Scriviner, yWriter, StyleWriterAutoCrit. These are more robust and often more expensive tools, but can do a great job. The same caveat as above applies.

All that laid out, I dare not make any attempt to determine the ‘best’ set of tools to use. There are many factors including: access, budget, learning styles, comfort and personal preference.

Did I miss any? What tools do you use? Shout out in the comments below.


Author Notes

14 Comments for “Writing Software and Tools”

Tim Hillebrant

says:

Hey Doug,

High time I looked at this one, and I’m glad I did.
My schedule doesn’t afford me as much writing time as I enjoyed even just a year ago. Maybe I could make better use of my time with some tools.
I’m familiar with Microsoft Word and Google Docs, and use the former almost exclusively.
As for other tools, I use the net a lot for research, but have hard copies of things like a dictionary too.
I think you missed a big tool in the box though- Writer’s Carnival. Not in a way described above, but it helps a writer to organize their writing and their story ideas when getting feedback from other writers.
I need to do more writing, this I know. I like the idea of having some tools to make the writing life a bit easier too.

Great post, sir!

Tim

says:

You hit the nail on the head, Tim. A community such as Writer’s Carnival is a must-have tool. It’s too easy to get lost in the ‘echo chamber of the mind’, letting fear foster and not knowing how to improve. By sharing with others–giving and taking–we all move forward together.

says:

I am really interested in looking at Scrivener now. I need something to organize me further as I write longer works. I seem to be a traditionalist when it comes to writing, not by choice, but because of my age and my pocketbook! I just am ill-informed about some really cool tools that could probably advance and enhance my writing life. I love just working in Microsoft Word for MAC. I’m comfortable there. But, as I said, I need some organizing tools now. My desktop is overflowing with folders, and within those folders are more folders and files. I also like to hand journal. I spent most of my childhood and young adulthood writing in notebooks, journaling, and writing poems. I prefer computer keyboarding now, but still hand-write in journals from time-to-time.

You have given me much food for thought here, Doug. Thank you!

Write On!
Becky

says:

This is a super post with piles of good advice, thank you Doug.
The things I put here are the things I need and use to facilitate my writing. Without all the following I couldn’t write, It is a slight curve from your direct list, therefore I wont be offended if you do not keep my reply.

A hard copy Dictionary, a library card, information from the tourist board is free and gives you lots of information on an area you could be writing about, national geographic website is also accurate and useful. Paper, pen, pencils, notebooks, post it notes, a flip chart and a washing line. I have recently downloaded the free Grammarly but haven’t yet used it.
A Seagate back up portable external drive, kindly given to me by a very supportive and lovely husband, the husband is my favourite tool… I use A Lenovo idea pad with windows seven for my novel, short stories and flash fiction. But for portability, blogging, social media and fun I use a Samsung Galaxy tablet.
I use Word 2013 to write, Google is invaluable for research but needs double checking before finalising your facts, and pixabay.com is the best I have found for free images. Writers Carnival is where I try new genres, get advice and reviews. My blog is where I unwind make connections and grow my confidence, wordpress reader is a great place to find writing prompts and read seasoned Authors. My book case is where I find different styles of writing. We have so much under our noses that we can learn from. The best tool is my imagination I keep it topped up by reading, watching films, Television, music, people watching , listening and talking. Keeping up with news and politics. Good diet, raucous laughter, generally having fun, being empathetic is a necessity for tapping in to the emotions, sleep and exercise are important factors for strong mental health. When all the above are in place your writing bone is ready to work.

Anisa Claire

says:

Hey Doug,

Love this piece! Thanks for putting it together. There are so many awesome tools out there for writers today and it’s a lot of fun looking through them all.

“Honing and tweaking their systems becomes a near obsession in itself…” It most certainly does!

I love Microsoft OneNote! It makes organizing things easy and a lot of fun. I have yet to try Scrivener, but have heard great things about it.

Awesome that you included links in this article. There were a few things I’d never heard of before, so it was nice.

Words to kill list… Hahahaha! Love it.

“All that laid out, I dare not make any attempt to determine the ‘best’ set of tools to use. There are many factors including: access, budget, learning styles, comfort and personal preference.” That’s all very true.

Anisa

says:

Thanks, Anisa.

I could have gone on and on all day on a few particular tools not listed in the plain text / markdown arena. Save that for another discussion.

You would not believe how all-in Microsoft has gotten with OneNote. In their Office 365 service suite, it’s everywhere. About time more people figured out this magic tool.

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