25+ Pieces of Writing Software You Should Know About

By Ali Hale - 8 minute read

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Of course, all you really need in order to write is a notebook and pen. But there are lots of software packages that can make life easier for writers. Whatever you want to be able to do, there’s almost certainly some software out there to help you. The list below includes the best packages to help you plan and structure a novel, share documents online with other people, format your screenplay or script correctly, minimize writing distractions, improve your English and more…

Collaborative Documents

Often when writing, you’ll want to share a document with other people – either to ask for feedback, or to get them to add to it. All of these pieces of software allow you to share documents online, so that multiple people can have access to and edit them. I’ve found this very successful for receiving feedback from friends on my short stories.

Google Docs
FREE

“You can easily do all the basics, including making bulleted lists, sorting by columns, adding tables, images, comments, formulas, changing fonts and more. And it’s free. … Google Docs accepts most popular file formats, including DOC, XLS, ODT, ODS, RTF, CSV, PPT, etc. So go ahead and upload your existing files.”

Writeboard from 37 signals
FREE

“Writeboards are sharable, web-based text documents that let you save every edit, roll back to any version, and easily compare changes. Use Writeboard to write solo or collaborate with others.”

Word Processors

Microsoft Word
$324.99 for Microsoft Office 2007 Standard version
$109.99 for Student version

“Microsoft Office Standard 2007 offers the core Microsoft Office applications, but significantly updated for faster, better results. Comprised of Excel, Word, PowerPoint, and Outlook, this software suite empowers you to create high-quality documents and presentations, build powerful spreadsheets, and manage your e-mail messages, calendar, and contacts.”

Word Viewer
FREE

“View, print and copy Word documents, even if you don’t have Word installed.”

Open Office
FREE

“OpenOffice.org 2 is the leading open-source office software suite for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, graphics, databases and more. It is available in many languages and works on all common computers. It stores all your data in an international open standard format and can also read and write files from other common office software packages. It can be downloaded and used completely free of charge for any purpose.”

As a hard-up student (who preferred to spend money on booze than software), I used Open Office throughout my degree, and found it an excellent alternative to Microsoft Office. It’s a whole office suite, so can also be used to replace Excel, Powerpoint and more.

AbiWord
FREE

Famous open source word processor, and ideal for someone looking for a light and compact software. It comes with all the basic features that you would expect from a word processor, and it also supports different languages and operating systems.

Fiction: Writing Novels and Screenplays

If you’ve tried a bit of fiction and you want some help with writing longer pieces, there are a number of software packages you might want to try out. Here’s some reputable, well-established ones:

New Novelist
$54.99 download, $59.99 download and CD

“If you’ve ever tried to write a novel (or even just thought about it), you know the routine. You just can’t put everything together. You’ve got to work step by step to write a great book, right? NOT ANYMORE! NewNovelist Software has turned the writing process on its head. With this revolutionary software, you can write your novel the way you want to.”

I used version 1.0 of this myself, and it definitely helped me with my world building and pre-writing notes. None of the twelve structures it suggested quite worked for the novel I was planning, but you can change the headings to suit yourself.

Character Pro (Now called “Character Writer”, see below)
60 days free, then $69.99

“Character Pro puts a proven system for understanding human behavior at your fingertips – The Enneagram – to create a character spine for your character. But that’s only the beginning. Character Pro isolates each part of the character, provides tools and extensive help files to guide you to a well-rounded, complex and realistic character.”

Quick Story (Now called “Character Writer”, see below)
$49.99

“Create a basic story structure with the Story Generator then use the tree to organize your structure while you develop the story in the edit box on the right. Simply drag and drop or insert and delete story items until your story is perfectly structured.”

Character Writer
$69.99

This version combines features of both “Character Pro” and “Quick Story”, and is Java Based (so runs on almost any system), for $69.99.

Writers Café
Demo version free, $45 download, £32.90 (approx $65) on CD.

“Writer’s Café is a software toolkit for all fiction writers, whether experienced or just starting out. The heart of Writer’s Café is StoryLines, a powerful but simple to use story development tool that dramatically accelerates the creation and structuring of your novel or screenplay.”

Writing: Organising and Formatting your Manuscript

One of the biggest headaches for fiction writers is coming to the end of a project only to realise that every scene or chapter is in a separate file (and sometimes in different formats), and that pulling this all together – and editing it to match editorial conventions – is going to take ages. These packages can help you keep things organised:

Celtex
FREE

“Celtx is the world’s first fully integrated solution for media pre-production and collaboration. It replaces old fashioned ‘paper, pen & binder’ media creation with a digital approach to writing and organizing that’s more complete, simpler to work with, and easier to share.”

