If you’re just starting out as a writer, you’re probably hesitant about shelling out money on a fancy writing program. How often am I actually going to use this program? Is it really worth the money? There are probably a ton of parts I’ll have to learn — I just want to write.
At least, those were some of my thoughts before I started checking out various software for writing. I always used Microsoft Word, plus piles of notes and notebooks for all my scribbles and ideas. But believe me, investing in software has been one of the best decisions to improve my writing and organization.
There are way more than a plethora of computer programs out there, enough to make your head spin. So, where do you even begin to look for the right program to fit your needs?
First, you’ll need to evaluate exactly what your needs are as a writer. Are you writing for yourself? To eventually submit to literary agents/publishers? Self-publish? What do you struggle with most when it comes to your stories… Plotting? Characterization? Focusing your attention on writing and tuning out distractions? Overall organization? Pinpointing your needs will help you decide which program to invest in.
For plotting your stories
- Scapple ($14.99, Windows and Mac)
This program is great if you only need a program for visalizing all your plot points, character interactions/relationships, etc. It’s like a cork board on your computer. Double-click to create different bubbles, apply various colors and style options, and drag and drop to connect bubbles.
Pros: Inexpensive for a decent program, great for anyone who likes visual aids.
Cons: Not very useful for other needs.
- OmniOutliner ($99.99, Mac only)
Another program for plotting. Less freestyle/cork board-ish, more structured, but lots more room to type out detailed plot points and info.
Not one I have first-hand experience with, but overall looks like a good program.
Pros: More room for writing detailed plots, available on all your iOS devices and can sync between them.
Cons: Only available on Mac, pricey compared to Scapple.
*Screenshot credit: Mac App Store
- iA Writer ($9.99, Mac/iOS and Android)
A great program to help you tune out all those other focus-consumers, like basically everything on the Internet. No super fancy bells or whistles allow you to focus on the story itself. The image you see here is full-screen view in iA Writer.
Pros: Great if you’re distracted easily, clean, minimalistic design helps you focus on the text itself, rather than trying to organize everything, good price
Cons: Not useful for anything else besides text, so you’d have to use other programs to organize any other files, notes, clippings, ideas, etc.
- OmmWriter ($4.11* and up, Mac, iOS, Windows)
While basically the same idea as iA Writer in being “distraction-free”, this program mostly lets you focus on just the text. Differences in this are the various backgrounds you can choose from and instrumental music that plays in the program while you write. I tried OmmWriter quite awhile ago, and didn’t like it very much. I found myself too busy with changing the backgrounds and listening to the background music instead of writing. If I’m going to listen to music, I’d rather listen to iTunes.
*(Image credit: ommwriter.com)
Pros: *$4.11 is the minimum price you pay, but they ask you to donate more if you so choose. If you can focus on writing instead of changing backgrounds and listening to the music, it’s a good program.
Cons: If you’re easily distracted, not such a great choice.
The whole-kit-and-caboodle programs
- Scrivener ($45, Mac and Windows)
Many writers will agree that this is the mack daddy of writing software. I, myself, am a fangirl for Scrivener. I love it and swear by it. It is your all-in-one program, from plotting, character profiles, word processor, notes, ideas… In other words, you name it, Scrivener can handle it. It can even export to a ton of different file types, including mobi/epub files for ebooks. They run specials for NaNoWriMo every November — usually 50% for winners, 20% even if you don’t win. Scrivener is well worth the investment.
Pros: Keeps everything you need for your novel in one place, even links to webpages for research. There are a ton of nifty features, too many to even begin naming. Excellent price (especially when they offer discounts) for so many features.
Cons: All the bells and whistles can be overwhelming at first. While there is a great tutorial file that walks you through a lot of the features, it is a bit time consuming. Even after doing the tutorial, there are a lot of features to still discover.
- Storyist ($59, Mac only)
I’ve never used this program personally, nor do I know anyone personally who uses it, but my understanding is that it’s very similar to Scrivener. One upside to this program is that it’s also available on all your iOS devices, meaning you can jump back and forth between your iPad/iPhone and your Mac.
*(Image credit: storyist.com)
Pros: All-in-one program, keeps everything you need in one program, available on other iOS devices, which gives you more on-the-go capabilities
Cons: More expensive than Scrivener. I’m not 100% sure what, if any, discounts they offer during NaNoWriMo. Also only available for Mac/iOS.
There are a zillion other programs out there, too. Ultimately it’s up to you to decide what program will work best for your needs, or which you’ll feel most comfortable using. Some writers like all the features and toys, some like simply using a word processor, some just like good ole pen and paper. The best part? Whatever gets you writing is the best option for you!
Do you have any writing programs you swear by? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!