11
Dec, 2009

There’s no shortage of tools for writers. I’ve tested many kinds of software and these are the few I’d recommend as the best writing apps for novelists.

 

Best Apps for the Creative Writer

 

Scrivener
30 day Free Trial; $40-$45
Mac, Windows

Scrivener is a word processor and project management tool created specifically for writers of long texts such as novels and research papers. It won’t try to tell you how to write – it just makes all the tools you have scattered around your desk available in one application.

My Thoughts: Probably the best writing program in existence. And I’m not one for hyperbole. Scrivener is truly an all-in-one app. You can create pages and group them into folders/chapters/scenes. It has a cool corkboard with index cards that you can fill in with a synopsis or any other details. And it formats your manuscript to your specifications. From the beginning stages of writing to the end, you never have to leave Scrivener to do anything. It’s my most recommended app.

 

yWriter
Free
Windows

It’s a word processor which breaks your novel into chapters and scenes. It will not write your novel for you, suggest plot ideas or perform creative tasks of any kind. It does help you keep track of your work, leaving your mind free to create.

My Thoughts: This was the first writing program I fell in love with. It was created by Simon Haynes an author who was searching for the perfect writing program for. When he couldn’t find one that fit him he created yWriter. This app is great for many things. One of them being outlinning. You can break chapters up into scenes and move scenes in and out of chapters.

One of the cool features in yWriter is the highlight characters or items feature. If you have a lot of characters in one scene or throughout your novel, this comes in handy. You can highlight all the character names that appear in each scene. And keep track of who isn’t mentioned or who’s taking up the spot light. If your story has a macguffin, you’ll be able to keep track of where it is at all times with this highlight feature.

 

PageFour
$39.95
Windows

PageFour is a dedicated writing environment for creative writers. Where other word processors were built with the business user in mind, PageFour was designed to meet the needs of novelists and creative writers. It does not improve your prose or make you a better writer, only you can do that, but PageFour does make your job just that little bit easier.

My Thoughts: PageFour is lightweight program that performs heavy duty tasks. It’s very useful if you’re an author writing a series that features the same characters throughout each book. PageFour is your story bible. It’s a digital notebook. It allows you to create pages within folders and gather all you character charts and your worldbuilding in one neat place. PageFour is also a word processor. You can type your entire manuscript in it, spell check it and print it.

 

Word
$139 ($119 with Microsoft Office)
Windows, Mac

Microsoft Office 2010 offers flexible and powerful new ways to deliver your best work—at the office, at home, or at school.
Create standout reports and presentations with tools that help you capture your ideas more creatively. Stay connected to your projects, even when you’re away from your computer, with access to Office files via Web browser or Windows phone.1 Work efficiently with others by sharing, editing, and reviewing files at the same time—even across geographies and time zones.

My Thoughts: You can’t beat a blank page. With Word, it’s just you and the page. No extra confusing stuff. I’ve heard gripes about the ribbon being too clunky, but it has never tripped me up. I like it. It works for me. Word has great formatting capabilities and is traditionally used in the publishing industry as the standard writing software. That doesn’t mean it’s the best, but it does mean that it’s widely used enough that many writers find it useful and suits their needs (me included). Word also allows you to sync your docs to your SkyDrive account for backup.

 

Google Docs
Free
Windows, Mac

Create and share your work online. Upload from and save to your desktop. Edit anytime, from anywhere. Pick who can access your documents. Share changes in real time. Files are stored securely online. It’s free!

My Thoughts: By far, the greatest thing about Google Docs is that you can edit your documents anywhere three’s a computer available. You can create new documents on the fly or upload files as a backup. Great for collaboration, but not so great for large scale projects like novels.

 

Open Office
Free
Windows, Mac

OpenOffice.org 3 is the leading open-source office software suite for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, graphics, databases and more. It is available in many languages and works on all common computers. It stores all your data in an international open standard format and can also read and write files from other common office software packages. It can be downloaded and used completely free of charge for any purpose.

My Thoughts: Exactly like Microsoft Word in many aspects. But it’s a great app whether or not you’d want to or are unable purchase Word. And it’s open source!

 

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Best Apps for World Building

 

Microsoft OneNote
$79 ($119 with Microsoft Office)
Windows

… the easy-to-use note-taking and information-management program where you can capture ideas and information in electronic form. Insert files or Web content in full-color, searchable format or as icons that you can click to access.

