Truth is, if you’re a writer then I’m hoping you’re already using some or all of these programs. But if you’re just getting started or looking to expand your ability, I have some suggestions for you.
Here are 6 of the best programs and apps (in no particular order) for writers to use in their quests.
Evernote is a virtual notebook repository. Or post-it-note repository. Basically, it allows you to save your writings in notes that are organized into notebooks to help you organize your writing habits.
As a writer, you need to be writing down any and all ideas you have so that you never sit in front of a blank screen (or page) and waste time wondering what to write about. Using Evernote allows you to always have access to a safe place to keep and organize ideas.
Evernote is a phone app, a website, and a desktop program, all synced to your account so your ideas transfer fluidly from your brain to your workstations. This allows you to work from anywhere with an Internet connection.
You can download and edit files without a connection, but it will not sync with your other programs. This means you can work without connecting to the Web if you need.
A notebook in Evernote is like a folder on your computer. It holds notes (documents). Each note can be marked up with tags so that you can organize your notes.
My writing notebooks are Blog, Novel, Stories, Lyrics. In my Blog notebook, I have notes with post ideas, posting schedules, and to-do lists. In my Novel notebook, I have character sheets, plot outlines, and world-building exercises. You get the idea!
Speaking of which, I also have a notebook that is dedicated to keeping ideas—not just for my writing, but for everything I come up with. Since I always have my phone with me, I never have to worry about not being able to keep an idea.
Evernote can be exceptionally helpful for keeping track of research as well! Here’s an article that outlines how to use Evernote for researching a story.
(Psst… if you use my Evernote affiliate link to sign up, you’ll start out with a Premium account.)
I swear our generation has been ruined by spellcheck. At least, when we’re trying to spell without it, we struggle.
Grammarly is far more than a spellcheck:
- Contextual checks make sure you’re using the right word.
- Grammar checks ensure you’re phrasing your sentences correctly.
- Diction checks help you choose the best word.
This is all just within the free program—if you upgrade to premium, you get access to even more checks (plagiarism and sentence clarity come to mind).
Plus, if you use Chrome, it works across the board as a browser extension. Which means you’ll get your writing checked all the time. Not bad for a free account.
Now Grammarly isn’t a replacement for an editor or a proofreader, but it can certainly help if you can’t afford those services yet. Head out here to check it out.
Google Docs is like Evernote: an online repository for your writing. Unlike Evernote, Google Docs is designed to be a heavy-duty word processor—along the lines of Word and Open Office.
Google Docs coexists with Google Drive (a cloud-based storage system), which is useful for 3 reasons:
- It allows you to have a copy of your work accessible with any Internet connection. Like Evernote, Google Docs has an app that allows you to keep your thoughts, ideas, and drafts with you at any and all times.
- It allows you to organize your work more thoroughly. Evernote has a 1-tier organizing system: you get a notebook with notes inside. With Google Docs, you can keep your files within varying tiers of folders. So you can have a novel folder with as many different novel folders inside of that folder as you would like.
- You can share your documents with others. This is so incredibly useful for getting readers to comment useful ideas and questions within your writing. Instead of having to email files back and forth with your reviewers (or even more precariously, sharing a printed out draft), you can invite them to leave feedback straight in your file.
I use Google Docs for working on actual stories. I’ll save all of my ideas and backups to Evernote, but when it comes down to the sitting down and writing, I use Google Docs. It is as (if not more) powerful as Word, and I love being able to access all of my files from anywhere.
The other reason I prefer Google Docs to Evernote for my writing is because of the ease of sharing. With a single email, everyone I want to review my story has instant access (with customizable restrictions) to my document. I can allow someone to only view my file, or to only comment on it. I can allow someone else full editing privileges, which makes Google Docs perfect for collaborating.
Google Docs saves each of your edits as well, so if you cut a paragraph and wish you hadn’t, you can just go back into the saves and resurrect it. This means you shouldn’t need to save as many extra drafts “just in case” there’s a piece of writing you want to keep.
Here’s another piece by Jamie Rubin to help you get the hang of how to use Google Docs as a writer.
Scrivener is the premium in writing programs—it is the only program on this list that isn’t completely free to use. However, what you get in return for your payment is immense.
Scrivener is designed to help you write novels, scripts, short stories, research papers, blog posts… if you name a type of writing, Scrivener comes with a feature that makes writing your piece immensely easier.
Here’s a brief list of features that Scrivener has:
- Corkboard (aka virtual storyboard)
- Outliner (helpful for writing papers)
- Scrivenings (an editing tool that breaks your piece into customizable-sized chunks)
- Templates (including pre-loaded academic templates)
- Scriptwriting (an editor designed for scripts)
- Statistics and Targets (for keeping track of your goals)
- Snapshots (aka drafts)
- Fullscreen (aka distraction-free writing)
Check out the full summary of these features here.
As you can see, many of the included features are completely separate programs. Keeping everything in the same place may not be as secure or as accessible as Google Docs and Evernote, but it makes sitting down to work easier because the workflow is already set out for you.
SelfControl (and a PC counterpart, StayFocusd) is an Internet blocking program. That is, it acts like parental restrictions during a time limit to help you actually get work done on the Internet and not waste half of your research hour on Pinterest.
This might just be a useful productivity-hack, but for writers on a time budget, these kinds of programs are worth their weight in gold. Especially for distraction-prone writers like me…
Write or Die
I used Write or Die to help me finish this post. As a full-time student, I don’t have time to dally when I sit down to write (hence the advocacy of SelfControl). Write or Die demands you reach your word count goal in the time frame you set, effectively canceling out other distractions.
The program itself is fun and easy to use. You simply plug in your constraints and go. You have three criteria: how many words you want to write, how long you want to take, and what “mode” of motivation you want.
- Stimulus Mode. As you write, the program plays noises that are conducive to writing. These noises quiet down if you fail to write.
- Consequence Mode. If you fail to write, consequences occur. Notably, the screen turns red and the chiptune sound of a bomb fires until you start writing again. Don’t die!
- Kamikaze Mode. If you stop writing, the words you have already written will be systematically “disemvoweled,” rendering your writing error-ridden and mostly useless.
Depending on the direness of your time constraints and the nature of your writing, Write or Die can make you actually write. Use it at your peril.
There is a paid version of the program, which includes its own window to write in, and a couple different writing modes.
Here are the 6 programs I would recommend for writers:
What are some programs that you couldn’t write without? Have you used any of the ones I’ve suggested? Share your experience in the comments!