Here’s the hard truth: most writing software out there isn’t made for book authors.
Most digital writers use one of the default word processing programs, like Microsoft Word, Pages from Apple, or Google Docs. Many users find one of the default programs to be enough.
However, even these powerful tools show their cracks once your file hits a specific size. Many writers can testify to the headaches of a document becoming sluggish as its page count expands into the hundreds. Then you’re faced with either bearing the slowness or splitting the manuscript file into chapters or sections, which becomes a pain when rewriting.
It also can be unwieldy to restructure a book, moving paragraphs and sections throughout the document. You may even have some notes separate from the document you need to switch between.
Fortunately for Word, Pages, and Docs users, these programs are continually improving. But if you find any pain with the typical word processors, I have some recommendations.
A world of word processors exists specifically programmed and designed for writers, with tools that can help you plan, write, and even publish a manuscript. I’ll start with the #1 player of the bunch, Scrivener, and then touch upon one of its many counterparts, yWriter.
Scrivener: The Processor of Processors
You might’ve heard of Scrivener. Available on Windows, macOS, and even iOS, Scrivener 3 is the most popular of its lot. It boasts a sleek interface, a rich suite of features, and a long list of users who are bestselling authors.
Scrivener incorporates several features that make it useful for book writing. For instance, Scrivener fashions itself as a digital “ring binder,” in that a document is divided into folders and subfiles. So, for example, you can give a chapter its own folder, then have scenes within that chapter as individual files that you can drag and drop to reorder or even move between sections. This results in a faster program and less text to worry about.
Perhaps more iconic to Scrivener is its digital corkboard. On this corkboard, you can create virtual index cards, order them, color code them, and type blurbs on the cards. They are similar to the tried-and-true method of using index cards on a corkboard to outline a book.
If the corkboard doesn’t suit your style, opt for Scrivener’s outliner, which displays the folder and files in a drag-and-drop interface.
Much more can be written on Scrivener, whether it’s the templates, word count goals, full-screen display, exporter . . . the point is, Scrivener has almost all the tools that you may need to write a full-length book.
Now, one of Scrivener’s double-edged swords is its pricing. At $49 each, the one-time license purchases of Windows and macOS quickly save money compared to a Scrivener subscription. There’s also a 30-day free trial and an educational discount.
However, a license only covers one type of operating system (the macOS-Windows bundle is $80), and the iOS app must be bought separately. Also, any pricing looks daunting compared to the free pricing of Google Docs.
Scrivener’s robustness also lends to a steep learning curve that can intimidate less tech-savvy writers. The software also has some hitches when backing up files and syncing them between devices.
While Scrivener may be the most popular of the bunch, there are competitors that you may end up preferring.
Created by self-published novelist Simon Haynes, yWriter stands out as a word processor by an author for an author, especially an aspiring self-published author.
First is yWriter’s price: it’s free. You can pay to register your copy, but registration comes with no additional features and primarily serves as a donation.
yWriter features a similar core experience to Scrivener. You can organize a book into chapters, which act like folders within a project document. Within those chapters are scenes. You can click-and-drag scenes between chapters and reorder every item based on the order.
When editing a scene, the window has tabs for adding notes on the scene, from tags for keeping track of which characters are in which scenes to a worksheet of the goal-conflict-outcome model of scene structure. The word count updates regularly and even tracks your typing speed. For extra motivation, you can set a word count goal.
One of the downsides is apparent upon first look: yWriter’s interface still appears as if it’s from 10 years ago. Click-and-drag isn’t as elegant as Scrivener and can occasionally be glitchy. It also lacks many of Scrivener’s features, such as fancier formatting, advanced spellchecking, and a search feature.
If you’re an Apple user, you won’t have as smooth an experience as yWriter macOS is still in beta, but there is an iOS app for only $5.
However, yWriter remains in active development, driven by donations. It strikes a medium between the insufficiency of most word processors and the bells-and-whistles of Scrivener.
Which One Should I Choose?
Both yWriter and Scrivener have advantages that the others don’t have.
Scrivener is best if you want the most features, are a Mac user, and want a modern, slick experience. yWriter is better if you want a free program and a simpler, more minimalist setup.
And finally, the more generalist word processors still have their uses. For example, Scrivener and yWriter have zero support for simultaneous collaborative updating, while Google Docs and Microsoft Word have top-line collaboration tools. Trade-offs exist for every software.
With Scrivener and yWriter, a library of other apps exists that you can choose from to improve your writing setup. Just remember: writing tools are no substitute for the actual act of writing.
So, pick what sounds most suitable and write your book. No matter what processor you use, I bet it will turn out great!
Over to you: What word processor do YOU use to write YOUR books? What are YOUR favorite features from YOUR preferred program? What do YOU wish would be better?
ABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 20 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Director of Sales and Marketing for Outskirts Press. The Sales and Marketing departments are composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.