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The Best Writing Software for Authors in 2021 [Free & Paid]

Whenever I come across the question “what is the best writing software?” I tend to focus on something else other than the answer.

To be precise, I start to think contemporary writers really have it easy. A hundred years ago or earlier, this wouldn’t have been an important question.

Don’t get me wrong, I honestly think writing is still a laborious task.

But when you consider that the likes of Shakespeare, Hemmingway, and Ted Geisel, among countless others who never used writing apps to polish their work, the premise that “it’s a bit easier to write nowadays” becomes a bit more accurate.

The process of writing has evolved—we dumped the quill for a pen, then came a typewriter, and finally a computer.

Now we have all sorts of writing tools at our disposal, such as our top-rated Scrivener,  but finding the right one for “you” can be a bit of a hassle.

That is why I decided to lift some of that burden off your shoulder and review some of the best free and paid writing software for authors available in 2021.

Let’s get started.

the best writing software for authors

Our Top 3 Book Writing Software at A Glance

  1. Scrivener
  2. Write! App
  3. Novlr

The Best Book Writing Software

1. Scrivener

Best Overall

scrivener overview

When it comes to book editing software, you need to have tools that have a writer’s soul—made for writers by inventive writers.

Scrivener isn’t your standard word processor; it isn’t your regular grammar checker either.

Scrivener—a book-writing software program developed by an aspiring writer called Keith Blount back in 2007—is a package consisting of a typewriter, ring binder, and a scrapbook in one tool.

The software tool comes with valuable features like corkboards, pre-set formatting, templates, file importing, metatags, automated document listing, and many others.

These features are perfect for novelists, scriptwriters, academics, lawyers, translators, journalists, students, and other professional writers.

scrivener capabilities

Key Features:

  • Has the Cork Board and Outliner: Easy and convenient organization of notes and book sections.
  • Hit the Ground Running: The templates give the user a head start because it saves him/her the time it takes to set a genre-based workspace.
  • Goal and Progress Tracking: Scrivener’s customizable Goals and Targets are so important for tracking your progress. They are also helpful when you’re running against a deadline and want to know if you’re picking up the pace or not.
  • Weigh your Work: The Snapshots enable you to compare rewrites to original notes.
  • Made with Novelists and Fiction Writers in Mind: this software comes with specialized features for novelists and fiction writers, including the Linguistic Focus (MacOS) / Dialogue Focus (Windows).

Pricing

Scrivener has separate payment plans for the three supported platforms—macOS, iOS, and Windows and they cost $49, $19.99, and $45, respectively.

What I Like About Scrivener

Scrivener has a bunch of features and capabilities that I like. It has customizable interfaces, the desktop apps work offline, offers a very generous trial period, and has specialized features for novelists and fiction writers.

What I Didn’t Like About Scrivener

I found out that Scrivener requires a separate License for each supported platform—which was a bummer. On top of that, the tool doesn’t have a plagiarism checking feature. Oh, did I forget to mention the steeper learning curve?


2. Write! App

write! app

Write! is another distraction-free text editor that offers an elegant workspace for you to create notes, to-do lists, create blog posts, novels, and texts of many different kinds.

In Writer App!, you’ll find similar features of a good word processor that have been neatly packed into a well-groomed interface.

It’s sort of like a regular word processor on steroids.

And it has some sleek looks too; Writer App has a browser-styled minimalistic interface that utilizes tabs to help you navigate— for bloggers and writers, the user interface alone is an appealing appetizer.

But the app isn’t all about the looks; here are some of the essential features and their benefits.

Key Features and Benefits

Two distraction-free writing options: To do away with distraction, you have two options:

  • Either you use the “Full-Screen Mode,” which basically blocks all the features except for the outline and document interface.
  • Or the “Focus Mode” that turns your screen into some sort of a typewriter—it only displays the sentence or paragraph with the blinker.

Sync Your Work: Write! App offers a cloud syncing feature, conveniently enabling you to access your work from any device you use. But, the sync feature comes at an extra cost of 4.95/year.

Collaborate with Your Team: Write! App allows you to publish your work directly to the web and get a share link which you can use to share and collaborate your work.

Pricing

The tool costs $24.95 annually.

