The 80 Best Tools for Writers in 2016
The days of a writer hunched over her desk with pen and paper are long gone. Today’s writers can not only write with greater ease than ever before, but they also have an array of tools to help them with the entire process, from generating ideas to designing and publishing their own books. Whether you’re a creative writer, an academic, or a professional freelancer, there are tools that are designed to make your life easier.
Many of these tools have multiple functions and may fit under more than one category, while others are very similar. It’s about finding the ones that work best for you. The list below will get you started. Prices are in USD unless otherwise specified.
The major categories are:
- Reference, Editing and Proofreading
- Publishing Your Work
Think of anything else? Let us know. We’d love to hear about it!
Writers sometimes want a variety of tools at their disposal when creating their latest work, and sometimes they just want to write. Luckily, you can do both with the tools provided below.
Aside from its obvious word-processing and formatting capabilities, Microsoft Word offers a host of possibilities, including business, academic, marketing and creative templates; charts, tables and graphs; image and multimedia insertion; mail merging, keyboard customization – and much more. You can write your book and submit it for editing with Track Changes, produce an APA paper, or create an impressive business presentation. It’s up to you.
OS: Windows, Mac OS X
Price: Varies depending on use (personal, household, student, small or larger business) and whether you buy or subscribe to the 365 Office Suite.
Pages is Apple’s answer to Microsoft Word. Designed to work best with OS X El Capitan, Pages is marketed as being intuitive, artistic, comprehensive (you can insert math equations, for example), sharable and compatible with other word processors. You can download it here.
OS: OS X 10.10.4 or later, iOS
3. Google Docs
Like Pages and Word online, Google Docs allows you to create great documents, access a variety of templates, use it across devices, share your work in real time and access it from anywhere. Unlike the other programs, it’s free with your (free) Google account.
OS: Windows XP and later, OS X 10.7 and later
Browsers: The two latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer (Windows), Safari (Mac)
Scrivener is a project management tool and word processor rolled into one, which makes it especially suitable for long writing projects. Features include research file organisation, a corkboard, outlining and scriptwriting tools, snapshots of earlier versions, and compiling for export or printing.
OS: Windows XP, Vista 7, 8, and 10 (depending on the Scrivener version); Mac OS X 10.6 or later
Price: $40 (Windows); $45 (OS X)
The NewNovelist program comes with a variety of tools to help you research, create, organise, analyse, review, and prepare your novel for publishing. Among its features are templates, a storyboard, a visualizer, chapter organisation and review, print/export capability and analytics.
OS: Windows 7, 8, 8.1, 10, or Vista; not compatible with OS X or Linux
Bibisco is comprehensive novel-writing programme created with love by book lovers to inspire writers to create “beautiful” work. Aside from such standard technical tools as export, Bibisco provides you with organisational tools that give you an overview as well as creative resources for going deeper into character, setting, plot, and other important elements.
OS: Windows, Linux (32 and 64 bit)
An organisational tool for fiction writers, yWriter tracks your chapters and scenes but provides less creative guidance than some more comprehensive programs. Some users have managed to adapt it for other purposes, such as non-fiction and plays.
OS: Windows 98, Me, 2000, XP, Vista/7
8. Final Draft
Final Draft is an industry-standard script- and screenwriting software used by well-known pros. In addition to scriptwriting guidance and automatic formatting, Final Draft recently teamed up with Save the Cat software to create a package with even more features that, among other things, can help you develop your story and come up with key beats.
OS: Windows XP or later, OS X 10.7 or later
Designed for novelists and screenwriters, Storyist gives you an overview of your writing, tracks important elements such as characters and plot, organises your information, and provides you with templates and formatting tools for your manuscript or screenplay.
OS: Mac OS X, iOS 8.0 or later
Price: $59 (Mac), $14.99 (iOS)
Plotbot was developed by two film school graduates to give screenwriters the option of collaborating with others on their project. Writers can choose private or public settings and how much active collaboration they allow. Plotbot also tracks different versions as well as who wrote what.
