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…
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.
“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.”
“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.”
$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.”
“View, print and copy Word documents, even if you don’t have Word installed.”
“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.
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:
$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)
“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.”
This version combines features of both “Character Pro” and “Quick Story”, and is Java Based (so runs on almost any system), for $69.99.
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:
“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.”
30 days free, then $39.99
“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.
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.
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.”
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.
For specialised types of writing, such as creating scientific documentation, normal word processing software may not be enough.
“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.
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.
$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.”
$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.”
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.
$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)
“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.”
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.
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.”
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.)
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!”
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
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.
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.
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.