What I liked About Write! App

The goal-setting features, the customizable interface, and the sharing and publishing features.

What I Didn’t Like About Write! App

There are a bunch of things that I didn’t like (not necessarily related to the tool’s functionality). The tool has no trial period, no app for mac.


3. Novlr

novlr

Novlr is less complicated than Scrivener; a shorter learning curve and simplicity offers relief to users that found Scrivener some sort of rocket science.

It has a feature that turns it into a distraction-free tool; it eliminates all the other distractive features. The tool also checks for grammar errors, gives cheerleading leading one-liners when you are about to achieve a goal, and helps track your progress and performance.

Novlr also has an ambient-dependent color setting, which feels comfortable and sometimes stimulating.

The good thing is since it’s cloud-based, you can access the tool from any device via a web browser.

novlr features

Key Features and Benefits:

  • Share or Keep Your Work Safe: Novlr can automatically sync with both Google Drive and Dropbox. This way, you can easily share your draft with a co-author, book editor, or an entire project group.
  • Write Within the Language’s Rules: Novlr comes with a grammar checking feature that prevents your text’s syntax and semantics from derailing.
  • Chase Goals and Achieve and Manage Your Objectives: Helps you track your performance and customize your goals
  • Offline Writing: you don’t essentially need a working internet connection to use the app.
  • Focus Mode – remove all kinds of distractions and stay focused on writing and editing.

Pricing

But all these features come at a healthy price of $100 per year.

What I Like About Novlr

I like the offline capability, the Auto-save feature, the software’s suggestions for various writing styles, and the trial period.

What I Didn’t Like About Novlr

It is relatively expensive, exports fewer file formats, and is not available as a mobile app.


4. Microsoft Word

microsoft word

This list wouldn’t be complete with this word-processing warhorse—Microsoft Word.

Most contemporary middle-aged writers grew up using Microsoft Word and can literally point to any of its tabs with their eyes closed.

This veteran word processor is neat and is the most underrated writing tool nowadays.

It’s just like the beautiful wife you’ve had for years, and then she becomes a 5 out of 10 just because you’ve spotted some new “Jenny” on the block.

But… do not be fooled; MS Word is still the “OG” of the writing software category.

This tool still comes equipped with core features like translation, grammar checking, web publishing, and other standout features.

Key Features and Benefits

microsoft word features

Here are some of these features (a mere glimpse of what MS Word has to offer):

  • Custom Styles: Whether you want to customize headings, subheadings, or subtitles, the tool allows you to tweak your text however you like.
  • Easy to Use Custom Navigation Pane: once you’ve customized the styles, the headings and pages appear in a very intuitive sidebar called the navigation pane. You can rearrange the headings by dragging them in the navigation pane.
  • Automatic links: you can easily link a word or sentence to a place in the same document or a web page. This is convenient when you want to publish your document in digital formats—a reader can simply click on the link and jump to the desired content or page.
  • Automatic Table of Contents: MS Word lets you create a table of contents to which is also hyperlinked the headings.
  • Mailing: easily send your manuscript to an editor, straight from Word. You can either mail your document to a single recipient or multiple email accounts.
  • Track Changes: the tool also lets you track, accept, and reject changes you or anyone else makes to your document. You can set the tracking feature on or lock tracking—whatever is your cup of tea, eh?

Pricing

There are a bunch of Microsoft 365 plans available—too many, almost inconveniently too many. So for conciseness sake, I’m only going to list the basic plans (for personal and family use):

  • Microsoft 365 Family – free for one month; $9.99 monthly or $99.99 yearly
  • Microsoft 365 Personal – costs $6.99 per month and $69.99 yearly
  • Office Home & Student 2019 –offers a one-time purchase priced at $149.99 (for both Mac and PC)

The pricing section doesn’t seem concise, but I had to exscind almost 75% of Microsoft 365’s catalog pricing plans.

What I Like About MS Word

The app is packed with powerful formatting options, templates for almost anything, and an easy-to-use interface.

What I Didn’t Like About MS Word

No virtual boards like some of the other dedicated writing software programs I’ve listed.


5. Ulysses

ulysses writing app

Ulysses has been in the game for a very long time. In fact, it is the software that inspired Scrivener.

