Best Software for Writing a Book or Novel

The Best Software for Writing a Book or Novel

The Best Software for Writing a Book or Novel

So you’re ready to write a novel. Maybe you’ve done it before, or it’s your first time, or you’re preparing for Nanowrimo. There are so many ways to approach it: pen to paper, sit down in front of the typewriter, or just open Microsoft Word on your computer. But it is really that simple?

When dealing with a novel-length work or even a book series, there are characters to keep track of, plus settings, timelines–it can be a lot of information. And the writing itself isn’t necessarily easy to do in a traditional word processor, especially if you have an unconventional writing process or are dealing with five to six digit word counts. Also, there’s the pre-planning: outlining, notecards, brainstorming.

Before computers, the entire process involved a lot of notebooks, papers, typewriters, and pens. Now thanks to the plethora of software currently available, the novel writing process is a lot easier–especially to keep everything organized. Here’s what we consider the best software for writing a book, from coming up with the idea to the final manuscript.

Software for Writing a Book or Novel

Our best book writing software recomendations:

Scapple – Brainstorming Software

Scapple Brainstorming Software for Writers
Every story, novel, or book starts with an idea. From that tiny seed, the writer grows an entire story with characters, plot, setting, and realistic dialogue. But it’s a long road that can take months or years. When you first start fleshing out your idea, you need a lot of freedom to brainstorm and explore your ideas. That’s where Scapple comes in.

This software from the makers of Scrivener is more than just mind-mapping software. Literature & Latte describes it as a freeform text editor where you can make notes anywhere. Imagine brainstorming in a notebook or on a piece of paper. You can write anywhere, any size, draw borders, connect ideas, and let your thoughts flow onto the page. Scapple works just like that, but since you’re working on the computer, the size of your page is unlimited. Your “page” can grow as you flesh out your ideas and add more notes.

Scapple is very easy to use. You simply have to double-click to add a new note, and then drag and drop them to rearrange or make connections (visualized by lines). If you want to take advantage of the more advanced features you can change the fonts, colors, and borders of your notes. It’s also fully compatible with Scrivener, so once you’re ready to start writing you can have your notes and story in one program. Literature & Latte offers a 14-day free trial so you can see if Scapple works with your creative process.

Versions: Mac, Windows

Aeon Timeline – Visual Timeline Software

Aeon Timeline Software for Writers
Aeon Timeline is the software I didn’t know I needed until I saw it. I’ve always done my timelines by hand using notebook paper (sometimes multiple pages taped together). What that means is if anything ever changes with the timeline or I screw up, I have to redo the whole thing! And then there’s a lot of math involved to figure out the ages of characters and how much time has passed and it just gets so messy. Aeon Timeline solves all of this is a clean and easy to use software.

This software was designed specifically for writers to help with planning your novel or just keeping track of which character was where, when. It not only allows you to enter when events happen, but you can also track backstory, and assign certain characters to events. Categorize events by story arcs to help organize different parts of your novel. My absolute favorite feature is that if you put in a birthdate or year for your character, it automatically calculates the character’s age for each event (no more math!).

Other awesome features include creating custom calendars for fantasy or scifi stories, bookmarking key moments, zooming in and out of your timeline, and filtering events. If you create timelines for your stories, this is hands down the best software to use.

Aeon Timeline is also compatible with Scrivener, so you can sync your timeline with your novel file, meaning you can plan your timeline and your outline simultaneously using both (which is absolutely amazing!).

Versions: Mac, Windows


Scrivener Novel Writing Software for Writers
If you ask me, Scrivener is the best software for writing a book. Sure, when it comes time to actually write your novel, you can use just a plain old word processor. Or you can use Scrivener, which is a powerhouse software that covers the entire writing process: research, outlining, character sketches, writing, editing, and even exporting to ebook for self-publishing. Scrivener does almost everything you could want.

It’s hard to boil down into a couple hundred words all of the amazing things that Scrivener does (the Literature & Latte site can give you a full breakdown), but I’m going to hit some of the major features.

The corkboard takes the traditional index card approach to planning a story and digitizes it, making it so the index cards themselves become the sections of your books which can be broken down into chapters or scenes. Rearranging them also rearranges the order of the scenes in your book in one simple step. If you’re a more traditional outliner, Scrivener has a tool for that as well that uses the same drag and drop method. To write and edit your scenes, you can view each section separately or use Scrivenings mode to view the whole document at once. Use the built-in targets and statistics to set daily goals for yourself and see how you’re doing as a whole.

Scrivener also has special features and templates for writing non-fiction and screenplays as well. This is the software every writer should own.

Versions: Mac, Windows, iOS

Buy Mac & Windows version from Literature and Latte
Buy Mac Version from Mac App Store
Buy iOS version from Apple

Dragon Naturally Speaking Dictation Software

This software is unique on our list because it’s not specifically for writing a book and not all writers will benefit from it. However, Dragon is such an amazing software that I have to mention it for the writers who will absolutely love it. Dragon is a dictation software that is perfect for any writer who likes to think out loud or verbally tell their stories. It’s also great for writers who think faster than they can type or write.

Dragon is compatible with your favorite word processor. You just put your cursor in the document and start talking. Telling your story to your computer can help you be more creative and break through any writer’s block.

I highly recommend buying the Premium version, which has a feature that transcribes audio files. This means you can record audio files using a digital voice recorder or your smartphone and have the software record it later. That means you can “write” your novel at any time, including while commuting to work, walking outside, or doing chores around the house.