My Thoughts: I’ve been using this app exclusively as my main story bible. It allows you to create notebooks and pages within them, and then link them together forming your own personal wiki. It’s very user friendly and intuitive. You can also sync your notebook to your SkyDrive account for silent backups.

One Note could have been the very best personal wiki app ever if not for one huge downside: There is no Search and Replace function! There are ways around not having this feature, which is how I’ve lived with it, but it remains highly inconvenient and inexcusable for text-based software in 2012. It is also the reason why I’ve been keeping my eyes open for other personal wiki apps (See below).

 

ConnectedText
30 Day Free Trial; $39.95
Windows

The Personal Wiki System
The most complete solution for a desktop wiki.
ConnectedText is a powerful but simple information management system. It is based on wiki principles. Indeed, it is best described as a personal or desktop wiki. Yet, to characterize it as a “personal” or “desktop wiki” does not even begin to do justice to it. ConnectedText is so much more.

My Thoughts: ConnectedText gives you much more control over your personal wiki than any other personal wiki app I’ve played around with. That’s a plus if you really want that Wikipedia feel with table of contents and info boxes on your pages. But that control is also a minus because with great control comes a great learning curve.


If you’re brand new to personal wikis and especially if you’re unfamiliar with or don’t feel like learning a new syntax, ConnectedText may potentially overwhelm you, and worse, slow you down. OneNote (see above) may be better suited for you. But if you’ve been around the Internet block a couple times and know your way around CSS Stylesheets, the syntax used here is baby stuff. That’s not to say it isn’t a powerful app–because it most certainly is. It just means that there will be a lot less of a learning curve for you. It should actually be a breeze.

Overall, between ConnectedText and OneNote, I think I’ve ended my search for the perfect wiki app. Both apps have their strengths and weakness because they are tailored to suit different needs. Personally, I haven’t decided which one I’m going to stick with yet. I love the ease of use that OneNote brings to the table. But I love having so much control with ConnectedText. And it has a Search and Replace function!!!
Update: I’ve fully migrated over to ConnectedText for my story bible. It’s simply way more powerful than OneNote. I still miss the WYSIWYG formatting though.

Notebook
Free
Windows, Mac, Linux

My Thoughts: Create your own wiki’s with NoteBook. First, let me say, that it isn’t exactly like Wikipedia. But it comes close enough. It was developed by a student and hasn’t been updated since February 2008. But the program works like it’s supposed to. It has a little bit of a learning curve but once you get used to it, it you’ll be linking your own pages in seconds.

 

Wikipad
Free
Windows, Linux, Mac

wikidPad is a Wiki-like notebook for storing your thoughts, ideas, todo lists, contacts, or anything else you can think of to write down.

My Thoughts: This is a really cool app that I discovered through a recommendation on the awesome Writing Excuses podcast. I’ve spent enough time using it to recognize how powerful it is as a personal wiki, but it lacked a few functions that I was personally searching for. But I’m posting it here in case you may have different needs than I do.

If you’re curious what my needs were that was a deal breaker, it was the way the linking is done in Wikidpad. The developers made linking easy by allowing you to simply join two words together like: linkhere. That automatically creates the link. I needed a function to create links using just a single word or any phrase of my choice. I also wanted to include photos in my wiki and utilize some WYSIWYG formatting. Wikidpad lacked those features.

 

FreeMind
Free
Windows, Mac

FreeMind is a premier free mind-mapping software written in Java. The recent development has hopefully turned it into high productivity tool. We are proud that the operation and navigation of FreeMind is faster than that of MindManager because of one-click “fold / unfold” and “follow link” operations.

My Thoughts: Originally, I used FreeMind for my timelines before I got down with Timeline 3D (see below). As a fantasy writer, I still use it to create hierarchies within races, and webs of various connections between characters (like Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon) and also a little bit of brainstorming.

 

Excel
$139 ($119 with Microsoft Office)
Windows, Mac

Microsoft Excel 2010 makes it possible to analyze, manage, and share information in more ways than ever before, helping you make better, smarter decisions. New analysis and visualization tools help you track and highlight important data trends. Easily access your important data on the go from almost any Web browser or smartphone.1 You can even upload your files to the Web and work simultaneously with others online. Whether you’re producing financial reports or managing personal expenses, Excel 2010 gives you more efficiency and flexibility to accomplish your goals.