11. Clean Writer Pro
Clean Writer Pro is a minimalist text editor for those wanting to focus on their writing without distraction. One added benefit is that it will convert your text to HTML so that you can post it right into your blog or website.
OS: OS X 10.7 or later
WriteRoom is a bare-bones text editor that lets you focus on your words and nothing else. No formatting or lay-out options – just you, your words, and the screen.
OS: OS X 10.7 or later
13. Dark Room
A knock-off of WriteRoom for OS X (Tiger), Dark Room is a similar text editor designed for Windows. It gives you the same clutter-free environment so that you can focus on your words.
OS: Windows XP / 2003 / 2007
Another simple text editor, OmmWriter’s goal is to create a clutter-free environment where you can focus on your writing in peace. In addition to its simplicity, OmmWriter (full name: OmmWriter Dana) uses therapeutic images, colours and sounds to promote creativity, inspiration, and tranquillity.
OS: Mac, PC, iPad
Price: No set price. Suggested minimum $5.11
Another meditative text editor, ZenWriter offers customizable backgrounds and music designed to relax you and let you focus on your writing. Updated features include a TOC, but the author admits that it still has some bugs, such as losing your work if you copy-paste from another programme.
Yet another simple, clutter-free text editor and one of the more popular ones, Q10 has a variety of features to help you focus on your writing and meet your goals, including live statistics, portability, customizable appearance, a timer, writing target percentages, autosaving and autocorrection.
17. Write or Die
Write or Die turns the act of writing into a virtual war game, complete with leaderboards, different levels of intensity, and a feature that erases your work after just a few seconds of inactivity. Good for those who want to achieve a minimum word count within a given period of time.
OS: Not specified whether for Windows, Mac or both; iOS
Price: $20 (desktop), $9.99 (iOS)
18. Dragon Dictation
Dragon Dictation lets you dictate your words and then transcribes them for you. Enter the results in your preferred application, whether you’re taking notes, writing a book, creating a spreadsheet, or organising your calendar. You can also use it to surf the web, text, email, tweet or post to Facebook.
OS: Windows 7, 8, 8.1; OS X 10.9, 10.10; iOS 4.0 or later
Price: $59.99 (Windows), $150.00 (Mac), Free (iOS)
oTranscribe is a free web app that’s designed to make transcribing recorded interviews a more convenient process. Features include privacy, exportability, interactive time stamps, video file support, and automatic saving.
Browser: Use an up-to-date browser that supports HTML 5 features
Windows Live Writer is a blogging tool that allows you to add photos and videos and then preview your blog just as it would appear online. It’s part of Windows Live Essentials, but you can also download it separately and add a variety of plug-ins for even more creative possibilities.
A mark-up writing tool for web writers, MarkMyWord comes with a variety of features, including compatibility with different mark-up languages, the ability to preview your work, highlighted mark-up code, a customizable interface for maximum comfort and focus, easy formatting options, and article templates.
OS: OS X 10.6.8 or later
Protaganize is a global, award-winning online community of writers. Members can explore other authors’ work, write new material, join existing groups or create new ones, critique each other’s creations, collaborate, and promote themselves.
Let’s face it: writing is an idea sport. No ideas, no words. But coming up with ideas is not enough: it also helps to track and organise them. The following tools will help you to generate, record, and organise your ideas, either on your own or in collaboration with others.
The GoodNotes app lets you take handwritten notes and annotate pdfs with digital vector ink. GoodNotes documents on your iPad and iPhone will synchronize automatically with iCloud sync.
OS: iOS 8.0
Mind42 (pronounced Mind Four Two) is an online mind mapping and brainstorming tool that you can use by yourself of with others (hence the pun). Aside from allowing you to create all kinds of mind maps, Mind42 also comes with editing, collaboration, publishing, printing, and export capabilities.
OS: Online. For the best experience, use newer, up-to-date browsers (Chrome, Firefox, Safari).
Mindmup is an open-source, online mind mapping tool with collaboration, publishing, and export capabilities as well as the ability to change the look. Formerly only usable through Google Drive, Mindmup is now open to anyone through app.mindmup.com.
