Apps for Writing and Editing

What kinds of apps and programs can help this whole writing process thing?

A reader writes:

Really loving the newsletter. Thanks for making this!

When I saw this issue in my inbox, I thought it might be about writing apps. It wasn’t, but maybe that’s a topic you could tackle someday? I reevaluate my workflow occasionally to see if there are better tools available (eg I’ve added Ulysses to my process this year, and last year moved from Scrivener to Pages). 

Hi, Reader! Sorry it took me so long to get to this question. It’s been in the queue a while, but I wanted to do some research to make sure I was covering all the bases.

Not all of these are apps I’ve used myself, but I figured I’d curate a list of everything I’ve seen recommended around and people can try out what looks good to them. So here you have it!

For Drafting

Most writers find they have to use Microsoft Word at some point in the process, once they’re working with anyone else on a file, as that’s the industry standard for prose. For word processors, there’s also Libre Office, which is the free, open-source equivalent to MS Word — unfortunately, although it’s a great program, I’ve heard reports that passing back and forth to editors or crit partners who are using Word can end up snarling the file. And of course Pages for Apple users, as you mentioned, Reader!

But for the drafting part before that, there are plenty of other options as well:

Scrivener — The learning curve is a bit steep, but many writers swear by this program as the best way to organize their thoughts as they draft novel-length work. There’s a 30-day trial period to see if it’s for you.

Ulysses — I learned about Ulysses from your letter, Reader! It bills itself as a “distraction free” app designed to promote creativity. When I poked around I saw a lot of people recommending it as an alternative to Scrivener, but unfortunately I think it’s only available for iOS.

Write! AppAnother minimalist writing app that bills itself as a sleek way to help organize your brain (and your book), and available for multiple platforms.

bibisco — A lesser-known app that is supposed to be designed explicitly for novelists, with an emphasis on characters and narrative.

yWriter — I see this recommended as a free alternative to Scrivener. From what I hear it’s a bit less robust than Scrivener and has a bit fewer flashy features, but you can’t beat a free price!

Google Docs — An obvious one, but I mention it because this is what I write in myself. I like that it autosaves and syncs up across multiple platforms. It’s also great for collaboration. On the other hand, it doesn’t handle novel-length manuscripts well.

Note that I’m concentrating on prose here — if you’re interested in a different form, like screenwriting, that’s a whole other ball game. (For instance, Final Draft is the program for writing screenplays, and you’ll definitely need it if you’re interested in that form, and I think other drafting aids exist also that are similar to the above ones for prose.)

None of these fit what you need? I’m not listing everything I found, only the ones I’ve seen recommended the most and that, upon poking about, seemed to offer something unique and robust to prose writers. But if you plug a handful of these app names into your favorite search engine at once, you’ll start to find many longer lists of writing apps. There are so many others — iAWriter, WriteMonkey, SmartEdit Writer… and many, many more.

For Motivational Drafting

Of course, sometimes we need a little more than a blank page to get that butt-in-chair time. How to get a little extra kick?

4theWords — A roleplaying game for writers in which players fight monsters by writing words in a certain time frame. You can gather loot and level up. I find it great for that kick in the pants when I need one (also I am weak for monster fighting). There’s a 30-day trial period to see if it helps you. If you sign up, if you so desire use my referral code and we’ll both get extra subscription time: NNCQM97407

Fighter’s Block — A much simpler gamification than 4theWords, you can dive right in to set up word sprints before you run out of hit points.

Write Or Die — If you stop writing, it erases what you’ve already written, and you can’t get it back. For the hardcore among us who want punishment-style motivation! There are also less punishing modes than what it’s known for, however.

Written? Kitten! — The website appears to be down right now, and I’m not sure if this tool went away for good, but it used to give you motivational pictures of kittens for every chunk of words written.

750 Words — A positive, fun motivator for writing 3 pages per day. Appealingly simple and encouraging.

For Editing

Pro Writing AidI used to use this, and it leveled up my writing quite a bit by pointing out my unconscious habits, like words I tend to repeat and “crutch” words I’d gotten in the habit of sliding in.

Autocrit — Works similarly to Pro Writing Aid. I ended up choosing Pro Writing Aid because its free version at the time was enough for my needs, and Autocrit didn’t have a free version. But they’ve both updated their integration and feature sets significantly, so if you’re interested it’s worth checking which would be better for you.

SmartEditSimilar to the two apps above. Integrates with Microsoft Word, and they have an app for drafting as well. Windows only.

Hemingway AppLightweight app with an easy-to-use free version that concentrates on readability. The premium version is more inexpensive than some of the other options here.

GrammarlyWith a focus slanted more toward grammar than style, but one of the most robust and well-known grammar-focused apps.

Obviously, with any editing tool it’s not good to follow it down rabbit holes — that can end up leaching all of a writer’s own voice out of the work. But I’ve found them incredibly useful for picking out stuff I didn’t even know I was doing and that weakened my writing.

Finally, I was going to include productivity apps in this post as well, but I’ve gone on a bit too long. Suffice to say that there are also a TON of productivity apps out there that will help you by doing stuff like blocking your favorite websites so you don’t click over during what is supposed to be your writing time!