Using Dragon can help you be more productive and get more done. It’s also great for people who suffer from carpal tunnel or like to write thousands of words a day and give their hands a rest.

Versions: Windows, MAC


Prowritingaid Editing Software for Writers
Finally we are at the end of our writing journey and this last recommended software is for the editing and proofreading part of your novel writing process. While the spell checker in your word processor will catch glaring typos, it will miss other issues with your writing. ProWritingAid catches errors and also helps improve your writing.

In addition to spell checking, it will find commonly confused words, correct grammar and punctuation issues, and make sure your capitalization and hyphenation is consistent throughout your document. The really awesome features are the ones that improve your writing. ProWritingAid will highlight passive verbs, overuse of adverbs, repetitive sentence structure, overused words, repeated words and phrases, vague and abstract words, and also cliches and redundancies.

ProWritingAid is great for any writer but is an absolutely essential tool for self-published writers, bloggers, and anyone who writes content for the web.

They have a free version or you can get the premium version with includes interactive editing and the ability to use it with Scrivener and Microsoft Word, which is a huge timesaver.

Versions: Web, compatible with Microsoft Word, Google Docs, Scrivener, and Chrome

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Essential Software for Writing Your Novel or Book

That’s our recommendations for the best software for writing a book. Of course, there’s a whole lot more that goes into the process than just finding software to use. You’ll need inspiration to keep you going, especially through difficult drafts. You’ll also need to build a writing habit and routine to make sure you put in the time each day to write your novel. That’s the hard part but with this software, you’ll have the tools you need to make it happen.

Planning on participating in NANOWRIMO this year? Check out these NANO resources and essentials.

If you’re not ready to go fully digital with your writing process yet, check out these killer journals and these crazy and fun pens to add a little extra creativity to your process.

Cheaper Freewrite Alternatives for Writers

When the Freewrite (originally Kickstarted as the Hemingwrite) and Freewrite Traveler came on the scene a few years ago, many writers took notice. The functionality is based on the writing process of author Ernest Hemingway, with a focus on writing new words and not going back to edit, like a high-tech version of a typewriter. For many writers, this is a great idea in an era of constant connectivity to emails, social networks, and other distractions. A device where writers can unplug and focus on getting words on the page seems like a godsend. Taking the simplicity of a typewriter and adding modern technology like an e-ink screen and wifi connectivity is brilliant. But, the $500 price tag is way outside most writers’ budgets.

If the aspiring author in your life added a Freewrite to their wishlist, here are some alternative and more affordable gifts to consider, that will also help create a distraction-free writing environment.

Alphasmart Word Processor

Alphasmart Neo Word Processor

The most similar in function, but the cheapest option by price, is an Alphasmart Word Processor. These handy machines were popular in schools before computers were more affordable. Writers love them because the simplicity of the machine (it is literally only a word processor) creates a distraction-free writing tool that is great for first drafts. Autosave makes sure you never lose a word. They also come with a USB cable to connect to your computer to easily transfer your writing to Microsoft Word, Scrivener, or any other text program you use for editing. The Neo2 also boasts word count and a thesaurus.

Though they are no longer available new, used versions are extremely affordable and easily found searching Amazon and other online retailers.

iPad + a Bluetooth Keyboard

By combining an existing iPad with a bluetooth keyboard, you can create an experience that mimics the Hemingwrite. With so many different iPad keyboard options, you can really personalize it for the writer by color, style, and price. If you’re a writer on the go, frequently writing in cafes or libraries, an iPad case with a built-in keyboard may be your best bet.

If you pair the iPad with a free app like Hanx Writer that simulates the experience of a manual typewriter or Scrivener for iOS, then it’s easy to create a simple, focused writing environment.

Typewriter or Typewriter Keyboard

USB Typerwriter Keyboard

If you or the writer in your life like to kick it old school, you may consider investing in a typewriter. These are easy to find used locally or online used, and new electric typewriters are also available. The only downside is that once you type your writing on the typewriter, you will have to type it again to get it in a digital format on your computer.

A (pricey) alternative is the USB Typewriter Computer Keyboard. These can be purchased pre-modified or as a kit to convert an existing typewriter into a USB keyboard that can be used with any computer or iPad. Then the writer is free to use any writing software they prefer, but they have to resist the temptation to check Facebook while they work.

Wacom Bamboo Slate

This is the perfect gift for a writer who likes to work long hand, but hates the process of typing up their words later so they can edit them on their computer. The Wacom Bamboo Slate is a pen, pad, and paper that allows you to put pen to the page and then digitally records your drawings or words to the Wacom Cloud. No scanning necessary, and no typing later. It even converts handwritten notes into plain text for easy editing later.

The Bamboo Slate is compatible with Bluetooth enables devices, like iPads, iPhones, and Android devices.

“Hack” Your Computer to Be a Productive Writer

Scrivener Composition Mode

This is more of a hack than a gift, but still a great Hemingwrite alternative. Using your computer and a minimalist word processor, you can focus on writing without the distraction of the internet.

Scrivener features a composition mode (pictured) that uses your entire screen, turning it into a writing machine without sacrificing any of the awesome Scrivener functionality.

Buy Mac & Windows version from Literature and Latte
Buy Mac Version from Mac App Store
Buy iOS version from Apple

Other programs that are truly minimalist include Ommwriter or Dark Room (free).

If you have a hard time truly unplugging, try disabling your wifi or using the Pomodoro Technique to help you focus. Try using headphones with ambient noise to really focus.

Check out the best software for writing a book and tools to destroy writer’s block.