If you’re anything like me, you like to try new things. Especially when it comes to writing software that might make your life easier. But you also want new things to a.) not cost you an arm and leg (figuratively) b.) make you want to eat your arm and leg in trying to use it (literally) and c.) be actually useful versus shiny. This covers everything from hardware to software. I still for the life of me can’t figure out how to use my one friend’s super fancy coffee machine and settle for a simple pour/drip method. Ta-da. Coffee ready. Easy peasy. As a non-barista, stuff like that is a relief (we won’t discuss my instant coffee days).
Is Writing Software really that scary?
So when someone wants to write their big epic novel about a totally-not-Tolkien-based-fantasy (or itty bitty memoir novella that might be about our foray into BDSM with a burly man named Marcus), sometimes people get tricked into using too-complicated a methodology. They google ‘what software to use when writing a book’ and get tossed into the deep end.
Never fear, my dears. I did it. Don’t recommend it.
Nothing will ever, ever beat a notebook and pen. You do not need a fancy fountain pen and leather lined notebooks handcrafted by gnomes in Italy (seriously. Don’t recommend. You likely will find them too pretty to use). The reason I recommend a pen and notebook is because I find many authors who are better at their craft hand write first, type-up after. Don’t bother with fancy schmancy stuff. Grab a cheapy from the office store, some coil bound with whatever colour cover you want, a nearby pen, and start. You don’t have to learn anything to do this. You also won’t lose this due to a software crash or a hacker getting your files. You might have water damage/forget it on a bus (happened to me. I hope it wasn’t a smutty story they found)/your dog will eat it, but that is far less aggravating a situation I find. Now, if you want to evolve your notebook/pen situation, I recommend an affordable fountain pen with refillable ink well and a notebook with bleed-proof paper (so for my use I have an Oasis notebook and a TWSBI Eco). Writing should be fun. Not a slog all the time. You might love a notebook.
So. What software?
(I chose the below for several reasons. But I have my favourites due to one of the biggest reasons: accessibility. I like programs that allow me to dictate and have it read back to me. This is a big thing for people with disabilities and chronic conditions)
(this is all my recommendation so I suppose you can argue with me for a while about why I’m wrong if you have time to waste)
Top Writing Software & Apps and what makes them good/Bad
- Google Docs
- Microsoft Word
I will go into editing apps/software later on in another blog. For now, let’s focus on writing-geared ones.
Evernote: Writing App like an online notebook
Evernote says on their site: Evernote gives you everything you need to keep life organized—great note taking, project planning, and easy ways to find what you need, when you need it.
And honestly…that’s truthful advertising.
Here’s how it looks on app (Mac version)
I’ve used Evernote on and off for years. Ever since it came out to now when I have different things to work on. Its evolution has become rather impressive. You can have different notebooks, tag your projects, put everything from writing to your grocery list. I use it for blog posts and the like. I put it on my phone so when I have a burst of inspiration (it happens) I can throw it on Evernote and know it is being uploaded so I can access it from a different computer. You can also share your notebooks if you are inclined.
Now my problem with Evernote is always formatting. Now I might be a stickler but I really like to toy with formatting in my stuff. Especially when I’m stuck. But if you don’t mind it, it’s a good starter. I liked it when I was taking the bus or at work and couldn’t access my stuff without alerting the company’s security that I dared look at something other than a spreadsheet. I prefer keeping stuff away from Google at times as well (long story. Let’s not get into it). It is like having a digital notebook I can take with me everywhere.
You can pick from a free plan or a personal plan, which works for most people.
Scrivener: Writing Software that is like a big binder of organization
Oh, you want a slice of controversy between some writers? Bring up Scrivener. You’ll get imperious sniffs of ‘it is too complicated for everyday use’ to scandalized cries of ‘I would never use anything but!’
A chief complaint I’ve seen in writers groups is that Scrivener is tricky to use. And at first glance at the program you might think that too. I may do a course on it one day. It isn’t that scary.
Here’s a basic look at ‘Novel Format’ which most people need.’
(I think I heard a squeak of fear from some people in the back)
The way to think of Scrivener is… digital binder. The big kind of binder you’d pack every little thing you need into and refer back to. What makes Scrivener so usable is that you can find everything in your book in that file and have it at your fingertips. You can do all your drafts from start to finish, put character bios, places you want, pics, editorial comments, etc etc. And what I love is that you can scoop up all your final stuff and put it in a format that you need to print. You can also format if you want to send it to an agent or publishing house to their specifications (seriously, make sure you’ve got it right because they’ll ditch it otherwise). Tabs galore, fonts galore, you can change everything you need.
So. Should you try it?
Yep. If you go into the camp of ‘Hate this, Burn it’ then fine. But I like it to keep my busy brain and muse in order. I take copious amounts of notes and have intricate things I need planned so it works well for me.
It is an iOS App and Desktop (Mac/Windows) which is wonderful right now (bless). So yes, I would pay for it again and I upgraded to the new version. You can try it for Free and pay for it at $67 CAD (as of 2022).
