Tools of the Trade

If you’re a writer, you’ve probably been asked, “What software do you use to write your books with?” You’ve probably asked that question, too. The answer you’ll get isn’t a one-size-fits-all response. Writing software is like ice cream—everyone has their favorite. What may work for one writer, may not work for you. The bottom line when using a writing software is that it makes you want to write and it makes your writing easier. If it’s too hard to learn and daunting to use, then you’re not going to love writing with it. And that defeats the whole purpose. I’m not going to waste your time trying to convince you of any one software over another. I’m only going to share with you some of my personal favorites and what I liked about them. Then you can try them out for yourself.

Scrivener ($45)

This one is the granddaddy of all writing software. It seems like every professional writer uses this one. I’m not going to go into a lot of detail about it because I’m sure you’re either using it, or you’ve tried it and gave up on it. I’m in the latter group. It has tons of great features. The corkboard with index cards is my favorite feature. Scrivener allows you to keep notes, research, pictures, multiple drafts, character profiles, and just about anything else you need all in one place. It’s an amazing software. I tried really hard to like it. I wanted to say it was my all-time favorite and I wouldn’t use anything else. I attempted it many times. I bought how-to videos on Udemy and the Scrivener for Dummies book.  In the end, it was just no good for me. I spent all of my time fighting with it and wasting precious writing time trying to make it work. Do I think it’s a great tool? Yes! It’s just not for me. So, let’s move on.

Microsoft Word ($6.99/$69.99)

If you’re a writer, you need this one. No, really. You can’t be a writer without it. Most publishers will send back your revisions with tracking using this software. Some authors prefer to use it to write their books directly into it. It was once all I used. And honestly, I could probably go back to it easier than I could any other software. The only caveat is that it will cost to put it on your computer. You can purchase a monthly subscription to the Office 365 suite or purchase it yearly. Just know that either way, you’ll want to make sure to keep up with their updates. If your version and your editor’s version don’t mesh well, it could create a big headache for you. And no one wants a headache like that when you’re on a deadline.

Ulysses  ($4.99/$39.99)

I’m not even going to try to hide my enthusiasm for this one. I use it and I truly love it. I searchedfor something else to try because the nay-sayers claim you can’t write a long novel with it, but I’m here to tell you that’s just not true. There’s a small camp of writers out there who use it for novel writing. It does have a little bit of a learning curve because it uses Markdown. If you’ve never heard of Markdown, then you’re probably going to feel intimidated from the get-go. The truth is, I’m actually using Ulysses to create this blog post right now. I use it for all of my posts and then export it directly to my WordPress blog, where I do some final tweaking with spacing and font colors. I’m also writing my current WIP in Ulysses, too. One of the things I love about it is that it’s simple. I can see everything in one place, just like Scrivener—but very different. Ulysses is not for everyone and and comes with a subscription model pricing, which many scoff at. But like Microsoft, you can pay monthly or yearly. The great thing is that one price covers all of your devices. The other catch is it is currently only for MacOS and iOS. For me, that’s not a problem. It syncs perfectly with iCloud and you don’t have to shut down one device before moving to another to pick up where you left off. I use my iPad, MacBook and Mac consistently. I occasionally will use my phone if an idea hits me and I need to type it right away. The beautiful thing about Ulysses is that when I get home to open one of the other devices, it’s already synced and ready to go. No waiting. It’s flawless. If Markdown scares you, you really don’t have to worry. There’s an accessible cheatsheet on the right sidebar that’s aways there to help you with coding. After a few days, you’ll find you won’t even need it. It may not be for everyone, but even if you chose not to use it for your novels, I encourage you to try it for blogging. You’ll love it.

Storyist ($59)

I’m not going to go into a lot of detail on this one. It’s been around a long time and works a lot like Scrivener without all the bells and whistles. It does have the cork board feature that I love. It’s pricey and only available for Apple devices, but the learning curve is a little less daunting as it is with Scrivener. The good thing about it is that it will sync using iCloud or Dropbox. I purchased mine with a coupon code I found online. I’m just cheap like that. I didn’t mind trying it out out since I was getting a bargain. I’m not sure I’d pay full price for this one, but it is a great writing tool if you want all of the features of Scrivener, but without the extra stuff.

MindNode ($39.99)

This is a mind mapping software. I love using this when I’m brainstorming a new book. You just start putting in your ideas, tying one in with the other. It automatically creates an outline on the sidebar for you to see in a more linear view. It will export as a pdf, text file, OPML, or an image. Mind mapping isn’t for everyone, but it’s a fun tool to use if you’re just throwing ideas out there. This particular one is only available through the App Store but there are Android versions out there that do the same thing.

AeonTimeline ($50.00)

This is beast to learn, but if you are working with a huge novel, multiple subplots, or your plot takes place over a big chunk of time, then you would benefit from this software. The image above is a sample Aeon Timeline provides to show you how to track your novel. You can even color code your timeline to show you when characters appear, their ages as the novel progresses and how often they show up in your novel. It’s expensive also, but I already said I’m frugal so I scoured the internet and found a discount code that worked. I tried it because I got a great price for it and I do like it, but again the learning curve is pretty steep and you have to be willing to put in the time. I caught an error with my WIP’s timeline using this so I can testify that it does what it’s supposed to do.

OneNote (Free)

This software is often overlooked by writers. The great thing about OneNote is that is it free. It works a little like Scrivener by using notebooks. I open a notebook for the novel I’m working on and upload pictures, research from the internet, notes, or anything else I want to save pertaining to my book. Ulysses can also do this to some extent, just without the use of notebooks. OneNote syncs easily if you have the app on different devices. It also works on Apple or Android. I really like the OneNote Clipper feature that you can install as a browser plug-in. No more bookmarking all those webpages so you can go back and get what you need later. OneNote does it all for you by adding what you need to your notebook. You just tell it what to clip and it’s there waiting for you when you need it.


There are countless other apps out there to help you write your novel. Bear, Evernote, Pocket, iAWriter, and Byword are just a few others. Some people use a few different apps and software to get what they really need. The bottom line is choose what works for you. If you don’t like your writing software then you’re going to waste a ton of time trying to figure it out. That’s priceless time you could be spending on writing. I’m sure I’ve missed someone’s favorite, but truly there are too many to list here. The other thing to remember is that just because someone else is using it, doesn’t mean it’s right for you. I don’t like just one kind of ice cream and I don’t like just one kind of writing software. Sure chocolate if my favorite but I still like to mix it up from time to time. Many of the ones I talked about come with free trials and if you look hard enough you might find discounts codes like I did. NANOWRIMO is a great time to get a few of those discounts and try something new. Whatever you chose, you can’t go wrong if it helps you write your book.

Happy writing!


I can do all things through Christ who gives me Strength. ~Pillipians 4:13

2 thoughts on “Tools of the Trade

  1. Thank you for commenting, Emily! I’ve always liked writing in Word, too. I totally forgot about the document reader! Thank you for mentioning that. I think the others have that option also, but when doing final edits in Word it sure is a great way to catch those mistakes before submitting to a publisher. Thanks again!

  2. I feel old fashioned using Word (and, for the little plotting I do, Excel), but it works for me. I like that with the Office 365 subscription, Word will read my documents to me–it’s great for catching typos and reviewing large parts of the story. Listening enables me to do other things like chores while I also make sure the story flows after big rewrites! I’m sure some of the others have that capability, too, but I’ve found what works for me so far!

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