And just like Scrivener (which seems to have overtaken it), it has a modern, streamlined interface and is stuffed with essential features for a modern writer. Ulysses provides document management, file syncing, style editing, and many other essential capabilities.

It is the perfect book writing tool for serious authors because it allows the writer to organize the manuscript in a clean, focused writing environment.

Key Features and Benefits

ulysses features

Improves Focus & Productivity: Ulysses comes with features that allow writers to completely focus on writing and increase their output.

It has a distraction-free interface that helps you get around in no time-such as; typewriter mode, keyboard navigation mode which enables you to operate Ulysses via keyboard only, markup-based text editor, and many other customizable features.

Offers Sufficient Organization & Management: Ulysses offers a wide range of organizational tools that helps writers organize their work from something as small as note-taking to a bulky novel. The tool has:

  • A unified library for your texts
  • Hierarchic groups which let you organize your drafts
  • Enables you to attach additional information such as images, PDFs, notes, keywords, and others.
  • Filters which allow you to narrow down your library’s content according to keywords, text occurrences, et cetera.
  • Writing Goals for tracking your daily objectives, set word or character limits, and overall progress.
  • Auto-Save & Automatic Backup feature, which automatically saves your work and keeps local backups.

Versatile Synchronization and Export functions: With Ulysses’ syncing capabilities, you write anywhere without repeatedly setting the tool. Ulysses offers full iCloud sync, macOS-iOS sync (iPhone to iPad to Mac), and you can add Dropbox folders to your text library.

Ulysses also boasts of a versatile export function; among other capabilities, you can export your document as a Markdown file or HTML code, DOC, PDF, and other file formats. You can also publish your text directly to medium and WordPress.

Pricing

Ulysses costs $5.99 monthly or $49.99 yearly. It also has a 14-day trial period.

What I Liked

The tool comes with a lot of perks. Still, there were some special ones including effective document management, progress tracking tools, multiple view options, and the direct WordPress and Medium publishing feature.

What I Didn’t Like

I didn’t like its exclusivity to Apple devices. I thought that it only affects the owner’s revenues more than anything else.


6. Manuskript 

manuskript writing app

Manuskript is an open-source tool for writers including novelists, journos, and academicians.

It comes close to providing the same features as its paid counterparts. It has an Outliner for you to hierarchically organize your work, allows you to set writing goals and has a feature called the “Novel Assistant,” which helps develop a random idea into a lucid plot by using the “snowflake method.”

The tool lacks cloud collaboration and other essential elements that paid tools have.

“If it doesn’t cost you money, don’t complain sonny!”

Key Features and Benefits:

  • Outliner: This feature lets you organize your ideas and little pieces of your story hierarchically. You can arrange and rearrange whichever way you like.
  • Avoid Unnecessary Detours: With the Distraction-free mode, you can get rid of all distractions that impede the pace of your writing process.
  • Monitor your Progress: Set personal goals
  • Novel assistant:  You can utilize the snowflake method to develop your basic ideas into a coherent plotline or a full-fledged story with characters, plots, and comprehensive settings.

What I Like About Manuskript

Firstly, it’s an open-source tool. I also like how the “Novel assistant” adds something extra to your writing, the spell checker, and language translation.

What I Don’t Like About Manuskript

The app might be a bit difficult to install for people who are not tech-savvy.


7. Livingwriter

livingwriter

Here’s another tool with a shorter learning curve but stacked with all the necessary features to help you write your book—from the plotting phase right up to the publishing stage.

Livingwriter has an intuitive interface that was designed to make you feel comfortable right from the start.

You can collaborate with your co-authors and share your live chapters or the entire draft with an editor. The tool lets you restrict the view, comment, and editing permissions of your editor, proofreader, or co-authors to protect your work.

Key Features and Benefits

  • Casually Organize and Plot Your Stories: Utilize the tool’s sidebar to arrange your chapter notes quickly.
  • Get A God’s-Eye View of Your Writing: rearrange your plot lines or your book simply by dragging and dropping notes on the app’s board.
  • Focus Mode: For a distraction-free writing experience, the right sidebar, which displays details on Chapters and Story Elements can be turned off, leaving the editor window only.
  • Set Writing Goals: Writing goals enable you to observe differences in your writing pace and see how much content you have written.