My Thoughts: I continue to use Excel for a variety of things. In terms of world building though, spreadsheets continue to help me keep track of characters’ motivations and certain scenes in ways that are better than the other apps. I’ve even used Excel to create menus and lists of items sold in my fictional shops so I know exactly what my characters are buying/ordering, how much it costs, and even the number of workers in those shop. With spreadsheet software, you’re only limited by your imagination. Excel also allows you sync your spreadsheets to your SkyDrive account for easy backups.

 

GenoPro
14 Day Trial; $49
Windows

GenoPro is a user-friendly comprehensive software that allows you to draw family trees and genograms that you can share with your whole family.

My Thoughts: I’ve tried other genealogy programs, but for me, this one seems the most suited for the creative writer…or just me. It comes with a free sample family tree of Harry Patter for goodness sake! Unfortunately, the screen shots on the website makes the app look super complicated. That held me back from purchasing it for a few months while searching for something more user friendly. But I shouldn’t have waited. It’s perfectly user friendly. With any new program there is a learning curve. This one is no exception. But like any program worth buying, it streamlines the learning curve and does a lot of the heavy lifting for you, leaving you to concentrate on things that matter most: creating family trees for your characters. Highly recommended as I use this software exclusively for all my genealogy charts.

 

Aeon Timeline
Free (Beta); Price for Version 1.0 not yet known.
Mac

Many traditional timeline applications are written to suit a single need: to create an attractive display of one-dimensional time. They are presentational, static, and perfectly suited to overhead slides and projectors. Aeon Timeline aims to be different. The idea began as a conversation amongst writers, but has flourished into a timeline application suitable for a range of disciplines.

My Thoughts: This timeline app syncs with scrivener! When you create timelines with Aeon Timeline you can link “events” with your “scenes” in scrivener and sync them. Whenever you edit one, it automatically updates the other. But you don’t have to be a scrivener user to create timeline with this app. Aeon Timeline is it’s own thing. This app is great for stories that have multiple POVs. You’ll be able to easily follow different characters’ timelines and how they intersect. The visuals aren’t as pretty as other timeline software I’ve tried (see below), but that may not be as important to some writers. For me, the functionality was more important than the aesthetic value and Aeon Timeline exceeds my needs.

 

Timeline 3D
Unlimited Free Trail with Feature Restrictions; $65
Mac

Present full screen interactive timelines with a 3D perspective. Use the arrow keys or your Apple Remote to fly over your timeline or integrate them with your Keynote presentations.

My Thoughts:  This program is just awesome looking, if not a little pricey. The interface is great to look at. It’s also smooth and intuitive, easy to maneuver and hardly any learning curve. It’s a breeze to set up your first timeline and get started. The 3D function is really fun to show off. My one gripe with this software is its simplicity. It lacks features. And not just features that I personally need. It does exactly what it’s supposed to do which is, of course, great. But it only does that. It allows you to create amazing looking timelines, and that is all. If that’s all you’re looking for in a timeline app, then Timeline 3D may suit you. But if you’re looking for something with more functionality, there are cheaper options available (see above).

 

Google Earth
Free
Windows, Mac

Google Earth lets you fly anywhere on Earth to view satellite imagery, maps, terrain, 3D buildings, from galaxies in outer space to the canyons of the ocean. You can explore rich geographical content, save your toured places, and share with others.

My Thoughts:  The setting in your novel isn’t within your travel budget? Use Google Earth. Zoom in with street view. Turn on 3D landscapes and study the terrain. Read Wikipedia articles directly from the interface. View Flickr, Picasa and 360° photos. Mark your favorite locations with pins. Google Earth has replaced maps and maybe one day it will replace travel itself.

 

iPhoto
$79 as part of iLife Suite
Mac

iPhoto makes managing your photos as easy as taking them. It helps you organize your photos so you can find them fast. Edit them so they look their best. And share them with your friends and family.

My Thoughts:  All those pictures of actors and actresses that you’ve downloaded as a model for your characters, now you can keep your collection all in one app. You can create events, albums, and musical slideshows. Also, if you’re a social networking addict, you can share your pictures with social sites like Facebook and Flickr directly from the app.

By default iPhoto stores your images in it’s own “packet” which can be restrictive to some users. You can change this in the preferences, but the app stills feels a little limiting in other ways such as tagging. iPhoto has it’s own tagging system that’s separate from the OS. This means that when you tag a photo within iPhoto and then run a search for that same tag within the OS itself, your photo will not be found under that tag unless you’ve tagged it twice, both under the OS and in iPhoto. For me, it never makes sense to preform such tasks as tagging twice.

