Some writers swear by a certain word processor. Some (like myself) tend to bounce around between a few. If you’re new to writing, you might have people, who are sincerely trying to be helpful, throwing out ideas for programs you’ve never even heard of. Today, I’m going to talk about a few of the more popular choices as far as modern word processors, and some of the pros and cons I’ve found with them.
I know a lot of people who swear by Google Documents/Google Drive. I tend to call it Gdocs, so if I slip up, please understand I’m talking about the same thing. Some of the pros for this are that it’s free, it operates almost interchangeably with Microsoft Word. If you have previous knowledge of using MSWord, say, from school, then it translates almost exactly into Docs. Much like word, headings can easily be broken up into clickable links, making it easy to organize your work. It’s also available online all the time, so assuming you have a smartphone and a decent data plan (or wifi access), you can pretty much write wherever you go.
I don’t know what my personal vendetta is against Google Documents, but I’m not a huge fan of it. I think, for me, I don’t like the web-page feel of it, even though it looks near identical to a Word document. I also find it a bit tough to keep organized without a hundred folders and sub-folders, but that might be a matter of housekeeping on my end.
One of the things I do like is how simple it is to leave notes in the documents, and its shareability. The easy comment system makes getting feedback and responding to it really easy and painless, unlike some of the other programs out there.
Google Docs is also completely free to use, which makes it a great option if you’re living on a tight budget or just starting out.
I find MS Word to be perfect for short story writing. I used to write novels using it as well, but organizing them became a bit of a hassle. I used to keep a separate document for each chapter, and then had to piece them together afterward. If I didn’t do that, it was a hassle back in the day to find one specific section if you needed to make a change.
Of course, that was years ago. Now, MS Word is a subscription-type service that has most of the features that Gdocs does. I believe the cheapest option for Microsoft Office you can get is right around $7 a month, which allows Office access to 5 devices (laptops, tablets, phones), as well as full access to the entire slew of Microsoft Office applications (the two most common being Word and Excel, but you get Powerpoint and OneNote as well). I have mine linked to my OneDrive and it’s one of the tools I use to back up my writing.
Microsoft Word helps me with short stories and editing at a certain phase because it has a built-in read-aloud feature, so instead of feeling silly reading my own piece aloud, I can click a button and sit back and listen to the robot voice do it for me. The downfall of it is if you find a spot you’ve got to make an edit to, you have to pause, then resume the reading, though I’m not sure it’s really different if you were to use an external type screen-reader to have your piece read to you.
Word also has a section where you can add notes, change formatting. One of the biggest advantages of having Word over exclusively working in Gdocs is that you can access all your work on MS Word from your computer, offline.
If you’re worried about the price (because even at the least expensive option, you’re still paying over $100 annually), use the free trial. Word is also the go-to word processor for many institutions, so it’s possible you’re already comfortable enough with it. If you do end up going the free-trial route, I’d suggest trying as many of the features as you can to see what helps and what hinders you.*
I swear by writing novels on Scrivener. I would whole-heartedly recommend this to anyone who was looking for a word processor for longer-format pieces.
It takes a bit of getting used to. It comes with a built-in tutorial that gives some information on it. For me, I had more luck learning on my own, just opening up documents and playing around with it. There are also a ton of youtube tutorials if you’re looking to do something specific and aren’t sure how. It has pre-made formats for Fiction/Nonfiction and has formats for different types of scripts (none of which I’ve played with) that’s there. Some of it is helpful, some of it isn’t, and if you’d prefer there’s also a ‘blank’ file template if you want to do all of that yourself.
I’d hardly say I’m an expert with Scrivener, but it’s sort of streamlined the way I’m able to do things. There is a built-in “note-card” feature so you can do your plotting in the same place you do your writing. They have templates for character sketches as well as setting information, spots where you can put links to research/information, pictures, etc. All in the same document. There are also several different ‘notes’ sections.
Scrivener is a bit pricier, I think around $40, maybe $50. They do have a deal with NaNoWriMo, and if you ‘win’ that by hitting the 50k word goal, you can get Scrivener with a 50% off coupon code. Also, I believe if you sign up for the free trial close to the beginning of NaNoWriMo, there is a special “extended” trial period. I’d recommend the same thing if you’re not sure of it. Use as many of the features as you can to see if/what will be of use to you, and whether you think it’s worth the price for the type of writing that you do.
Other Random Places you can write:
Don’t feel like you’re locked into using a specific word processor, either. If you’re rebellious, or if you just prefer something a little easier to get to while you’re on the go, there are a few other options I can think of off the top of my head.
Your own private Discord Server
I think most people are familiar by now with Discord, but if you’re not, it’s essentially a message board-type app. You can create and join “servers” with your friend, and within those servers, you can set up to have voice and text chats.
I made a server with a specific purpose, to keep track of a fanfic I was going to write so I could easily share it with a friend of mine. The fanfic never ended up getting written, and I was too lazy to delete the server. I kept getting ideas, and without anywhere else to quickly jot them down, I ended up turning to the server I created. I use it to copy links from my phone so I can look in-depth on my computer later. Since you can create different ‘channels’ within a server to organize ideas, projects, etc.
My personal server is a mess, or I would post a screenshot, but I have everything from passwords to random links, and I don’t want to accidentally give away any of my personal info by trying to be clear about what I’m saying. I will say, for those unfamiliar with the workings of discord, no one can just join a server, so if this was something you were looking into, know that random people wouldn’t be able to come in and start contributing. I know many people worry about plagiarism and I wanted to try and set your mind at ease.
This doesn’t have to be the notepad on your computer. You can use your phone’s notepad (whatever it might be called; the one on my phone is called Samsung Notes) to write notes or random scenes or anything like that. I’m cutting this a little short, but I’m not sure how much I can say about notepad. It’s as bare-bones as you can really get with a word processor most of the time.
An email to yourself
If you haven’t got any other way to get some writing done, you can always draft an email and send it to yourself. Whether it’s a full story, a random idea, it’s a good way to quickly get something out. Most people have at least one email app on their phone where they’d be able to quickly open one up. Even if it saves do your email drafts, it might be able to save the idea until you’re ready for it.
Sometimes the best way for me to get writing done is the old fashioned way. While for many of us who type faster than we write, this seems a hinderance, but sometimes a quick thought written on a sticky note is enough to keep an idea in my mind until I’m able to get somewhere where I can think/write about it. Sometimes, it’s not just about working on your story but manages to make sure you don’t lose that ‘a-ha’ moment you had ten minutes into your work shift.
Do you have a different place you prefer to write? Something I failed to mention? I like hearing how other people get things done, and I love trying out new ways/places to get my ideas out. If you’ve got something you’d like me to maybe talk about, too, let me know and I’ll see what I can do about getting around to it