Pricing

Liivngwriter offers a 14-day trial. If you’re hooked, you have to choose between two payment arrangements: either pay $9.99 monthly or choose to fork out $96 once a year.

What I Like About Livingwriter

I liked the Grammarly Integration, the free trial, and its collaboration capabilities.

What I Didn’t Like About Livingwriter

I didn’t like the fact that the tool is not available as a desktop app and wasn’t ideal for screenwriting.


8. Dabble

dabble

Although Dabble’s interface is more streamlined and intuitive than most of its competition, it is stuffed with features similar to those that Scrivener and its closest competitors have.

Well of course I used the word “stuffed,” but Dabble still has less features than Scrivener.

The tool comes with features like a word tracker, Cloud Sync, plot grid, and Spelling and Grammar checkers, among others.

Take a look at what you’ll be getting when you have Dabble as your writing software.

Key Features and Benefits:

  • Plot the “Bestseller Course”: One of Dabble’s most essential features is the Plot Grid.  With this feature, you can arrange plot lines and plot points in a notecard format. By dragging and dropping the notecards, you can develop basic ideas into a detailed scene chart.
  • Up your Game—Focus: Dabble let’s switch into focus mode as you type, which reduces the distractions.  You can also customize the interface manually to give you a more focused writing space.
  • Keep Track of the Mileage: Dabble has a goals module that keeps track of the daily word count. In the right module, there’s a bar graph that shows you the daily written amounts.

Pricing

Dabble offers three plans: Basic, Standard, and Premium. The plans cost $5, $10, $15 respectively.

What I Like About Dabble

I like the Intuitive dashboard, the grammar checker, and the free trial

What I Didn’t Like About Dabble

There is one thing that I disliked about this tool; it isn’t ideal for writing screenplays, short stories, scripts, and other formats.


9. Google Docs

Google is the best Microsoft Word alternative—one of the most preferred writing tools out there. And just like its buddy, the word processor is supplemented by Google Sheets and Google Slides in G Suite by Google.

Unlike MS Word though, Google Docs tool is a cloud-based editor (although docs can be accessed offline). With the app, you can edit your docs offline and online (tablets, PCs, and phones).

This isn’t your sufficient Scrivener alternative though; it lacks the tools for you to seamlessly jump from one subsection of a bulky chapter to another section in another chapter. I usually use it for blog posts and other short reads.

Take a look at some of the standout features that Google Docs has to offer:

Key Features and Benefits

  • Add Fonts: Just like MS Word, Google Docs lets you add fonts to its library, the good thing is that you don’t need to download and install the fonts separately.
  • Enjoy the Voice to Text Feature: if you don’t feel like typing, you can utilize the voice typing feature and the app will translate your recording to text.
  • A Variety of Styles: Google Docs comes with lots of different styles for formatting your text.

Google Docs Pricing

Google Docs is free, but you can purchase Google Workspace plans for you to get more storage space and other benefits of Google’s apps.


A Few Other Notable Pieces Of Writing Software Worth Mentioning

What Makes the Best Book Writing Software?

Most writers I know are over 30, the average age being 40. Now, these seasoned wordsmiths have been doing all their writing using Word for a very long time.

For them to adopt a new tool to use in the writing process, the tool needs to have something extra special, an extra oomph!

They are not just going to start using a tool just because someone says it’s good (I’d expect the same attitude from you too), but some of the factors I have listed below would do a lot to convince them, and they’re the ones you should be considering before you decide which book writing software is the best for you.

How to Decide Which Book Writing Software Is Best for You?

The following are things to consider before choosing a book writing software:

Offline Functionality

Having a tool that only works online is okay, but sometimes writers take writing excursions to a remote location to get their writing juices flowing again.

They might choose an area with no internet connection and need their Scrivener working full time whilst they’re there.

Or the internet might be working just fine, but the writer might decide to go offline. Offline writing software comes in handy in such situations. 

Desktop App

Nobody expects to write or edit a whole 100k novel in a web-based text box. That would just kill the fun of writing the book.

Conveniently most good writing apps have desktop apps.

