Top Word Processing Software and Apps for Writers

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Photo by frankieleon (Flickr)

Technology can certainly be a distraction when you’re trying to get some writing done: Who hasn’t started researching something for a writing project only to find themselves looking up from Facebook or Wikipedia an hour or two later, wondering where the time went? But technology can also be a huge help to writers, from providing basic tools that make the physical process of writing easier to giving us help with organization, motivation, and capturing great ideas before they slip away. Here, we’ve collected a list of some of the best writing software out there, including a word processor comparison and some recommended apps for writers on the go.

Best Word Processing Programs

It’s hard to imagine being a writer without computers, but there was a time not all that long ago when we would’ve had to use a typewriter or even a pen and paper to put down our thoughts. Thank goodness for time-saving, paper-saving, hand-cramp-reducing word processing software! But which is the best writing software for you? You have a few different options to choose from:

  • Microsoft Word: Word is the granddaddy of them all, having gotten its start way back in 1983, before most of us even had computers. These days, there are many other programs out there with the same or similar functionality, but a lot of businesses use the whole Microsoft Office suite, Word included, and Word’s .doc file format is commonly accepted in the publishing world. It’s also particularly good when you need to track changes to a document while collaborating with another writer or an editor. However, Word isn’t good if you’re on a budget: It costs $110.

  • LibreOffice Writer: Want fully functional writing software without the hefty price tag? Download this open-source word processor, which also comes with a suite of other productivity programs. LibreOffice proves that free word processing software can be just as good as Word for most purposes, and since it’s open-source, it tends to be patched more frequently, making it more secure. It can still open and create .doc files, too, just like Word. For many, it’s the best free word processor out there.

  • Scrivener: If you’re looking for the best novel-writing software, Scrivener is a good pick, as it comes packed with a ton of useful features for those hoping to write the next great literary classic. Capabilities include an outlining tool, templates for project types like novels or screenplays, character sheets to help you keep track of who’s who and where they are in the plot, and a corkboard view that lets you reorganize things easily. It also has a split-screen function that allows you to look back at what you wrote in one window while writing in the other, so you don’t lose your place when you need to refer back to something. Scrivener also allows you to output your book to Amazon Kindle Direct for self-publishing when you’re finished. All of these features explain why many consider Scrivener to be the best software for writers and well worth the price, which is $40 for Windows or $45 for macOS.

  • Google Docs: Looking for word processing software you can access from anywhere without downloading anything? You’d be surprised how much you can do with this free Google word processor. Google Docs is simple to use and has most of the capabilities you’d expect from any piece of software for writers. It’s also cloud-based, meaning that you can work on your documents from anywhere with an Internet connection and collaborate with others in real time. And it saves your work for you periodically, which is a nice touch. Of course, working online can present plenty of distractions, which can be a drawback; you’ll have to consider how prone to distraction you are when considering whether this free word processing software is right for you.

Software for Writers Who Need Help Focusing

Typing on a laptop

It happens to the best of us: You sit down to write, check your email, look at Twitter, grab a second cup of coffee, stare at the blinking cursor for a while … yeah, nothing’s getting done. Fortunately, there are a few word processing programs that can help you focus and get your writing done.

  • FocusWriter: This free word processing software removes on-screen distractions by taking over your whole desktop, leaving just your writing space and a wallpaper image. You can even set it to fade out everything but the specific lines of text you’re working on, so you can’t be distracted by the urge to revise what you’ve written rather than moving forward. FocusWriter lets you set word count or time goals, and it has timers built in for those who work best with a tight deadline. The program is technically free, though it gives you the option to “tip” the developers when you download it.

  • Calmly Writer: Calmly Writer works much the same as FocusWriter, but it’s actually a free, Web-based program rather than downloadable software. It doesn’t take over your whole screen by default like FocusWriter does, but that is an option you can turn on. Calmly Writer also features a “dark mode” with white text on a black background.

  • OmmWriter: Hone your Zen-like focus with OmmWriter, which takes a meditative approach to blocking out distractions. The interface is simple, covering your entire screen with a text box laid over a minimalist, nature-themed background, and meditative audio tracks are also included. The cost to download OmmWriter is based on what you think it’s worth, with the minimum set at $7.33.

  • Write or Die: Need some serious motivation? This program is all about rewards and punishments, and the punishments can get pretty severe. Write or Die pushes you to keep writing by penalizing you when you slow down or stop typing: You might hear an annoying noise or see spiders on your screen, and if you use this program in “kamikaze mode,” if you pause long enough, it will start deleting all of the vowels in what you’ve typed. The program also includes a reward mode, though, which can show you pictures of cute kittens or puppies and play soothing sounds when you reach your goals. A lot of frequent participants in NaNoWriMo swear by Write or Die as the best novel-writing software to help them churn out 50,000 words in a month. It costs $20 to download, but hey, you can earn a lot more than that once you land a book deal, right?

Best Apps for Writers on the Go

Phone in one hand, latte in the other

The writing process doesn’t necessarily take place when you’re in front of a computer. Sometimes, you’ll find yourself plotting out new ideas while you’re waiting in line at the grocery store, or sitting in the break room at work eating your lunch, or curled up in your favorite chair at the local coffeehouse. At times like these, your smartphone can also be a smart writing tool. Whether you need an app for writing down ideas before you forget them, brainstorming your outline, or helping you to stay focused on your goals, the chances are good that yes, there’s an app for that.

  • Trello: If you’re the kind of person who likes to plot out what you’re going to write on sticky notes or index cards, try this app, which is sort of like a virtual corkboard. Create a board for what you’re writing, make lists of cards, and drag cards around as needed to organize your ideas. Trello’s available for iOS and Android and on the Web, and it’s free.

  • Evernote: The mother of all brainstorming tools, Evernote lets you take down and organize ideas, capture clippings of inspiring things you find online, take pictures, add notes to images, and search through everything quickly and easily. It’s an all-in-one solution for pulling your thoughts together. It’s also free for Android and iOS.

  • Dragon Dictation: Do you find that some of your best ideas come to you while you’re driving, showering, or in some other situation where you can’t write them down right away? Remember more of your ideas by using this free iOS app to take down your thoughts without needing a pen or even your hands.

  • Pomodoro Timer Lite: Plenty of writers swear by the Pomodoro Technique to stay motivated and productive, and with this free Android app, you can give it a try. This time management method breaks your work into intervals and can increase your productivity and focus. This is a great novel-writing app to pull out at a NaNoWriMo meetup, or just use it on your own to help you get more words on the page faster.

  • Story Tracker: Once you’ve finished your masterpiece, it’s time to send it out for publication. If you’re pitching submissions to multiple publications at once, this iOS app can help you keep your efforts organized, tracking where you’ve submitted articles, what the status of each submission is, whether it got published, and how much you got paid for it. Story Tracker is $7.99, but it’s one of the best apps for writers hustling to get their work published.

Mindy Young, an editor for Online Writing Jobs, got her start as a newspaper copy editor after earning her B.A. from Russell Sage College in Troy, NY. She spent nearly 13 years editing stories, writing headlines, and putting together pages for daily newspapers, and along the way, she also had the opportunity to write food columns and restaurant reviews. After earning a pair of Associated Press awards and a Suburban Newspaper Association award, she left journalism for the world of content marketing, where she puts her skills to work every day for OWJ clients and writers.

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