Many new writers and authors start out by using a word processor such as Microsoft Word, iA Writer or Google Docs. But word processors are not designed to help you with a creative writing project. If you plan to write fiction or nonfiction, you will need dedicated novel writing software.
Word processing, spreadsheets, email managers and a desktop publisher are for business and administration. They are not the best tools at all for creative thinkers and the book writing process.
You want to write a book or a novel. So don’t use tools made for a letter, a business proposal or a report.
Forget all about using Microsoft Office. But don’t worry, there are plenty of book writing apps and writing software alternatives. Especially when it comes to free book writing programs.
Choosing the best book writing software to write your book
“I want to write a book.” Okay, then let’s get you started with the best book writing apps for the job.
When you decide to write a book, you want a writing program designed for the task.
Look in an app store for a writing program that is distraction-free (yes, no social media!). You want to be able to concentrate all your energy on writing your book.
There are a lot of writing software packages available for authors. But, some like Ulysses, Vellum and even Word can all cost you a lot of money.
Are you a book writer and just starting out on your project of writing your book? Then there are many free writing software alternatives and editing software that you can try.
There is always a short learning curve when you start using new software programs. It’s better to spend your time and not your money when you are learning how to use a new writing program.
But the applications in this article are easy to learn how to use and to set up for writing your new book.
It takes a long time to write a book. That’s why as a non-fiction or fiction writer you need software specifically designed for the task.
The main criteria for good book writing software are that you can write chapter by chapter or even scene by scene. Writing a novel is a step by step process. A good writing program will allow you to write in these stages.
You also want to be able to keep notes about your characters, events and if possible mind maps and record a timeline. An auto-save function is also advisable. It will keep your manuscript stored and saved securely.
Also, check if you can save your work on a cloud drive. Google Drive, Dropbox or iCloud are good options for extra back up security.
Another feature that is important to many writers is to have a distraction-free mode. Or at least one that reduces the clutter on your screen while you write in a text editor. Sometimes, a plain text editor is all you need.
Books are long-form writing. Working on one huge, long lump of text in one document is cumbersome. It is also prone to file and save errors.
It really is an unsafe way to write a book. The chances of something going wrong technically are very high. This is especially true with Word.
Another consideration is that a good book writing program is rarely suitable or available as a mobile Android or an iPhone or iPad iOS app.
When you try the software and online book writing apps below and start writing, you will immediately notice the difference. You will understand why writing a book needs a totally different approach.
Let’s get you started on the right foot. Here is a selection of the seven best totally free web-based and open source book writing software, apps and tools.
There are also details later in the article about three free trial writing software programs, especially for authors.
1. yWriter (Free)
I have to start with yWriter because it was developed by a writer, Simon Haynes.
He explains the reason for going to all the trouble to create this software, and it should resonate with many writers.
“I really struggled with my first novel. I wrote slabs of text into a big word processor file and I just couldn’t make sense of the whole thing at once. No real overview, no easy jumping from scene to scene, nothing.”
It is a great explanation of why word processors are not designed for writing fiction.
The key feature of yWriter is that it breaks book writing into chapters and scenes. When writing a book, this is a must-have feature.
It also comes with the ability to build characters and locations.
2. Manuskript (Free)
Manuskript is a feature-rich book writing tool. It has an outliner, word count and distraction-free mode. It also a novel assistant to help you. With it, you can develop characters using the snowflake method.
You can also keep track with notes about all your characters, the plot, events and places in your story. These tools will certainly help improve your writing.
It is well worth a try for a new author.
3. Sigil (Free)
It has multiple views including book view, code view and preview as well as a WYSIWYG editor. It also has a Table of Contents generator with multi-level heading support.
There is a metadata editor as well as spell check with default and user dictionaries.
It also supports the import of EPUB and HTML files, images, and style sheets.
4. Wordcradle (Free)
Wordcradle is a free online novel writing tool that really has a lot going for it.
You can set up projects with word count goals and how much time you want to allocate to your writing aims. These are great tools to have if you want to practice writing on a schedule.
The character cards allow you to construct a profile for each one during your rough draft. They are set in an attractive table layout.
Index cards are a must when writing a novel. Wordcradle is equipped to handle all your ideas and to track changes you might make to your storyline.
5. Bibisco (Free)
Bibisco is open source software. It is specifically designed for writing a novel.
It has all the elements you will need. These include character development and tracking. There are chapter and scene organisation as well as note-taking.
Everything you need to write a novel in one free software package. Bibisco is available for Mac, Windows and Linux.
6. Focus Writer (Free)
FocusWriter has one key attribute. It is about total distraction-free writing.
It has many options you need to set things up for your writing your book. But it has a hide-away interface that lets you concentrate on the one big thing you want to do. Write.
Forget about menus, toolbars, drag and drop or copy and paste with this app. There is all focus mode with nothing between you and your words.