Mindmeister is another collaborative online tool for mind mapping, brainstorming, planning and more. Features include cloud storage, real-time collaboration, colour slide-show presentations, basic project as well as meeting management, note taking, customization, templates, photo and video insertion, attachments, import and export capability, history and publishing.
Price: Free (Basic), $36 (Personal), $60 (Pro)
Another mind mapper, Bubbl.us uses comment-like bubbles to help you brainstorm, organise and plan. Examples of how to use the bubbles include inserting photos and creating a logical flow or a more random setup to illustrate your processes.
OS: Online, iOS 6.1 or later
Price: Free (Basic), $6/month or $59 annually (Unlimited Individual)
Scapple is described as a free-form text editor that mimics mind mapping software without imposing any hierarchy or the need to link your notes. In other words, it allows you the freedom of the creative process.
OS: Windows, Mac OS X 10.6.8 or later
SimpleMind is a mind mapping tool that allows you to gather, organise, analyse and share your thoughts. You can also add media and use it across devices.
OS: Windows, Mac, Android, iPhone and iPad
Price: Free for mobile devices; otherwise, Euro 23.99 and up, depending on platform and license
Tomboy is a note-taking app that also allows you to format, organise your work into different notebooks, automatically link your notes and create lists. Useful for research as well as to-do lists.
OS: Linux, Unix, Windows, Mac OS X. To download, go here.
Zim is a text editor that also functions as a desktop wiki, a place to gather Wikipedia files as well as take notes, brainstorm, organise, and create emails and blogs.
OS: Ubuntu, Windows, Mac OS X (with proper dependencies). Automatically included with a number of other Linux distributions.
Sometimes our ideas flow like water, and sometimes the river seems to just dry up, like the savannah in the African drought season. Fortunately, ideas are easier to generate than rain, and a little push is all it takes. The following tools are for those times.
MasterClass is making huge waves at the moment. Every single one of their teachers is a global leader in their field. Want to improve your writing craft and be inspired along the way. Learn about how Bob Woodward nails the perfect interview. How Neil Gaman makes his stories funny and surprising. Or how Malcolm Gladwell nails the power of simplicity to get his ideas across.
33. Writer’s Block Buster, aka Writing Toolkit
Writer’s Block Buster, or Writing Toolkit, is a mobile app that’s useful for all kinds of writers – fiction and non-fiction, veteran and novice. In addition to help with the mechanics of writing, its toolbox shows not only different aids for developing your fiction story but also tips for journalists, bloggers, technical writers and more.
OS: iOS 8.0 or later
A Writer’s Digest e-book, The Writing Prompt Boot Camp gives you two weeks worth (plus a couple) of first sentences to start off your story and get your imagination flowing. The idea is to work on one story per day.
The Story Starter is a fun tool that generates random lines to give you ideas for starting your story. Used by all kinds of creative writers, Story Starter has generated more than 215½ trillion ideas for that all-important first line.
A web page with 346 writing prompts to get you going. Just hover over a number to see the prompt. Prompts come in the form of first lines, story ideas and exercises.
Along the same lines as other creativity prompts, Imagination Prompt Generator provides you with half sentences, questions and exercises to get your ideas flowing and your fingers moving. Just hit the virtual button to the right of the prompt box for the next idea.
This section provides you with just a few tools to help you gather and organise your resources and thoughts.
Evernote is a note-taking and sharing app that can be used across devices. A note can be in many forms, from an image to a handwritten note, web page, voice memo or video file. Evernote’s search mechanism lets you easily access them.
OS: Web-based; Windows, OS X, Windows Mobile, iOS, Android, Blackberry
Prices: Free basic account; Plus $24.99; Premium $49.99
Diigo’s original main purpose was to provide users with a way to store, organise and annotate their web content. Gradually, it acquired other features, such as social sharing, but some of these may eventually be phased out because of underuse. Available features vary depending on your plan.