Scrivener
30 days free, then $39.99
Mac Only

“Scrivener is a word processor and project management tool created specifically for writers of long texts such as novels and research papers. It won’t try to tell you how to write – it just makes all the tools you have scattered around your desk available in one application.”

Minimise Distractions When Writing

If you’re anything like me, distractions come up constantly when trying to write. Whether your problem is instant messenger, web browsing, email, or just using all the fancy formatting features on your word processor, a simpler writing environment can be the solution.

Wordpad
FREE
If you’re running Windows, this almost certainly came free with your computer. Some people find all the extra bells and whistles of a full wordprocessor distracting when writing. If you have trouble knuckling down to write, Wordpad allows formatting (bold, italics, etc) and can be easier to use than Word.

Write Room
Free trial, then $25. Mac only.

“For people who enjoy the simplicity of a typewriter, but live in the digital world. WriteRoom is a full-screen writing environment. Unlike the cluttered word processors you’re used to, WriteRoom is just about you and your text.”

Dark Room
FREE
Windows version of Write Room

Both Write Room and Dark Room have a retro feel of green text on black background (though you can change the background of Write Room). I’ve used Dark Room when suffering from a severe bout of procrastination on my novel, and would certainly recommend it.

Scientific Writing

For specialised types of writing, such as creating scientific documentation, normal word processing software may not be enough.

Latex
FREE

“LaTeX is a high-quality typesetting system; it includes features designed for the production of technical and scientific documentation. LaTeX is the de facto standard for the communication and publication of scientific documents.”

Improving your English (for native and non-native speakers)

The spelling and grammar checks built into word processors can often leave much to be desired. If your English is shaky, or if you’re learning English as a foreign language, you might want to invest in software designed to help you improve your grammar and style.

JaLingo
FREE

This cool little program will bring a handy dictionary to your desktop, that you can use to confirm spelling of words or to check their meanings. The advantage of JaLingo is that it is OS independent, so it will work smoothly on most computers.

WhiteSmoke
$79.99 for “General” version, $99.99 for “Business” version & other specialised ones. Executive writing version usually $250 but currently $125.

“WhiteSmoke is an innovative software tool that improves and edits your English writing. Based on patented natural language processing (NLP) technology, WhiteSmoke performs advanced and context-based English grammar, spelling, and punctuation checking, as well as text enrichment to enhance your writing.”

StyleWriter
$160, which includes a “Software for writers” CD

“Designed by journalists, editors and business writing tutors, StyleWriter gives you the skills of a good editor. Simply click the StyleWriter button in Microsoft Word’s or WordPerfect’s toolbar (or any clipboard text) to launch a check for thousands of faults and bad habits found in writing. Trimming the excess words, simplifying and clarifying your style, checking for good English usage — editing is easy with StyleWriter.”

Typing Software

After a mis-spent youth playing online text games, I learnt to touch-type without trying to, but I realise many people aren’t so lucky (or so geeky). Typing speed is a surprisingly big factor in being a successful writer, and if you’re still pecking away at the keyboard with two fingers, it’s worth investing in software to help you learn to type properly.

Kaz-Type
$19.95 download, $34.95 CD

“KAZ will teach you how to learn to type and master your computer keyboard fast. Our interactive, multimedia typing tutor software uses a revolutionary learning method so you can learn to type really quickly without the need to resort to repetitive typing drills and games. Learning to touch type with KAZ is tested and proven with over 1 million users.”

Miracle Type (Not Available Anymore)
$19.99

“Miracle Type is the perfect answer for you if typing on your computer is just taking far too long or if you have given up in frustration after trying to teach yourself to Touch Type with other typing software.”

Blogging Platforms

If you run your own blog or website, you’ve almost certainly heard of WordPress and Movable Type. Both are content management systems that you install on space provided by your web host, allowing you to easily publish new posts to your blog and modify existing ones.

WordPress
FREE (but you’ll need to pay for web hosting)

“WordPress is a state-of-the-art publishing platform with a focus on aesthetics, web standards, and usability. WordPress is both free and priceless at the same time.”

Moveable Type
FREE (but you’ll need to pay for web hosting)

“Movable type is a professional publishing platform.”

There are also many blogging services which will host your blog for you, such as blogger.com, livejournal.com, but these are more “sites” than “software” (you don’t install them on your own webspace.)

