For writers, spilling words onto the page is tough enough, so using the best novel writing software can mean the difference between a polished manuscript and a disorganized mess. But with so many perfectly serviceable (and free) word processing programs on the market, do you even need novel writing software?
I’ve used both types of programs extensively in my writing, so I can say without hesitation that novel writing software beats even the best word processing program. All day, every day.
While all of the neat bells and whistles writing software boasts really do make writing a book easier, their crowning glory is the way they organize a writer’s work.
Word processors save every file separately, which works just fine for most applications. But if you’ve ever attempted to write a novel, then you know just how many files you need to refer to while writing — character sketches, outlines, previous scenes, you name it. When you try to write a novel on a word processing program, you inevitably end up juggling a dozen open files on your computer’s desktop — or worse, fighting back tears as you search for your novel’s climax, which somehow got shuffled into the folder containing the recipe for Aunt Betsy’s Blue-Ribbon Blueberry Pie.
And this is where novel writing software beats word processors, hands-down. Novel writing software saves all of the files related to your work in progress in one main project folder. When you open your project, all of your files are loaded into the program’s interface (usually in the left sidebar), providing instant access to every single bit of your novel.
I’m an “out of sight, out of mind” kinda gal, so having every file for my WIP visible at all times — and being able to switch back and forth between them in a heartbeat — is a game-changer!
Novel writing software is a must for writers, but it doesn’t have to break the bank! No matter what your budget is, there’s a program that’s just right for you. And without further ado, here are my top picks:
Scrivener – $49 for Windows or Mac, $19 for iOS
Poll any group of writers about their favorite novel writing software, and a chorus will strike up, singing Scrivener’s praises — and for good reason. This program created by Literature & Latte is jam-packed with enough features to make even the most tech-savvy wordsmith as happy as a tick on a coonhound.
My favorite thing about Scrivener is the way it organizes my work. (I’m kind of an organization freak.) When I open a project, Scrivener loads every file into the “binder” (the blue area in the photo below), which allows me to see my entire novel at a glance and jump from file to file in the blink of an eye.
Seriously, it is magical. 🙂
Another feature I love is the split-screen option, which allows me to have two files open side-by-side (while still keeping the binder visible, unlike word processors that offer a split-screen feature). This is especially helpful in the editing phase because it allows me to have my first draft open on one side of the screen while I work on the second draft on the other, saving me from having to click back and forth or spend a fortune on printing.
I love Scrivener and highly recommend it, but there is one hiccup I have to mention. Scrivener and Windows OneDrive (Microsoft’s cloud storage) do not always sync properly during saving, which can result in the loss of some of your files (which I learned the hard way!). So if you’re running Scrivener on a Windows PC that has OneDrive installed, then be very careful in how you save your projects. Because OneDrive tends to hijack files to save in the cloud (even when you tell it not to), I strongly recommend that OneDrive users save Scrivener projects to an external drive only.
- Offers a huge variety of features
- Cost is reasonable
- The corkboard allows users to create a digital storyboard (which is really helpful in the outlining phase!)
- Highly customizable interface (fonts, colors, rulers, labels, etc.) allows users to really make Scrivener their own
- Ability to compile project for printing
- Projects can be exported in many different formats (epub, mobi, pdf, .doc, html, etc.)
- And, honestly, so many more…
- Scrivener’s vast number of features create a steep learning curve…so steep there are people who actually make a living teaching writers how to use the software!
- That syncing issue is kind of a big deal (though the fault here lies with OneDrive rather than Scrivener)
- No easy way to share documents with critique partners or for them to add comments to a document
Scrivener offers a free 30-day trial to new users. Visit Literature & Latte to learn more.
LivingWriter – $9.99/mo. or $96/yr.
LivingWriter boldly claims to be the #1 novel writing software available, pitting itself against Scrivener for the top spot in writers’ hearts. While the program offers many of the same features as its competitor, it also comes with a higher price tag…one I’m not sure those features alone really warrant.
But LivingWriter does have a leg up over Scrivener in one area. The program offers five outlining templates to jump-start your novel, including Three Act Structure, Seven Point Story, 27 Chapter Method, Hero’s Journey, and Story Circle. When users begin a new project, they can choose one of the outlining templates and the program will plug the appropriate plot points (including an explanation of each) into the sidebar. Each template also offers a helpful video explaining how to use the outline to craft a novel. For novice writers and those who struggle with outlining, these templates alone might make the price of the program worthwhile…at least until they get the hang of outlining for themselves.
- Auto-saves after every letter to the Amazon cloud, so you never have to worry about losing work
- Attractive interface
- All project files are loaded in the left sidebar for easy, instant access
- Focus mode removes background to prevent distraction
- Easy file-sharing with crit partners and betas
- High price tag compared to similar programs
- Subscription rather than a purchase, making this an ongoing expense
- Only offers two themes (light or dark) with no ability to customize the interface
- Exports in Amazon Manuscript, Word, or PDF only
- An internet connection is required to access the program (and your work)
LivingWriter offers a free 30-day trial for new users. To learn more about the program and sign up for the trial, visit livingwriter.com.