Prices: Free with ads; Basic $7/year; Standard $40/year, $5/month; Professional $59/year, $6/month
A news aggregator app, Feedly lets you put all your content in one place. Content includes your publications, YouTube channels, blogs, collections and even keyword alerts. It also allows you to securely store private business content. In addition, you can search, read, organise and share. And it provides you with tools for better team collaboration.
OS: Cloud-based; iOS, Android
Prices: Basic Free; Pro $5.41/month; Team $18.08/month
With all the information we take in these days, it’s easy to get distracted or overloaded. The following apps let you customize your Internet experience to make it more pleasant, convenient and focused.
As its name implies, Readability allows you to adjust and save web pages for greater readability, enjoyability and convenience. Remove clutter, save the page for later, and use with different tools and devices.
OS: Mac, iOS, Android
Anti-Social is a timed Chrome plug-in that allows you block the social media features on websites, such as comments as well as Facebook, Twitter and other icons. The idea is to increase productivity by removing social distractions. Works for most sites.
A Chrome extension that lets you block those distracting websites that keep you from making progress with your work, especially handy if you’re slaving away on a thesis. You can choose which sites to block, whether to block them partially or completely, when you want the blocking to start and how long you want it to last.
44. Cold Turkey
Cold Turkey helps you improve your productivity by blocking websites, preventing you from becoming distracted and forcing you to concentrate on your work. The more advanced version also lets you block applications, time your breaks, create exceptions, and more.
OS: Windows 7–10; Mac version is on the way
Price: Basic – Free; Pro – One-time price of $19
EssentialPIM (PIM stands for “personal information manager”) is an organisational tool that allows you to manage your personal information such as notes, appointments, contacts, tasks, mail and passwords. Syncs with MS Outlook and can be used across different devices.
OS: Windows, iOS, Android
Price: Basic – Free; Pro – Various Prices
LeechBlock is a Mozilla add-on that lets you choose when and which sites to block in order to eliminate distractions and maximize your productivity. It allows you to block as many as six sets of sites and to set specific times and time limits as well as passwords.
Browser: Mozilla Firefox
Price: Free – $5.00 suggested contribution
A touch-typing tutor, keybr.com keeps track of your speed, number of errors, and other stats while teaching you to touch type by focusing on similar though randomly generated sets of letters. You can import text from web pages or enter your own custom text for practice. Also features a game with multiple users.
Tomato Timer is based on the pomodoro technique (“pomodoro” is Italian for “tomato”) devised by Francesco Cirillo, a student who used a tomato-shaped timer to increase his productivity. TomatoTimer is a simple web-based timer that operates by the 25-minute work / 5-minute break rule. The idea is to do this four times and then take a longer break.
This is the same idea as TomatoTimer, except that you have to register to use it. It has the advantage of letting you write down and check off your accomplishments as you complete each 25-minute period. Also lets you customize your break periods.
The most flexible and visually appealing of the online tomato timers, MARINARATIMER lets you choose from among three timer possibilities: the classic pomodoro technique, a simple kitchen timer that lets you determine your own length of time, and a custom timer that allows you to name and set your times for different goals and workflows.
Made for teams, Toggl lets you track your time both on- and offline, organise it by clients and projects, integrate with other business tools, share and colour-code your reports, and set different billable rates for different hours. According to Toggl, better time management equals better planning, increased profits and improved client relations.
OS: Online, Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, iPhone, Android
Price: Basic – Free; Pro $9 per user/month (annual billing) or $10/month (monthly billing); Business $49 per user/month (annual billing) or $59/month (monthly billing)
Unstuck is your digital coach for those moments when you’re feeling clueless, uncertain or just plain negative. Not strictly a writer’s tool, it will help you solve all sorts of situations. Whatever your issue, Unstuck can help you move past your stuckness and get creative.
OS: Web-based; Android, iOS 7 or later
Beyond the creative process lies the nitty-gritty of grammar, spelling, style guides, and simply finding the right words to express your thoughts. Here are some tools to help with that.
APA style is the writing and reference style devised by the American Psychological Association and used in the social sciences. The official site, apastyle.org, offers free basic tutorials as well as more comprehensive products (books, online courses) for sale.
