Tuesday, July 14, 2020

4 Free Must-Have Writing Apps

By Laurence MacNaughton, @LMacNaughton

Part of The Writer's Life Series

JH: Finding the right software for the right job isn't easy, but what we write with can make a difference in how productive we are. Laurence MacNaughton shares four great (and free) writing apps every writer needs.

Writers can't afford to mess around with software unless it actually helps you write better and faster. As a writer, my livelihood depends on producing results on a daily basis. With that in mind, I've put together a short list of apps that every writer desperately needs.

Shockingly, Google Docs, Evernote, and Grammarly didn't make it onto my list. But some surprising ones did.

The apps below are the real deal. I use them every day. They are either free, or offer a generous free trial period. That way, you don't have to spend a dime to start becoming a faster, better, and happier writer, starting today.

1. Scrivener

This program is the Holy Grail of writing software. Almost every professional author I know uses it, and for good reason. It's absolutely packed with every single feature any writer could possibly want.

That feature-rich environment is its Achilles' heel, though. Scrivener may look simple on the surface, but when you actually try to use it, it's like sitting down at the controls of a 747. Completely overwhelming.

Legions of writers have told me that they downloaded the free trial, tried Scrivener once, and never got around to giving it a second chance. I understand. The learning curve starts out on a steep uphill grade.

But if you can sit through just a few quick tutorials, either from the creator or from countless helpful third parties, you'll get the hang of it quickly. The lightbulb will go on. You'll get it.

Switching from Microsoft Word to Scrivener is like switching from a rusty old hand saw to a high-revving Black & Decker power tool. You'll never go back.

Try Scrivener for free from the Literature & Latte site.

2. Scapple

While you're at the Literature & Latte site, give some love to Scrivener's often-overlooked cousin, Scapple.

It's meant to be used as a brainstorming tool. Mind-mapping aficionados will find it incredibly useful right out of the gate.

But it's when you start thinking outside the box that it transforms into a mind-blowingly essential writing tool.

See, I'm one of those scatterbrained people who collects countless ideas, quotes, and little story bits in my notebook and on various index cards and scraps of paper. Corralling all of those ideas used to be a nightmare. My analog solution was to pin everything to the wall, like a TV detective trying to track down a serial killer.

Scapple changed everything.

You begin a new Scapple document with a blank screen (I've customized my default so it looks like a corkboard). Double-click anywhere and you create a "note" -- a little text box you can drag around with the mouse.

Type away to your heart's content, since a note can theoretically hold unlimited text. Then click anywhere on the screen to create another note. And another. Drag them around. Stack them up. Organize them. Draw lines between them. See the connections.

Then, here's the magic: you can highlight the notes you want and drag them right into any word processing program. Boom. Your work is already halfway done, without any retyping.

But it gets better. You can also drag a text document into Scapple and have it break up each paragraph into a separate note, so you can rearrange them. Think about the possibilities of that.

I use this program all day long, to write everything (even this article). How? More details on my author website here.

Suffice to say, you should immediately go get Scapple here.

3. LibreOffice

Sometimes, you have no choice but to use Microsoft Word or a reasonable facsimile.

But do you need to pony up your hard-earned money for an official version of Microsoft Word? No. Just get LibreOffice, and you can do 99% of the same stuff, for free.

LibreOffice isn't perfect, but it gets the job done. It's a little bit nicer and easier to use than its cousin, OpenOffice.

And it's completely free. Get it here. 

4. Jarte

Listen, Scrivener is great, and super powerful, and all that. But sometimes (maybe even the majority of the time) you just need a simple word processor for everyday, meat-and-potatoes writing.

Jarte is my absolute favorite, favorite, favorite word processing program of all time. Seriously. It's simple, easy to use, and so compact that you can literally save the program on a flash drive and tuck it in your pocket when you have to switch computers.

That go-anywhere simplicity helps me write faster and get more done every single day.

Jarte is really nothing more than a souped-up version of WordPad with some truly useful bells and whistles. The best features include tabbed documents (just like your web browser), split screen capability, and a bookmark gutter that comes in handy for long documents.

One of my favorite features is the ability to change font size just by holding down Ctrl-Shift and hitting the up or down arrow. It's a little thing, but oh-so-useful for creating subheads on the fly.

The basic version of Jarte is free. You can upgrade to a more feature-rich version for a small fee, which I highly recommend doing once you've realized how much you love it. Get it here. 

What Do You Think?

Join the conversation. Try any of these programs, or suggest your own. What has your experience been like? Leave me a comment below, or contact me on my author website at www.LaurenceMacNaughton.com.

Laurence MacNaughton is the author of more than a dozen novels, novellas, and short stories. His work has been praised by Booklist, Publishers Weekly, RT Book Reviews, Library Journal, and Kirkus Reviews. He lives in Colorado with his wife and too many old cars. Try his stories for free at www.laurencemacnaughton.com.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

About Forever and a Doomsday

Crystal shop owner and quick-witted sorceress Dru Jasper is the guardian of the apocalypse scroll, an ancient instrument of destruction held in check by seven bloodred seals. All but one have been broken.

Now, a chilling cohort of soul-devouring wraiths has risen from the netherworld to crack open the final seal. If Dru and her misfit friends can’t stop them, the world will come to a fiery end. No pressure or anything.

These freakishly evil spirits can kill with a mere touch, making them impossible to fight by mortal means. To keep the apocalypse scroll out of their clutches, Dru must solve a 2,000-year-old magical mystery, find a city lost in the netherworld, and unearth a crystal older than the Earth itself.

Can she elude the forces of darkness long enough to save her friends and safeguard the scroll forever—before the undead break the seventh seal and bring on doomsday?

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes | Indie Bound Kobo


  1. Great and helpful research.

  2. I've had Scrivener for about five years and adore it. Using it, I've completely reinvented my writing process and increased my productivity to levels I'd have never thought possible. Based on what you shared here, I went and watched the tutorial on Scrapple and ended up purchasing it. Thanks!

  3. Often less is more not only when it comes to writing =) Some time ago I downloaded Scapple, but then never installed it. Maybe it's time I go back and give it a chance.

  4. Love the idea of Scapple ... the corkboard choice especially will suit my brain. 👍 Thank you.

  5. I love Scrivener and Scapple (A mind mapping tool that isn't difficult to use) and use both of them all the time. As to MS Office, I do the yearly subscription which gives me all the bells and whistles and newest updates and ends up being cheaper than buying a copy with every major update. I use it for my formatting and I use Excel, and PowerPoint so the price is worth it for me. There are so many programs out there to use that it can be overwhelming. Some are good, others aren't worth the price.

  6. I use LibreOffice, which includes spreadsheets, presentations, word processing, and drawing. I create all my book covers with stock images in LibreOffice Draw. I write books (6, so far) and scripts (24) using styles in LibreOffice Writer. There's a ton of LibreOffice how-to info online. I have Scrivener, but no time to learn it.

  7. Scrivener is great for organizing scenes and research. I love the ability to move scenes around easily, do some timeline set up, partition off research, character bios, etc. But when it comes to writing scenes in novels and short stories, I go to Word. It's simply more robust and easier to write with. And it's relatively easy to move material from Scrivener to Word, and vice versa