If you’re planning to write a book soon you have probably been thinking about what you’re going to say and how you’re going to say it, but have you given any thought to what platform you will use to record those words? And if you’re now thinking to yourself, “Huh, can’t I just use Microsoft Word to write my book?” then we need to talk.
Gone are the days of using a simple, outdated desktop publisher to write your book. They’re great for writing articles or reports, but for writing anything with a more complex structure, like a book, there are much better options available to you.
So just what options do you need? Well, to some degree that will be personal but can I suggest you want a writing app or software that does these things:
1. Allows you to add multiple chapters under one file, that way you don’t have one super long continuous document.
2. Offers you a separate area to add notes. This is a great feature for when you want to keep track of relevant quotes or facts or inspirational ideas for your book as they come to you.
3. Keeps track of word count.
4. Is user friendly and easy to use.
Some writing tools will have other benefits such as focus mode to remove distractions, or formatting capabilities so you can easily publish. You’ll want to consider what features are important to you and your writing.
I’ve been researching and testing out some apps and software for my next book. Here are my top picks for aspiring authors who want a complete solution for a pleasant and productive book writing experience.
This software has been available for many years and I used it to write my first book. There is a bit of a learning curve to using Scrivener, but if you are willing to invest the time and believe you could be writing more books in the future, the effort may be worth it. What I like about Scrivener is the use of an index card system (think Trello) to help you organize thoughts, scenes or chapters. For those people, like me, who are keen on visual aids you’ll like this feature.
With Scrivener you’ll also find an advanced folder system for organizing your chapter documents and notes. You can drag and drop items around easily.
Platforms: Windows / Mac
Website: Scrivener | Literature & Latte
Google Docs (in Google Drive)
On the surface Google Docs is a simple document creator, but that is also part of it’s draw. If you can click on the new document link you can start writing your book! Start by creating a folder for your book, then create sub folders for each chapter. Google automatically saves your files in the cloud, so you don’t have to worry about losing your content. Should you accidentally delete something you wanted to keep, you can go back into the history and activate and earlier version of your work. Another plus with Google Docs is that you can share your files easily with a co-writer or editor and they even have the ability to communicate with comments next to your doc. Very cool.
Website: Google Drive
Ulysses is a little different than the other apps on this list in that it’s only for Mac users and it’s a subscription service rather than a one time purchase.
It offers a clean distraction free interface and includes a markup based text editor. You have the option of choosing from a few visual themes if the white is not your thing.
Rather than using folders, Ulysses uses hierarchic groups to organize projects or subjects so you can create a project for your book and have sub groups for chapters, notes, resources, etc. No need to worry about saving, it’s done for you automatically, but you have access to all versions should you need to go back and restore any of them.
Need to know word count? Check! Want to set goals for yourself? Check! Ulysses has many features to help you stay productive and it’s easy to learn.
Platforms: Mac / iPad / iPhone
I would call IA Writer a “crossover” app. It offers some of the features of Scrivener and some of the other apps that allow you to create project or folders. It also uses markup. Yet it’s also a simple writing tool without all the extras you don’t need. One of the best features of IA Writer is the focus mode. It works like this – you set it to sentence or paragraph mode and the app grays out everything except your current sentence or paragraph. That way you’re not distracted or tempted to go back and fix your typos or re-write on the spot. If you need an app to make you a faster writer, this could be the one for you.
Another feature I really like about IA Writer is the hashtag tool. Place a hashtag in any of your notes or documents and keep your favorites in the sidebar. As you’re writing and need to access all the documents which relate to one specific topic or idea you can simply click on the hashtag and voila! all the related notes pop up.
One more thing that makes IA Writer different is the preview mode. With a click of a button you can view a simple formatted version of your doc.
Platforms: Window / Mac
Website: iA Writer: The Focused Writing App for Mac, Windows, Android, iPhone and iPad
The Shaxpir app is just gorgeous to look at and it was specifically designed for book writing. In fact when you add a new book title to your list, Shaxpir creates a whole environment for your manuscript, notebooks, resources, synopsis and even measures the linguistics of your choice of words and your “voice” as you write.
As you write you’ll notice that Shaxpir also automatically formats your book so it always looks clean and professional. There’s something so seductive about this feature that makes you feel like a professional writer and makes you want to keep writing so you can see how your book turns out. So clever! But of course the feature is functional too, because it allows you to easily export an ePub version of your book (for paid users).
You can even add images to your book and connect other notes in the sidebar so you never lose track of your related ideas.
Platforms: Window / Mac
Cost: FREE or $7.99/month
Website: SHAXPIR: Software for Storytellers
The best writing apps and software help you stay focused so you can find your flow.
When you choose your writing app for your next book project I hope you’ll consider these tools I’ve described. Ultimately you will want to find a balance between ease of use, efficiency and productivity, whatever that looks like for you.