 

Windows Live Photo Gallery
Free
Windows

Photo Gallery tools help you organize and edit your photos, then share them online.

My Thoughts: For me, Windows Live Photo Gallery 1ups iPhoto because it allows you to store your pictures anywhere you choose on your hard drive by default. You simply locate the folder(s) where your images are stored within the app itself and voila. The interface isn’t as pretty as iPhoto but Live Photo Gallery has the same necessary functions. The main difference I’ve come across is in the tagging. When you tag a photo within Windows Live Photo Gallery, it will translate the rest of the OS. This is perfect for me because I’m a fan of tagging images only once.

 

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Backup Your Files & More

 

Evernote
Free
Windows, Mac

Use Evernote to save your ideas, things you see, and things you like. Then find them all on any computer or device you use. For free.

My Thoughts: Clip articles, entire webpages or just a few of the words you found during your research to refer back to later. This has been a lifesaver for me. When I’m not around my computer, I type scenes directly into the Evernote iPhone app and it syncs with my computer. Later, I copy and paste that scene into my manuscript.

 

Dropbox
Free (2GB)
Windows, Mac

It’s like a magic pocket. A single, secure place for all your stuff.

My Thoughts: Back up you files and access them from any computer. Similar to Evernote in that you can sync multiple computers together. Only this is for files on your hard drive. You can easily and quickly sync your files of the fly for backups or collaboration with another writer. Begin a chapter on your laptop while riding the bus and finish it on your computer when you you get home. You can also create sharing links to specific files for other users to download.

 

Windows Live Mesh / SkyDrive
Free (7GB of free storage with SkyDrive)
Windows, Mac

With Windows Live Mesh and the Devices website, you can keep up-to-date copies of documents, photos, and other files on all of your computers, whether PC or Mac. Sync your folders to the 5 GB of free storage space you get with SkyDrive, and work your files on the web from any computer. Run programs and browse all the files on your PC from anywhere by connecting remotely. And keep your favorites in Internet Explorer and your Microsoft Office settings up to date on all of your PCs by syncing your program settings. Here’s how to do all of this in Windows Live Mesh.

My Thoughts: Windows Live Mesh works flawlessly and silently. I hardly even know it’s there, but it’s been my most used sync app since I’ve been using sync apps. It’s different from Dropbox in that it allows you to choose a folder that already exists on your hard drive and sync it to a folder on your other computer. For me, this is ideal for organization. I want my folders/files where I want them, not where some app is telling me to place them. Plus, you get 25GB of free storage with SkyDrive! When Live Mesh and SkyDrive team up they form Voltron.

Update: Microsoft has discontinued it’s development of Live Mesh and is replacing it with SkyDrive. Also, new users no longer get 25GB of free space. It’s been reduced to 7GB as of htis writing.

 

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On My Radar
These are apps I’ve heard great things about but have not used. If you have any recommendations, mention them in the comments. I’ll check them out.

 

Liquid Story Binder
Shareware (30 Day Free Trial); $45.95
Windows

A Portable Text Editor that Keeps You Organized
Liquid Story Binder XE is a uniquely designed word processor for professional and aspiring authors, poets, and novelists. Writing software for those who require the editing ability of a commercial text editor as well as a document tracking system. It is for those who want the freedom to create, outline and revise but are tired of losing track of their work

My Thoughts: I’ve always wanted to try this app because of the many recommendations and the screenshots available on the site, but so far I’ve just been sticking with what has previously worked for me. Maybe it’s the perfect app or you!

 

Fractal Terrains
$39.95
Windows

Fractal Terrains Pro is ProFantasy’s fractal world-generating program. FT Pro lets you create maps using either fractal algorithms, real world data, or from scratch. FT Pro includes height, climate temperature and rainfall information, all of which can be edited. You can add rivers, craters or paint your own climates to customize your world. View your maps in a variety of projections and color schemes and export any view to CC2. Export into JPEG, BMP, VRML, linked HTML, and Spin View. Extensive real world and Mars data is included.

My Thoughts: I haven’t tried this out yet, but it looks awesome. If you’ve played around with it, tell me how it is. Thanks.

 

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Overall thoughts: After trying so many kinds of software, I’ve come to believe that there truly isn’t a “best” writing app. The app itself is not what’s important. It’s how you use what you have as your disposal. Regular old pen and paper still work and is sometimes better as apps can get in your the way and cause you more hassle. They have glitches and lack important functions and, even worse, crash. So don’t get too hung up on having the “right” software. Just get the words down any way you can.