Journalling Software

At the moment, I journal on paper, as I like to get away from the computer screen and take fifteen minutes alone with my thoughts. I also enjoy writing with a good fountain pen, in a nice hardback notebook. However, this does make it hard to search for anything…

David RM’s “The Journal”
$39.95 download / $49.95 CD / $69.95 for “Writers’ edition”

“The Journal is a powerful journaling and writing tool that can help you take control of your life. Create a digital scrapbook of your life! Organize your notes about your family, about your work, about a hobby, about anything. Write a short story, a magazine article, or even a novel. Remember your appointments, events, tasks & special days! Find whatever you’re looking for with The Journal’s powerful searching. Get inspired!”

Debrief
FREE basic version, $29.95 for standard version, $39.95 for professional version

“Debrief® is software for saving notes on your PC. Ideas. Experiences. Research. Thoughts. They come from projects, meetings, status, tasks, issues, changes, risks, decision, contacts, brainstorming, pondering, work, studies, school. Capture them while you can and put them to good use later”

Suggested by Our Readers

Final Draft
$229

Use your creative energy to focus on the content; let Final Draft take care of the style. Final Draft is the number-one selling word processor specifically designed for writing movie scripts, television episodics and stage plays.

This sure is not a cheap writing software, but it is supposed to be the industry standard when it comes to script writing.

Q10
FREE

A free alternative for Dark Room and WriteRoom, Q10 brings you a full screen word processor that will let you focus entirely on what you are writing. Additionally, it also come with customizable features like paragraph styling and live statistics about your pieces.

Scripped
FREE

An online service that lets you write, edit and print your scripts straight on their website. The advantage is that you can work on your scripts from different locations and from different computers.

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103 Responses to “25+ Pieces of Writing Software You Should Know About”

  • David

    You left out Final Draft, which is the industry leader when it comes to scriptwriting.

  • Frank Cantu

    Another highly popular writing application is Scrivener, although it’s Mac-only at the moment.

  • Michelle

    I love using Q10 for writing. It’s a basic text editor that would probably fall under the heading “eliminate distractions” — I like to change the background to black and the font to a green or amber pixilated one that resembles the computer I had in the 80s. There’s not a ton of formatting options, but it works really well for just getting down the words. (http://www.baara.com/q10/)

  • meghnak

    You have really provided a useful list of writing software, which are very much need for all writers in addition to their pencils and notebooks. I’ll surely be trying to use the free ones first 🙂 Thank you for sharing!

  • David ben-Avram

    The new Adobe online office suite is also stellar. The word processing application is called “Buzzword.” Check it out at acrobat.com

  • Birgit Schultz

    Free alternative to Dark Room and Write Room:
    Q10 (Win only) http://baara.com/q10/

    Almost a classic: yWriter
    http://www.spacejock.com/yWriter4.html
    (free, Win only, Linux with Wine)

    I am desperately looking for a plotting software with flexible timelines. I thought of Gantt Project, however, the timeline is not flexibel enough for historical or fantasy/sf stuff. Any suggestions here? Preferably free and for Windows.

    Thanks

  • Marcel

    Zoundry Raven and w.Bloggar

    – awesome software that manages your blog posts remotely.

  • Shreemani

    This is a wonderful list of softwares. But have to tell you, I prefer open source softwares to other ones. They just stand out of the crowd.

  • Jenna

    You can also get a free blog at WordPress.com, if you don’t wish to pay for hosting. I believe there’s some advertising involved, however.

  • Clemens

    Two months ago I used the writer-publischer scenario for a discusion / post about the usefullness of SaaS tools [GoogleDocs], Software plus Serives [Word with MSOnline]. What kind of capabilities these tools need for a writer to do their work…

    Not a plug, but I’m curious if I understood the scenario and the writers needs correct.

  • Paula

    How did you come up with this list? Have you tried all of these?

  • Stephan Miller

    A good addition to your WriteRoom/DarkRoom category is called Q10. Same features as DarkRoom plus things like a timer, word count goals and a nice ticking typewriter sound. Also free.

  • D.F. Rucci

    Thanks for the helpful post. I personally love google docs, I talk about it so much google should be paying me for advertisement!

  • John Hewitt

    As a technical writer, I’m pretty married to FrameMaker and RoboHelp. It’s hard to succeed as a technical writer if you don’t know these two tools.

  • JuwBagel

    Touch-typing teaching software without mention of everybody’s favorite female empowerment figure, Mavis Beacon? Something’s wrong here. Very, very wrong.

  • chris

    You mentioned WriteRoom and listed it as ‘free’ which it definitely is not. They have a free trial but the registered version is $24.95.