It is very user-friendly, free and available for Linux, Windows, and Mac OS X.
7. Shaxpir (Free and Premium)
For a dedicated book or novel writing app, Shaxpir really packs a lot into its free version.
With the Manuscript Builder, you can use drag-and-drop tools to rearrange any part of your manuscript.
You can move and change the order of scenes or chapters, so you can work on structures that work for you.
You can set up writing goals and track your progress. You can also make specific notes about your characters, places and events.
you can add your margin comments as well as collect any concept art.
It also comes with its own in-built spellchecker.
For free software designed for writing books, Shaxpir offers you a huge range of features.
It is available for PC and Mac with an option for cloud access.
Three free trial book writing software packages
1. Scrivener (Free Trial)
Although it is not free writing software, I must include Scrivener in my list.
Scrivener is well-known as the best writing software program for screenwriters and authors.
It comes with a corkboard, an outliner, side by side viewing, word count targets and a full-screen editor. There are also print, export and publishing tools. It has everything a writer could possibly need.
Scrivener is a top quality premium book writing program.
However, there is a 30 day free trial period offered by Scrivener. But it is counted by days that you use the software. If you use it every second or third day, your trial period will last for 60 days or more.
Scrivener is available to download for both PC and Mac.
Take a look at Scrivener in action.
2. The Novel Factory (Free trial)
The big feature of The Novel Factory is the Roadmap.
It puts together tested techniques from leading novelists. It breaks down writing a novel into small tasks so beginners can learn the craft of writing.
The Locations tab allows you to take down details for your locations. It includes multiple images to help your inspiration. It helps you to consider all of the senses in your descriptions, in order to build an immersive story world.
The Characters tab you can see your characters in an overview. Or you can open each one to see all the details. These include the introduction, basic information, your questionnaire, viewpoint synopsis and well as your history and notes.
Once you’ve written your long synopsis, you have the option to automatically generate scenes directly from it. Adjust where each scene breaks and all your scenes will be created automatically. Then you can get on with writing your first draft.
Unlike some other book writing programs, the Novel Factory doesn’t need hours of learning. It’s intuitive from the very first time you open it.
The Novel Factory is available in an online version that works with all operating systems. There is also a desktop version for PC only.
3. Ulysses (Free trial)
Ulysses is a Mac and Apple only application.
It works with a unified library which holds everything you’ll ever write a book. The features are designed to manage writing projects of any size or ambition. You can write notes, blog posts or a whole novel.
It has all the tools you need for writing, with the main focus on getting the words down.
Ulysses can export to perfect PDFs, Word files as well as ebooks. All totally formatted and styled. You can also export to HTML for use anywhere on the web.
You can even publish to WordPress and Medium from within the app. Everything is just a click away, with on-the-fly switching of styles and a live preview built right in.
Ulysses operates and syncs on Mac, iPhone and iPad. It is the ideal writing software for Apple users.
Bonus Free Writing App
For more and more writers, an online grammar checker is becoming a must-have editing tool.
Most tools can highlight common grammar and spelling mistakes and offer quick and easy corrections to help improve your writing.
There are a lot of free and premium grammar checking writing tools available online, and most can offer you basic help.
But you want to get useful, in-depth analysis of your grammar and writing style. For this, you will need to think about using an editing tool that is designed especially for authors.
ProWritingAid is one of the best choices for authors. It is an online writing tool that can analyse very long documents in depth. ProWritingAid is also the only grammar checker that is compatible with Scrivener.
The free version has plenty to offer you.
But the very reasonably priced premium version allows you to dig much deeper into your writing. You can check many different elements in your writing. You get a host of reports, writing tips, analytics and suggestions on how you can improve your manuscript.
Wrap up on free book writing software
There are lots of choices of the pieces in the software above. I’m sure you’ll find at least one of these free book writing apps will help you write and publish better. Some will help you overcome writer’s block and be more organised no matter what your writing style.
You should also use a reliable online grammar checker. It will keep your use of adverbs, passive voice and repeated words under control. Then you are surely going to be writing more and better every day.
So forget about office applications that belong to cubicle warriors. Learn how to write a book with tools specifically designed for the purpose of creative writing and maximising your writing time.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, there are many fine paid apps which come highly recommended. But they are very often more suited to professional writers, content writers and writing a blog post.
You don’t need to make a big investment in writing software for books and novels. If you are just getting started on moving away from Word and Google Docs there are many free choices.
Try a few of these free writing apps and see which one works best for you. They can all help you write a better book or novel. It might not turn you into a bestselling author overnight. But you never know, do you?
I started my working life as a lithographer and then spent over 30 years in the printing and publishing business.
Originally from Australia, I moved to Switzerland 20 years ago. My days are spent teaching English, writing and wrestling with technology while enjoying my glorious view of the Alps.
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