A Search for the Best Writing App

 

 

Contributed by Margot Conor

I started looking for alternative platforms for my creative writing process. Moving all my projects is a daunting thought. I’ve written everything in MS Word since I first got a computer. I have many unfinished manuscripts and short stories. This also means they have been written in various renditions of Word.

I’ve recently realized that it is not easy to move Word documents into other programs. Word has hidden coding that gets messed up when transferring. Both personal data and field codes. Which is a pain in the neck to deal with if you want to format your book for publication in a different program.

If you use Word and want to share pages of your manuscript or short stories written in Microsoft Word with colleagues, agents, or publishers it's a good idea to review the document for this hidden data or personal information and remove it. Copying content from Word and pasting it into other programs often does not convert, and shows up as garbled text.
 
MS Word 365 is also expensive. It will cost you $159.99 to install (at the time of this article). No doubt that the price will increase. You can only install it on one machine. Files written in new versions don’t play well with older versions.

Microsoft Word files are considerably larger than text files. Some people have complained that the interface is too challenging to learn and there are too many options: Most people only use 50% of the offered tools because of the complexity of the system. I can attest to that.
Finally, a big downside for authors, that it’s not compatible with EPub or Mobi.

I was surprised to learn there are open-source alternatives to Word. For those of you who are familiar with all the ins and outs of Word but want something more affordable, I found two Open-Source options that are like MS Word. They are available in other languages too. Both are free and can basically do everything Word can do.

However, I don’t plan to use them because they are not compatible with EPub or Mobi. In some cases, there is a workaround by getting extensions. But I am not very tech-savvy to begin with and I’m not interested in complicating my process. 

These are two WordMS alternatives:

Apache Open Office: https://www.openoffice.org/
Has an extension: Writer2ePub: https://extensions.openoffice.org/en/project/writer2epub

Libre Office: https://www.libreoffice.org/

Here is the point of realization, MS Word and alternative programs like it, were created for office use, and they are not the best tools for an author. My goal is to find the most advantageous place to create stories and novels. So, then, I asked myself… if MSWord and its alternatives are not the best platform for an author, where should I be creating?

This led me to my writer's groups to ask what programs they use. I will share my discoveries and my research here. There are now some very sophisticated alternatives designed specifically for writers, which I found encouraging.

Scrivener App:

- Cost: Scrivener offers a 30-day free trial to let you explore the features and find out if it’s right for you. 

The full version for Windows or Mac OS costs $59.99. There’s an educational license for students and academics for $50.99.

- Helps you organize long writing projects such as novels, nonfiction books, academic papers, and even scripts.

- Simplifies Editing is an essential part of any writing project. Scrivener has many tools to help you edit more efficiently whether it’s correcting simple errors or restructuring entire sections and chapters.

- Helps you clarify your ideas and plan your manuscript. Scrivener’s folders and subfolders help you arrange and rearrange the various parts of your writing project.

- Formatting for screenwriters. You easily format your screenplay so you can focus on the essential elements of character, dialogue, and action.

- Features for academic and nonfiction writers. It has features such as footnotes, references, and a bibliography correctly formatted. Scrivener provides templates for writing in styles such as APA and MLA so you can focus on your writing.

- Tools for exporting and publishing. Scrivener integrates with many formats so you can export to Microsoft Word, Open Office, RTF Final Draft (for screenplays), PDF, and more.

- For Editing it lets you track word frequency. Allows you to color code to label characters, POV topics, or any other specific category you need.

- It does bookmarking, tracks your progress, has a compile tool so you can take sections from different documents into one document.

- Formatting lets you quickly change fonts, headings, block text, and titles.

- Has a metadata feature to add dates, lists, and other data to track important issues.

- I can do a split screen for an easy view of two sections of your book.

- Compatible with EPub.

AutoCrit:

The monthly subscription is $30 and the annual is $297. A lifetime subscription is only offered occasionally.

I’ve praised AutoCrit in previous articles, so I am not going to go into too much detail here about how it works. What I can tell you is that the 2.0 version went from a simple editing platform to a full-on writers' community. You can now write your entire novel on your Writer’s Desk in the app. They have a header that looks a lot like MS Word but is easier to use.

- In addition, there is a whole system built-in to edit and restructure whatever you write. There are digital notes and note boards if you are a plotter or just want to keep track of some details. 

I have a lifetime pro membership which gives me access to clubs and other special features. They also have courses and other perks if you are a paid member. And it is affordable. I went from a monthly payment plan to yearly, and then jumped on the chance for a lifetime membership when they switched to 2.0.
 