And the app ought to be available for both macOS and Windows (although I’ve listed some tools which are only available either as macOS apps or Windows apps).

Distraction-Free Writing

Focus is so important, especially when you’re writing bulky creative pieces.

But writing on a laptop or tablet computer offers plenty of distractions. With notifications flying in from everywhere, your unfinished movie staring at you, et cetera.

A good writing app needs to be able to block all these distractions from your writing environment.   

To achieve this, some apps go full screen and inhibit inessential background processes while others turn into a typewriter and only display the text being typed.

Easy or Steep Learning Curve

Although a steeper learning curve indicates the sophistication of a writing app, some tools are just complicated for no substantial reason.

If an app like Scrivener has a steeper learning, it is for a very good reason: the tool is stuffed with comprehensive features that help you from the first step to the publishing stage of your manuscript crafting process.

However, Scrivener is an exception (the steeper presents an investment into a Rambo of a book writing software), and writing tools need to be easy to master.

Tracking Your Progress

The best writing tools are equipped with features that help see how much ground you’ve covered.

They furnish you with stats to help you track your writing progress and set personal milestones.

Writing tools like the veteran MS word allow you to easily track, accept, and reject the change made to your document.

Scrivener and other tools like it have virtual boards called Cork Boards where you can organize, plan, and keep track of changes made to your draft.

Cost of Software

The overall cost of writing ought to be the least of your worries. The concern should be what you want from software.

If you are paying $49 to use Scrivener, it means you are paying for all its features.

But, are you using all of them?

If all you need the tool to do is help you outline your book and check some grammar and spelling mistakes, then you’re overpaying.

You can use a less sophisticated tool that costs less but has the basic features which you need.

But if a tool has the perfect features for your project (no major inessential elements), then pay up, buddy!

what makes the best book writing software

Is Free Writing Software as Good as Paid Software?

The answer—put simply—is no.

Free writing software is sufficient, but paid ones usually are more developed with better user features.

Free writing software tools feel like regular milk, but the paid have this extra edge, a thickness that feels more like condensed milk. The developers always make sure to stuff the paid ones with more indispensable features to make them way cooler than the free version.

And if a tool is completely free, then it probably generates revenue using other sources. Such tools usually bombard you with ads and lack many essential features you’d typically find in a paid tool.

So, the free ones will do the job for you, just not as efficiently as their paid counterparts.

What Software Do Most Writers Use?

The ‘word processor’ market has been flooded with a lot of software, but there is one that has stood the test of time.

The Granddaddy of word processors—Microsoft word. It’s been here for decades and still reigns as the most used writing software even though other apps do a better job.

The issue lies with trust. The tool still has millions of users (in the US only), and its popularity has never been matched anywhere else in the world.

What Writing Software Do Famous Writers Use?

1. Stephen King

The bestselling horror, supernatural fiction, suspense, crime, science-fiction, and fantasy novelist uses MS Word for manuscript and Final Draft for screenplays.

2. J.K Rowling

The Harry Potter author uses MS word. She once tweeted that she writes her very first draft using pen and paper then transfers it to Word.

3. Sabba Tahir

 The bestselling author of a YA fantasy series uses both Scrivener and MS Word. Sabba starts out in Scrivener, then after organizing the book she moves it to Word and finishes it there.

4. Jeff Goins

Jeff is a best-selling author of books, including Real Artists Don’t Starve and The Art of Work. He uses Scrivener to craft his bestsellers.

So, What’s the Best Book Writing Software?

Scrivener, without Doubt.

It is so good that new apps strive to be the perfect copies of this standard-setting tool.

Just imagine, it completely tramples the app it was accused of copying.

And I have talked about the steep learning curve about a thousand times and why the case is so…

You can’t build something this good and expect the average joe to quickly and easily master it.

Almost anyone can drive a Cadillac, but how many can get a spaceship to mars?

You get the idea.

About Jessica Majewski

Jessica started off as an avid book reader. After reading one too many romance novels (really... is it ever really enough?), she decided to jump to the other side and started writing her own stories.

She now shares what she has learned (the good and the not so good) here at When You Write, hoping she can inspire more up and coming wordsmiths to take the leap and share their own stories with the world.