  • Rasmus

    I have really enjoyed working with another piece of software called “WriteRoom” (for Mac, not the same as listed above). What makes it special is, oddly enough, its lack of features. When you open it up, it offers nothing but a blank, black screen and a blinking cursor. I tried it as an experiment for working on a novel, and found that it added focus to my writing. You can use it for free as long as you like. After I finished the first draft of my book, I went ahead and paid the $24.99 asked for the software (it was obviously worth it).

    On another note: Hosting for WordPress does not have to cost anything. Free hosting is offered through wordpress.com.

  • Noah

    I would like to mention “Bean” and VoodooPad, both for Mac. Bean is a no-nonsense text editor. One step up from TextEdit, but none of the features that make OpenOffice or NeoOffice drag. My personal favorite and all around great work-horse of a program is VoodooPad. I use this to capture all my ideas in text, whether it is notes for a class, or connected documents. It is basically a Wiki for your desktop. Very malleable for your writing needs.

  • Doug

    Ulysses is a fantastic writers’ application for the mac, it’s quite expensive, but the demo is free: http://blue-tec.com/ulysses/

    CopyWrite is also quite good: http://www.bartastechnologies.com/products/copywrite/

    Both of these applications help manage larger writing projects and have a full screen mode.

  • QuietRebelWriter

    Thank you for the list, and for keeping resources for us writers top of mind. I have a question, for both you and the other readers/commentators. I’ve been skeptical for some time about software for writing novels/books. It seems an unnecessary expense, when just as easily we can keep track of characters/plot lines/etc. in notebooks, word docs, or spreadsheets. To me, software like this seems to take the focus away from the art and act of writing, and instead focuses on time-wasting tasks.

    That said, I also love me my fancy gadgets and software. So – are these programs truly useful and worth the expense?

  • Paula

    QuietRebelWriter, you said better what I was thinking when I asked about how the list was generated.

    I would love to improve my writing and writing process and don’t mind paying if the tools are sincerely useful.

  • Doug

    QuietRebelWriter, a lot of this of this software actually features trimmed-down features that make the writing experience itself much simpler, and the “project management” aspect of writing more intuitive. Others like LaTeX are designed for niche markets.

    I’ve always found applications like Microsoft Word and Apple’s Pages to be unnecessarily bloated. Many of the examples given in this article are actually designed with the philosophy of returning the user to the art of writing and the creative process; to help her focus on the act of writing itself rather than to complicate it.

    All writers have different needs and processes, and that’s why almost all of the examples here have free demos.

    But if you’re satisfied happy with your current system, there’s no need to change it!

  • Boluwatife

    i will like to know more about sofeware and all other application

  • Charlie Gilkey | Productive Flourishing

    I’d like to add a couple of others, both of which I use for different purposes:

    Mellel (Mac-only) is a great piece of software for scholarly writing. It’s quick key commands, robust features, and integration with bookends are stand-out features. Learning to use it, though, requires a bit of a paradigm shift – but once you do learn to use it, it’s pretty handy.

    Textmate (Mac-only) is a fabulous piece of software for web writers. It gets a lot of acclaim from programmers because it is a text editor, but the ability to keep your hands on the keys while writing HTML documents saves me a lot of time. The minimalism of it helps keep me from fidgeting with settings, as well.

    Great list, Dustin.

  • Ali

    Many thanks for the comments all, and for pointing me and others to some more excellent pieces of software — of course, a list of 25 can’t be totally comprehensive.

    @Paula — I’ve not tried every piece of software on the list, though I’ve used a number of them. Others have either been recommended to me by fellow writers, or are heavily bookmarked on del.icio.us

    @QuietRebelWriter — not all the software will suit everyone! I’ve personally had mixed results from novel writing software; I wouldn’t say it was a waste of money or time, but nor would I think it by any means an “essential” purchase.

    @chris — Thanks for the correction! Yes, WriteRoom is $24.95 for the non-trial version.

    Again, thanks to everyone for extending the list here — do keep adding your favourites! 🙂

  • Mari Adkins

    I recently found Evernote – http://evernote.com. You can save bits and pieces of things from all over the net – and all over your computer – and mark them private or public. And it all syncs up with the Evernote website – so you can share items with invited Evernote users.

  • Ryan

    There’s also http://www.scripped.com. Great for the first time writer!

  • Paula

    Thank you all, especially Ali! You help blaze the way for newbies and dreamers like me!

  • James Acton

    No WordPerfect?

    A far superior word processor to MSWord and far less cumbersome.