Price: Free Tutorials; see website for product pricing details
The Chicago Manual of Style is a comprehensive style guide developed by the University of Chicago and widely used in American publishing. The website’s online resource allows you to look up all kinds of issues, from fine points on grammar to referencing styles. Also available in hardcover.
Price: $35 for a single-member annual subscription; additional pricing for larger groups
LanguageTool is an open-source proofreading tool for over twenty languages, including all different versions of English. It claims to do a more thorough job than a regular spell-checker when it comes to editing your work.
Downloadable for LibreOffice, OpenOffice, or for your desktop/laptop. Browsers: Firefox, Chrome
WordWeb is a customizable, downloadable dictionary and thesaurus as well as a word and term finder. It can also provide you with a list of references and sites where you can find the word you’re looking for.
OS: Windows, Mac, Android, iPhone, iPad
Price: WordWeb is evidently on a mission to reduce global carbon emissions. It’s free as long as you do not take more than two round-trip flights per year. Otherwise, you have to subscribe to WordWeb Pro after your 30-day trial period. Single-user prices range from $19 to $105 depending on the package you buy.
One of many US-English online dictionaries, Dictionary.com lets you easily toggle over to Thesaurus.com as well as to its simple translation tool. Along with definitions sourced from well-known dictionaries, the dictionary page provides a list of synonyms, an alternate section for UK-English definitions, information on the word’s history and etymology, examples of modern usage, and an audio pronunciation tool.
Similar to Dictionary.com, the Merriam Webster online dictionary gives you audio pronunciation, definitions, word etymology, usage examples, and related words and phrases as well as rhyming words, first known use and more. Perfect for academic writers who are writing a dissertation.
The Free Dictionary gives you easy access to a variety of tools, including a thesaurus; legal, medical, and financial dictionaries; acronyms; idioms; an encyclopedia; Wikipedia; and the Free Library, with links to a variety of online resources and literature from different fields. The dictionary has many of the same features as the other online dictionaries, and then some.
Price: Free (as its name implies)
Cambridge Dictionaries Online lets you toggle back and forth between UK/international English and US English. It also provides a grammar resource, a free translator, a blog on English-language issues and developments, a word of the day, new word posts and dictionary apps. An excellent resource when you’re proofreading your own work.
Like Cambridge Dictionaries Online, Oxford Dictionaries lets you toggle back and forth between British/international and US English. It also features a grammar resource, synonyms, a word of the day, a blog, word lists, word origins, forums, games, quizzes, and challenges – all in the name of spreading their passion for language.
OneLook automatically searches multiple dictionaries for the word in question and provides you with links. It also shows you how to use wildcard characters for specific search types, and it has a reverse dictionary feature that lets you input the concept and receive related word suggestions, some more relevant than others.
63. Acronym Finder
Acronym Finder allows you plug in acronyms and abbreviations to discover their meaning. The results will show possible meanings from six major categories: IT, Science and Medicine, Military and Government, Organisations and Schools, Business and Finance, and Slang and Pop Culture.
MediLexicon provides users with links to a medical dictionary, medical abbreviations, information on drugs, medical news, medical and surgical equipment, and miscellaneous medical information on such categories as hospitals, medical associations and pharmaceutical firms.
BusinessDictionary.com provides you with definitions from a variety of business subjects, from finance and management to IT and economic politics, to name just a few. Potentially useful not only for writers in these fields but also for fiction authors and screenwriters who need to understand their subject matter.
On a lighter note, the Ridiculous Business Jargon Dictionary pokes fun at some of the expressions currently in use in the corporate world and clues the rest of us into their meaning so that we’re not so, well, acluistic.
Stumped for a rhyme? RhymeZone lets you plug in a word and then provides you with a list of rhyming options. Also gives links to Shakespeare’s plays, poems and other writings, an online forum, and several dictionaries and research tools such as Wikipedia.
Web-based; Android, iPhone, iPad
Visuwords creates diagrams around a word using different types of colored lines to connect it to related words and phrases. The legend to the left of the screen explains the meaning of the different kinds of lines.
