Writing Life,  Writing Software

Let’s Talk about Writing Software

“Hi! I’ve finally had time on my hands to edit my story and I wanted to try out the Hemingway Editor App but I can’t afford buying software like that. Do you know of any editing software that’s free?”

I do, I guess, but first I want to talk more broadly about writing software. Paid writing software sometimes gets a bad rap because none are ever so specific on what they actually do. They can be overly complicated, have way too many features, and be difficult to use.

In actuality, no writer actually needs to have more than one paid software, and often there are free options anyway. For a long time, I believed every writer should have Microsoft Word. It’s a good one to have but I’ve gone a little over a year without it and it hasn’t hurt me. With that said, I use Google Docs and Scrivener.


I wish in the worst way that I was an affiliate for Scrivener because I’m constantly selling it to other writers just by gushing over how much I love it. It’s a writing software that has changed my life and though it sounds like an exaggeration, it’s not. It made me more serious about my writing. I first started using it about four years ago and I’ve been hooked. I write so much more in part because of Scrivener. It’s features are easy to use and many of them actually aid productivity.

My favorite features include “Composition Mode”  where you can opt to block out everything on your screen but your manuscript to prevent distractions (like Focus Writer) and their “Project Targets” tab where you can see a progress bar fill up as you work to reach your word count. Your word count target can either reset itself at midnight (for a NaNoWriMo-style challenge) or you can reset in manually, like I do, which is better for those late-night writing sessions. I’ve seen so many writers try to recreate the features in Scrivener through a dozen different sites and products and it’s not easy. Scrivener puts everything all in one place.

I’m not even talking about some of the things my friends get excited about that I’ve come to take for granted. A friend of mine bought Scrivener as soon as she saw me start outlining in the same Scrivener document where I was writing. She saw how my outlining notes popped up right next to my document as I was writing so I could make sure I wrote the scene the way I’d planned. Like I said, I’ve been using it for years, so I don’t even notice just how spoiled I’ve been.

Scrivener is also one of the more expensive writing softwares going, but it’s worth it. And when I say “expensive” it’s about $45 and considering it exports to Word documents, I think it’s a bargain. It’s made for carrying enormous files. At some point, usually around the 35,000 word mark in my Word docs, Microsoft Word started lagging a lot. It was slow and didn’t load quickly. I came to the realization that while Word can hold huge documents, it wasn’t built for it. Scrivener on the other hand most definitely is. Anyway, I can go on, but I won’t. Let’s talk about what else is out there.

The Hemingway Editor App

While this is a “writing software,” I’m pretty sure it’s more of an editing tool than writing implement. Correct me if I’m wrong. I’ve looked into it a few times because people rave about it, but I’ve never felt the need to buy it. For one thing, it’s not how I edit and also, it’s a great for final touches, but editing is about so much more than that. I would think about using the Hemingway Editor App for academic essays, articles, and blog posts, but not fiction.

When I sit down to begin editing a draft of something, it’s more like a rewrite – at least for the first few times. Line editing that I would be doing with the Hemingway Editor isn’t going to be relevant until I get out all the kinks in the story. That means filling every plot hole, making sure that scenes flow, that the pacing is right, that the story isn’t lagging. Even in very polished pieces there still tends to be more that can be done. Even then, when writing fiction, I don’t always use perfect grammar. I know when I’m doing it, but I love writing with fragments. I love making up words. I love to do the things that grammar-checkers hate. In fiction, you can do that.

Oh, and when I say making up words, I swear I’m not just writing in gibberish, it’s always a case of “why isn’t this a word?” or using verbs as nouns, nouns as verbs. You can do that in fiction and have it make sense in context. I would use this app the same way I currently use Readable. Sometimes I check blog posts or articles I’m writing for readability and basic grammar.

Real Quick, A Few Others

Focus Writer I used this constantly before I found Scrivener and it’s okay. It did the job. I liked it and used it regularly for a long time to get rid of distractions. It’s free but it does have it’s drawbacks. If I were to pick a software today, I’d probably spend the few dollars and go with Ommwriter for the improved user-experience.

Ommwriter I’ve heard really good things about this one. It seems like a fancier Focus Writer. It’s very pretty and that totally counts for something. I’m a sucker for pretty. It’s affordable (roughly under $10) and like most word processors, it saves in it’s own file format (.omm) but can export to Word docs, email, or pdf. The music options seem super cool as well.

WriteRoomAgain, similar to Focus Writer. Distraction-free writing. Not much for me to say except that I’ve heard of it.

Write or DieThis one is more of a game than a permanent solution. I used to love Write or Die as a kid so it had to make the list.

Google Docs – I like Google Docs, but it’s not the best for novels. I use it mostly for collaborative projects and sometimes for shorter work, though even with short pieces I tend to favor Scrivener. It’s free and integrates well with Google Drive, but usually you need Wifi to access it.

Pages – I have a grudge against Pages. I use it sometimes because I have it but it is really really hard to go from using Word to using Pages. People say they are the same, but they are not. I love Word for a lot of reasons that are unrelated to novel writing and Pages does not compare.

Storyist From what I gather, Storyist is just like Scrivener but has more of a “Pages” sleek aesthetic. I’m not a fan of Pages personally so that alone would drive me nuts. I can see so much in common. It may have slightly better word count tracking, but otherwise it seems pretty much almost the same. It is priced slightly higher than Scrivener at $59.

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