Write! App – $24.95
My friend, if there’s a Scrivener-killer out there, this just might be it!
Write! app organizes projects into what they call “sessions,” with every file in the project arranged across the top of the screen (just like browser tabs) as well as in the left sidebar for instant access. Users can also toggle back and forth between sessions (projects), which makes working on multiple projects at once a breeze.
Formatting in the Write! app is so much easier than on Scrivener; a simple right-click of the mouse brings up a whole suite of formatting tools, including headlines, lists, text color, highlighters, and more. And the Write! app’s “focus mode” highlights the current paragraph while dimming the rest of the document, making it easier for distractible writers and perfectionists to focus on writing rather than editing what they’ve just written. (Ahem…guilty!)
I’ve used this program to write both fiction and nonfiction — in fact, it’s become my go-to program for writing blog posts — and so far, I love it. I think you will, too.
- Very affordable
- Offers many of the same features as Scrivener but at half the price
- Simple, intuitive interface is attractive and easy to navigate
- Ability to save to your computer or the cloud
- Offers several themes – light, dark, sepia, etc. (the “dark blue” theme in the photo is easy on the eyes when writing at night!)
- Shows full document in right sidebar (the tiny letters on the right side of the photo); click on any segment of the doc in the sidebar and the main screen snaps to it in an instant
- Offers several text style presets to choose from
- Ability to publish directly to Medium and WordPress, (great for bloggers!)
- No split-screen option
- Overall word count for the project is not readily available (the only way I’ve found is to merge all files into a single doc, which will display the total word count at the bottom)
If you’re looking for affordable novel writing software that’s easy to use — and you don’t need every feature under the sun — then this might be the program for you. The Write! app does not offer a free trial, but your purchase comes with a 7-day money-back guarantee, no questions asked.
yWriter7 – free
yWriter was first developed in 2001 by Simon Haynes, a computer programmer who also happens to be a published author…which means he knows what writers want in a writing program and how to give it to them. Over the years, yWriter has undergone several upgrades, and the latest version (yWriter7), is the best yet.
While yWriter’s interface isn’t quite as sleek or intuitive as the other programs on this list, it offers many of the same features they do…and for free. yWriter7 is a solid piece of novel writing software with plenty of features word nerds will really appreciate.
- All files in a project are loaded into the interface for easy, instant access
- Scenes are written in pop-up windows, which can go full-screen to help users focus
- Users can add background information about each scene (type, characters involved, POV, etc.) to scene windows (as in the photo above)
- Offers several export options (text, rtf, epub, mobi, etc.)
- No internet connection required to access and work on your project
- Program is not as easy to learn as the Write! app (but not as complex as Scrivener, either)
- Does not automatically spell-check as you type, meaning no red squiggly lines to help you edit on the go (though you can run spell-check manually)
- This is nit-picky, but it’s an awkward name. Just try to say “yWriter” five times fast. Go on…I dare you
You can download yWriter7 (or an earlier version) from Spacejock Software.
A word about word processors…
Novel writing software streamlines the writing and publishing process, freeing writers to devote their brainpower and creative energy to pouring their stories onto the page. But if your budget is tight or you don’t have the desire to learn a whole new program, then you can certainly use whichever word processing program (Word, Pages, LibreOffice, etc.) you already have at your disposal.
If you choose to use a word processor to write your novel, then here are a couple of tips to help you stay organized:
- Create a project folder on your computer to store your entire project in
- In the project folder, add subfolders for each type of document you’ll create (Notes, Scenes, Character Profiles, Outline, etc.)
- When you create a document, give it a descriptive label and save it to the correct subfolder
- Print out any documents you may need to refer to as you write and organize the hard copies in a binder for easy access
And remember, while novel writing software is a valuable tool in any writer’s toolbox, it can’t replace talent and passion. As long as you have those, my friend, then you’re golden.
Penny for your thoughts…
What program do you use to write your novels? Or are you old-school and stick to pen and paper?? Share your answer in the comments below!
Next week, I’ll be kicking off my Preptober series with a handy Preptober Checklist to help you get ready for NaNoWriMo! (Who’s getting excited?!?) Until then, buckle up, buttercup, and let’s write!
In case you missed it: In my most recent post, I shared 7 Fabulous Online Writing Communities. Check it out today to find the perfect writing community for you!
1 thought on “The Best Novel Writing Software of 2020”
So what am I going to use to write my NaNo novel?? I’m torn, honestly! I’ve been writing blog posts in the Write! app and really love it, but I’ve been doing my NaNo prep (just brainstorming and character sketches so far) in Scrivener. Hmm…what to do, what to do…