  • Susabelle

    I am not a fan of White Smoke as a company. Once you demo one of their projects, you end up on their spam list and cannot get off. Their technical support is a joke, when you call you get some person with a foreign accent who can’t help you, if you can get anyone at all.

    I would not recommend them to anyone.

  • Tom Chandler/Copywriter Underground

    Several comments have mentioned Q10 — a classic clean screen text processor that even generates typewriter noises while you type.

    It’s a real blast for those of us who started our writing careers on typewriters, and offers me an odd auditory boost when I’m getting a lot of words on paper.

  • NLP Gyan

    Nice Post. Informative also. Thanx for this list of softwares.

  • Anna Johansson

    Great information. Does any of the programs on the list or elsewere check the correct use of prepositions in a text? That’s what I need.

  • Patricia Egan

    A few notes:

    Whitesmoke–Are you joking? Did you try this?

    Technical writers–Adobe Technical Communication Suite includes FrameMaker, RoboHelp, Acrobat Pro, and Captivate

    I confess . . . I still use WordPerfect. It just works for me.

    Thanks for the list!

  • John S

    Yea, I think the Scripped Writer at http://www.scripped.com is a good one. I just finished my first screenplay and it formatted it for me. It was super easy.

  • Rick Benqs

    I noticed several comments about the softwares you recommended but not one following comment about Stylewriter. For my money it is one of the best and most comprehensive, check it out. It’s quite expensive but worth it and the demo is FREE and no I am not selling it, although I should.

  • whitesmoke

    writeexpress is also easy letters writing software

  • Kevin

    Very useful stuff. Also very extensive… Thanks!

  • NLP Training Info

    Thanks for this good list of tools nice compiled.

  • Jessthewriter

    Ok, so I have about 3 novels in varying stages of completion. One from NANOWRIMO and a couple from just sitting down and writing. I know my stuff is good. However, as evidenced in this post I totally suck at punctuation and grammar. I need software that can help me with that. Does anyone have any advise?

  • j. Baes

    A couple of years ago I saw some software that would compare your writing(i.e., you provided a sample of some text) with the writing of some other author (e.g., you could enter some text from a Hemingway novel). I have thought about this from time to time and would like to try it but cannot remember and cannot find reference to the software. Does anyone have a referral?

  • Jacko

    Thanks for the great list, I’ve been looking at reviewing some of these for my own use.

    I’ve just started to use buzzword from adobe and I have to say I like it. I also use google docs for general stuff on the go as well as box.net.

    Scripped is good for script writers, but also have a look at zhura.com; it’s really good.

  • English Proofreading

    I started using G-Docs for writing drafts. To correct spelling or grammar I use an English proofreading software and to finalize the documents I use the common MS Word.

    The benefit of using an online based software is that your files are always up-to-date and using a UBS stick gets obsolet.

  • mike schwagler

    Interesting website! Are you an affiliate marketer, by any chance?

    I’ve been using Power Writer for a number of years. It’s a terrific program for writing, organizing and staying on track, particularly for fiction and creative non-fiction.

    I don’t believe they have an affiliate program in place. If they did I’d be first in line to help them sell it.

    Cheers! Love to hear back from you, -Mike-

  • Jane

    Dear Mike,

    I simply tried to contribute something valuable to your blog.

    Placing a link back to my “home”, can be called legitimate or not. But since you offer to submit a ‘Website’ in your comment submission form, I didn’t hesitate to do so… 🙂

    I’m sure Power Writer is a good product as well. Have to test it’s capabilities once in a while. Thanks for the share.

    No hard feelings!

    Best wishes

    jane

  • Richard

    You also left out two new products, myWriterTools and myWordCount, which are great add-ons for writers. You can check them out at http://www.mywritertools.com

  • research paper writing

    Well, I have been reading your blog posts daily and the reason I come on your blog frequently is its compelling content… Regards…

  • Audrey

    Well, all these may be find and dandy for you people to use, but I find Corel’s Word Perfect be the best program for me to use.

    I have used this program for over twenty years (Since version 3.1) and they have the most versatile format I have found. Plus they have a very decent grammar checker. It will count your words, auto correct your common errors, and much more….

    So, if you are looking for a program better than Microsoft Office … check Word Perfect out.

    Just my two cents worth.

    Have Fun, Ya’ll

  • Rob Strong

    I think you should expand the list to 26 and include HostWriter.net. The internet’s first, and only, free web application for writers.

  • Debbie Cohen-Sitt

    You could add StoryO to this list as well now – it was just released (Sept 2009). Check it out at http://www.junglesoftware.com – from the makers of Gorilla film production software.

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