Most people are familiar with the Microsoft Office suite, which includes such things as Word, Powerpoint and Excel. As far as Word goes, it works well for typing documents, and is generally user friendly. However, I found that as soon as I tried to do more complicated things (like pagination) and wanted to add notes, or have additional information that wasn’t necessarily going to make it into the main document, Word had a few issues. As a basic word processing tool, it works.
Libre Office is the Unix/Open Source version of Microsoft Word. It is a free software, which is a huge point in its favour. And it has pretty much all the same features as Microsoft Word, with a few things being much easier to do, in my opinion. I have used Libre Office for years and it worked well for shorter documents of about 4K words up to larger documents of full novel length. The reason that I list Libre Office and Microsoft Word one right after the other is that they have the same problems when you try to do something out of the usual, such as pagination or adding information that isn’t going to make it into the final product (which requires separate documents).
Both are good, but fairly basic.
As far as easy, user-friendly and basic word processing programs go, Google Docs is a great one. It allows you to do pretty much everything that you would be able to do with Microsoft Word or Libre Office (minus a few of the more complex pieces that most people don’t use all that often). The big bonus with Google Docs is that you can sync documents easily across devices, thereby allowing you to work on your document just about anywhere. You don’t necessarily need internet access to work on the document, but if you want it to save or sync, you do, which is problematic for people who want to work on the go and don’t want to use data.
Another feature of Google Docs is the ability to share easily. You can invite people to work with you on the document, give them read-only ability or just have them comment. As user-friendly as Google Docs is, I find it a bit simplistic for putting together a full novel or outlines. Again, you run into issues when trying to do some of the more complicated formatting when preparing for publication.
That being said, you can apply add-ons to Google Docs, such as grammar checkers, quite easily that allow you to work more efficiently. The effectiveness of these add-ons is variable.
One such add on is Google Dictation, which is a free alternative to Nuance’s Dragon, which I discuss below. It is fairly capable and has the benefit of being free, though it is only so-so on accuracy and trainability.
Scrivener is a word processing program designed to be everything you could possibly need. It allows you to prepare outlines, add images, notes, front matter, references, and much, much more. It is a useful program, designed for writers. It also has pre-made templates that can easily create a novel, novel in parts, plays, non-fiction pieces in various citation styles, or blank. Scrivener allows you to upload documents into the system, so you don’t have to copy/paste or retype anything outside the program. It also allows you to export your projects into a number of different file types (including PDF, .docx, .odt, and more) with formatting already in place according to the template you chose.
As all-encompassing as Scrivener is, it does require a bit of a learning curve. Going through the tutorial is extremely useful, but will likely take a full afternoon. After that, you just have to play with the program for a while. There is a more advanced tutorial if you really require customisation, but for most of the features, that is not required.
Scrivener does allow you to store extra information without necessarily requiring it to be in the final project. This can eliminate the number of document you have open when working on a project. It also works with the other Literature & Latte tool, Scappel, which allows you to create mindmaps and plan out projects on a large scale.
$300/$150 per month (computer vs phone)
If you happen to do a lot of writing and/or have health problems that make typing a bit painful by the time you reach the 1K mark, let alone 2K words, then dictation software is the way to go. With the rise of Natural Language Processing, said software is getting better and better the more time goes on. That being said, there are several options out there. Nuance’s Dragon is one of the best out there. It does not require extra money per minute, so you can talk as much as you like, unlike some of the other industry options out there. It is also quite accurate and can be trained to be even better, which is very useful if you’re trying to go for less editing down the road. However, the Dragon that you would use on your computer does not run on Mac. If you want to do that (which I did), then you have to run a virtual Windows machine. I used Parallels, which lets me run the virtual machine. I paid a little extra to get updates, but given how much I use dictation, it is worth it.
Now, you can also use Dragon on your phone, which is a great thing if you want to go walking or you have to commute a lot. I have found that the phone dictation isn’t nearly as accurate or responsive as the computer dictation, but it does still work quite well.
If you want more information about my experience with either of these, please check out my YouTube video where I talk about Dragon in-depth: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tvdWZv1uDME
This seems like an expensive option, but it does work extremely well. If it’s outside of your budget, then Google Dictation does also work, but it is not nearly so accurate or trainable.
$18 ($14 for students/academics)
Scappel is a tool also made by Literature and Latte (who does Scrivener) that is extremely useful for planning. It acts as a mindmap maker that allows you to plan out projects organically. You can import images as well as text files and responsively arrange them however you like. If you’re keen on planning out a world or a novel or series, then this is a good tool to use.
Free – $105/year
World Anvil is a website that allows you to gather all of your world-building material in one place. It is built specifically for people who are either writers or managing RPG campaigns. There are ways to keep maps, history, legends, characters, etc. in one place and to organise it however you wish.
(I am going to try the program and will let you know how the trial goes. I hear good things, though.)
Writing Books and Other Resource Sites
This book by Jessica Brody is a book on how to plan out and write your novel, making it as good as it can be. This book looks at genre templates as well as quirks that make books interesting. Widely consdiered one of the cornerstones of how-to writing books.