69. Word Counter
Word Counter allows you to track the number of words and characters of your text, either as you type or by cutting and pasting. It also counts the sentences and paragraphs as well as computing the reading level, reading and speaking times, keyword density and a number of other factors that you can turn on or off.
Autocrit analyses and makes suggestions for improving your writing. Especially designed for fiction writers, its different subscription packages offer various levels of convenience in terms of how many words you can analyse at one time and how many features the package includes.
Price: Gold $60/year, Platinum $96/year, Professional $144/year
The last step of the process is publishing your work and all that goes along with that. The following tools will give you resources not just for publishing but also for marketing and other related factors.
Copyscape is a plagiarism tool with different levels of checks. The free version lets you compare content from different articles or web pages. Copyscape Premium allows you to review your content prior to publishing. Copysentry alerts you on a weekly (Standard) or daily (Professional)
basis if your content has been plagiarized, and it also finds the source.
Price: Basic – Free, Premium $.05 per search, Copysentry (Standard) $4.95+, Copysentry (Professional) $19.95+
FastPencil is a self-publishing platform that helps authors through the various stages of book creation, publishing and selling. It offers several publishing packages as well as a marketplace of independent professionals that you can hire, from editors and translators to designers and marketers. Offers a built-in editor to help you write and edit your book.
Package Prices: Private $9.99, Bronze $675, Silver $1149, Gold $1999, Screenplay $799; also offers a variety of individual services
With PenFlip, you enter your text into either your own text editor or an online markdown editor. You then submit it for public or private feedback that you reject or accept, and finally you publish it as an e-book or on the web. Works with both short and longer works.
Prices: Free for publicly viewable projects; Premium $10/month; Team $25/month
Calibre is an open-source e-book tool that includes library management, e-book conversion, e-book reader syncing, an e-book viewer, an e-book editor, online library access, and news-to-ebook conversion.
OS: Windows, OS X, Linux, Portable (Windows Vista or later), Windows 64bit
Kindle Direct Publishing is a one-stop shop for publishing your e-book. Suitable for a variety of genres, It allows you to set your rights and pricing, update your book after publishing, get tips on promotion and merchandising, and more. Depending on eligibility, royalties can be as high as 70 per cent.
Web-based; Windows and Mac OS X for downloadable programs such as Kindle Kids’ Book Creator, Kindle Textbook Creator and Kindle Previewer
Price: Free to use. See pricing page for specifics on royalties and delivery costs.
76. To ePub
To ePub converts your pdf files to different e-book formats, including epub and mobi. Allows you to upload up to 20 files at a time, select your e-book format, and then download the converted files singly, as thumbnails or as a zip file.
Sigil is a simple, easy-to-use, open-source e-book creator and editor that lets you edit e-books and convert them to .EPUB format. Its main drawback is that it’s limited to importing and editing e-books in .TXT, .HTML, and .EPUB format.
OS: Windows, Mac OS X. Download here for latest release.
CreateSpace is Amazon’s online publishing platform for hard-copy and e-book self-publishers. Like Kindle Direct Publishing, the site gives authors lots of guidance on every aspect of self-publishing, from formatting and uploading to marketing. The platform itself is free to use, but there are also professional paid services for those who want help.
Price: Publishing costs vary according to your choices; for professional service rates, go here.
Joel Friedlander, aka the Book Designer, has designed a variety of templates that take the guesswork out of self-publishing and enable authors to produce professional-looking hard copies and e-books. Templates come in different styles for different genres, and many are dual use (for print and e-book).
For best results, use Adobe InDesign or Microsoft Word when working with the templates.
OS: Windows, Mac OS X
Price: Varies with the template and license (one-time, multiple, and commercial).
Reedsy’s goal as a curated self-publishing marketplace is to bring self-publishing to the level of traditional publishing. Passionate about helping authors to create, publish and market their next bestseller, Reedsy has now created a book editing tool that allows for distraction-free writing, collaborative real-time editing and proofreading (available soon), and typesetting prior to export for publishing on different platforms.