Atticus: Writing Software that Gives you the ability to write and format quickly and easily
If you are into self-publishing (or writing to boot) there is a strong chance you know about Dave Chesson of https://kindlepreneur.com fame. Dave is one of my fave people to learn from. Pretty much if you need to know anything, he’s got a solution on his site. He’s also great at developing software with his team that writers need to be competitive.
I have not used Atticus but…I have talked to a lot of writers who do and they enjoy it so much it has replaced Scrivener and Vellum in their repertoire.
Here’s how it looks for the user:
Atticus is easy to use. Super easy. So easy I’m sure my mom (bless her soul) could do it no problem. I’ve not heard many problems with it and I’ve had my ear to the proverbial ground. If you find Scrivener intimidating and Vellum expensive, Atticus is a great option for you. Atticus is also being touted as all-in-one software.
The reason Atticus is great for self-published authors is that it is focussed on getting your formats right and easy to go to e-stores like Amazon. You can enter all your details, covers, etc. You can use it to write in but you might prefer to write in a .docx or .rtf format instead and upload it that way. It streamlines things and for those of us juggling jobs and writing aspirations, that is so important.
I’m not sure I’d use Atticus for trad publishing attempts. They’re far more needy and different per publishing house/age as to how they want things to look. But if you are focussed on self-publishing, it is handy and budget friendly considering it is an outright purchase.
Last I checked, it sat at $147 USD. Mostly online based, you can download it as well.
Want to see how formatting is in Atticus? Check out this article from kindlepreneur.com
Vellum: Let’s make it ready for Amazon quick
Vellum came on the scene at a good time. Amazon for one is remarkably…finicky at times. You can have the slightest, tiniest issue with your margin and you can bet your soul you aren’t getting published (there is a good reason for this as they print on demand. I worked in the industry. Trust me. Bad formatting is a source of rage for printers). And for many people without my background, that is so frustrating they give up and hire someone (like me) to do the work for them. There’s no real need all the time, if you are dead set to do it yourself.
What Vellum does very well is it makes some great looking books even if you are a raw beginner. And people love that. Especially self-publishers because they are so busy juggling every hat and budgets that they can’t sit and figure stuff out.
Here’s how it looks for the user:
The stickler for Vellum can be its price. So you have to weigh your pros and cons. If you can swing it, sure. If you can’t, move onto something more affordable. Don’t ever feel like you have to splurge to keep up with others. That’s not a good way to go in life anyway.
As of 2022, Vellum is free to use on trial and when you go to publish, you purchase it. Vellum has 2 options:
|Vellum Press||CA$ 329.99|
|Create Unlimited Ebooks + Paperbacks|
|Vellum Ebooks||CA$ 259.99|
|Create Unlimited Ebooks|
Google Docs: Handy-dandy for people who change computers often
Lots of people use Google Docs so I likely don’t need to get into much detail outside of pros and cons.
Google Docs has the accessibility some writers want. Put it on phones/tablets/computers. Back it up, cloud it, whatever. Share it with friends, lock it, highlight and comment. You can also export and format in multiple types which is very handy.
Negatives: is it great for uploading? Eh. Not really. I mean certainly you can do it. But I don’t like how it is…limiting. You can do some good things for editing and quick documents. But from a standpoint as a writer and someone mindful of tech world functionality, I prefer having something off Google (and Chrome). I write off and on in Google Docs and it is handy when travelling for sure. You’ll also find many companies use it to share docs privately. You will need a google mail account to use it.
I recommend google docs for first drafts/note taking and saving things you might use later. But if you want to really move forward and easily…it’s a starter. Good if you like it.
Microsoft Word: one of the original writing software programs
Ahhhh Microsoft Word.
Back in my early fanfiction days, I did something heinous. I wrote my fanfiction in my dad’s email program, saving it as individual drafts of emails. So naturally when my dad upgraded from Netscape (yep), all those fanfics were lost. I mean no big loss in hindsight because those fics were godawful ripoffs of fantasy movies at the time but at the time it devastated me. So much so my dad bought Microsoft Word and gave me a stack of floppies to put it on.
Things have changed. Microsoft now has its Office programs capable of a lot more than just text. You can link it to everything within the Office suite. You can do a lot of office work.
But I dislike it these days. I have had more files become corrupted in Word than any other program for stupid stuff that makes no sense. I backup religiously but nothing is more irritating when it just keeps going on corruption binges. It might be something I’m doing but I really do not want to be concerned over my software when working on a book. I also find Office annoying for formatting books so they seamlessly get uploaded to e-book stores
The biggest issue that is plaguing me about Office is the same reason why I disengaged myself from Adobe Creative Suite. Cloud Subscription. I’m not a fan of subscriptions for software like Adobe or Microsoft. The functionality in Microsoft Office is not worth it for me. But you can get free programs that are equivalent to Microsoft Office that might suit you much better.
If you have it and like it? Go for it. But for me? Nope. Not anymore.
Now, with all these programs, remember one big big thing. Back up religiously. Make it a habit to do three to four backups per file, multiple times per week. This means using USB, large file storage (1TB min), and cloud storage. It doesn’t matter what writing software or app you use if you lose everything because you forget to back it up.
What writing software or writing apps do you use for writing? What do you wish a program could do for you?