- With the new version, they have a voice reader with eleven voice options. This is handy for catching mistakes in your text which you might otherwise overlook.

- They offer Zoom courses on the craft of writing and give their members a lot of personal attention. They will do first-chapter critiques and feedback on your pitch to agents. (These are for an additional fee, but it is reasonable.)

I have to say, however, that the free version is very limited. A budget-limited young writer I suggested it to showed me how all the great things I told her about were not accessible to her in the free option.

While I haven't felt like writing there, I do use it for editing, and love it. Honestly, I should have transitioned fully to AutoCrit for writing, considering I’ve already paid for it. I can’t explain my reluctance.

Pro Writing Aid: 

 Cost is $20 a month, $120 per year, or you can get their lifetime subscription for $399.
 
- The free version offers many features, but the word count is limited to only 500 words at a time.

- You can select your document type. Fiction writers can choose from various genres, such as fantasy, historical, or contemporary. You can also analyze your writing against other famous authors.

- They check your grammar, give you feedback on your style issues, pacing, cliches, overused words, sensory details, and more.

- A big plus is that you can download it to your desktop so you’re not limited to on-line use.

- It offers writing reports, such as diction, which looks for vague words, transitions, and alliteration.

- There are no writing clubs or classes or other services.

Story Planner: https://www.storyplanner.com/

- This is an extensive writer’s app designed to help you organize what you write from the synopsis to the structure of your story. It outlines the scenes, locations, and characters.

- There are synchronization issues that some authors have complained about, and it can also be slow to render. This is an app best suited to plotters who like to outline everything.

I was not impressed with their website, mainly because there was no breakdown of what they offer in each type of account. It only says that the premium starts at $15 for three months. But nothing about what comes after that, and you must commit without knowing. I personally do not like the lack of transparency.

Campfire: https://www.campfirewriting.com/

A paid subscription is $14 a month or $140 yearly (with 2 free months).

The artist in me is attracted to this app. First of all, the design is just beautiful, and you can customize everything. 

- You can add photos or illustrations to your character bios, and make interactive maps. The layout is great, making it possible to reference your notes while you write. You can do collaborative projects too.

- With the free tier, you get access to all worldbuilding tools, collaboration, unlimited storage, and some tutorials. 

- You can export to EPub and other formats. 

- With a paid subscription you get unlimited elements and you can edit any element.

Hemingway Desktop App: https://hemingwayapp.com/

They took an interesting approach. They use different colored highlighting to point out where things need improving. Blue for adverbs, green for passive voice, pink highlights a phrase that could have a simpler alternative, yellow are sentences that are hard to read, and orange for very hard to read. There is a simple header with a few options.

This is a simple app that could be very useful to writers who are learning their craft.

It seems to only be available in a beta version, but there is a waitlist to use it.

OmmWriter: https://ommwriter.com/

Cost is only $6.11 to download to your desktop.

Their premise is simplicity. They provide the ideal setting for you to concentrate and just focus on your writing. They take the minimalist approach to design, with only basic functions required for writing. Simple upload and download buttons.

- Other selections include typeface, backgrounds, and sound elements. It opens into full-screen mode so nothing disrupts your creative flow.

- The environments are meant to transport you to a natural setting with the sounds of nature. There are various music options and audio tracks.

- One cute thing they do is add keyboard sounds when you type, one is like an old fashion typewriter. I love everything about this app. It is just a beautiful design with a fresh take on what a writer needs.

I hope this gives you some ideas of what's out there and what you'd like in your writing program.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Margot Conor has been writing for as long as she can remember, but it wasn't until the COVID lock-down that she had enough time to dedicate to the craft and bring something to completion. Having finished her first novel, she went through the grueling two-year process of editing. Now she has jumped into the author's world with both feet. She's preparing to debut her first novel, which means learning how to promote it. The last year has been spent attending many writing retreats, seminars, and writers' events. She also listened to presentations specifically on the topic of publishing and book marketing. She will be sharing what she learns with the reader.

 You can learn more about Margot and her writing at her Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/margotconor/



2 comments:

Karen Cioffi said...

Margot thanks for this extensive look at writing apps. I use Grammarly and ProWritingAid - they both function similarly. AutoCrit looks interesting, though, that it has a voice reader - that could come in handy.

Terry Whalin said...

Margot,

I found your comprehensive article a fascinating read. I have not explored all those apps but appreciate the work and effort to pull this information together. Thank you.

Terry
author of Book Proposals That $ell, 21 Secrets To Speed Your Success (Revised Edition) [Follow the Link for a FREE copy]

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