by Jenna Kalinsky, Founding Director, One Lit Place
If you’re working on a writing project of any length, you know how many things you need to juggle to combine all the elements involved. You’ve got your project notes (formalized in a document or scrawled on the back of your electric bill), your journal, photographs, 32 open tabs on your computer, phone notes app, character arcs or beat sheets, lists, and reference and grammar books cluttering your workspace, which can make you feel like you’re writing from inside an information hurricane. Atop that, you’ve probably got reams of information you’re holding inside your head.
A creative person is apparently one who can thrive amid this kind of chaos (a small relief, perhaps?) but there’s a limit even for the most creative among us.
That’s where a writing app (or several from our newly updated list of 10 of the Best Writing Apps) comes in to save the day!
If having system to help you write with success sounds pretty good, it’s time to get streamlined, organized, and writing with greater productivity and efficacy by using a writing app.
The 10 Best Writing Apps That Will Organize You– And Your Writing
- General all-in-one writing apps:
- Ulysses (for Mac)
- Final Draft (for Screenwriters)
- Scene construction:
- Timekeeping & tracking:
- Copyediting & Proofreading:
- Cliché Finder
These 10 best writing apps provide an organizational scaffolding that makes sure your work stays manageable, your stress remains at a minimum, and you keep on track.
Disclaimer: We are in no way affiliated with or sponsored by any of the programs mentioned in this article. All experiences, commentary, and reviews are based on personal experience only.
If all that toggling between your computer, a notebook, scraps of paper, and the Internet is damaging your productivity and making you fatigued, it’s time for an all-in-one solution.
Scrivener, considered by many writers to be the “gold standard” in writing software, enables you to have everything all in one place. With Scrivener, you can brainstorm, outline, and write your projects in one program, moving between chapters, notes, and all of your other imported references easily.
(You know those sleek and spare writing spaces you see on Instagram? That could be yours!)
In Scrivener, you can take all of the loose elements floating around your desk and in your mind and upload them: pdfs, word docs, images, videos, sound files, web pages, and more. You can even keep four files open at the same time, so any pictures or timelines are only a click away.
Plus, if you’re like any self-respecting writer and write while waiting for your dental cleaning or at your kid’s soccer practice, now you can take a picture of those notes and upload them as well.
You can work on a novel or nonfiction manuscript, a screenplay, an academic journal article or dissertation, or on a presentation or other complex business document and easily navigate between chapters, rough notes, interviews, and references.
The screen can be sized larger to tune out notifications from social media and email (the #1 enemy of your concentration), and the background is customizable as well. (Just because we’re writers doesn’t mean we don’t love pretty things).
When it’s time to send the file to your academic committee, literary magazine, or agent, you can save the file in any industry-required format, hit “print,” and you’re good to go.
2) Ulysses, all-in-one distraction-free writing app for Mac, IPad, and IPhone
Imagine if your entire computer were dedicated to your writing (sounds nice, right? So pure!). Ulysses shows you only your writing projects, so you can immerse yourself in your work without being constantly reminded of your overdue library book notifications, emails, or other dangling responsibilities.
The program syncs across all your Apple devices, so at any moment, you can flip it on and instantly be submerged into your projects. Find your way into your story, book, or document by writing forward or pause to plan by using the scene builder. The built-in editor means you don’t have to leave to source words or check your grammar, and it also has a deadlines and daily tracker so you can monitor your progress and achieve specific goals or deadlines.
Short of having a dedicated computer for your writing, Ulysses is an excellent tool that focuses your attention where it counts.
3) Final Draft (for Screenwriters)
Used by pretty much everyone in the industry, Final Draft is the go-to software to use when writing a screenplay.
Guillermo del Toro, JJ Abrams, Sofia Coppola, and our own resident screenwriting instructor and coach Rebecca Hales swear by it.
Final Draft is ideal for helping you streamline your scriptwriting process. With over 300 templates for screenplays, teleplays, graphic novels, and more, you can get started in the right script environment immediately.
Use the drag-and-drop beat board to map out your storylines, plot points, and character arcs, then send the whole thing to your script format where it’s laid out on the page for you.
The self-editing feature lets you leave notes to yourself, and dialogue assist offers you the most dynamic and appropriate line for each character. Use the in-house copy editor to make sure everything is correct before you send it off to potential stardom with just one click.
Imagine much of the functionality of Scrivener and Ulysses but in a completely free platform. Evernote allows for you to create as many projects as you need and organize them by creating tasks and lists or outlines. You can keep an inspirations file with clips and images and can create a special “notebook” to brainstorm and catch all your ideas floating around so they’re all in one place.
For the book writer, you’ll appreciate that Evernote allows you to organize the larger project into smaller chunks; for example, plotlines, character outlines, premise worksheets, and more.
The platform comes with hundreds of templates both pre-made and customizable to your exact needs. Connect your Google calendar to use Evernote as a task or to-do list, and let it make your life infinitely easier.
While Evernote does not have an editing feature like Scrivener, Ulysses, or Final Draft, you can use it in combination with another free copyediting and grammar software like WriteWords or Grammarly (listed below).
5) World-Building: Miro
As an online interactive whiteboard, Miro enables you to create a blueprint of your project. While it can be used for every kind of project in any genre, it’s fantastic for writers working in genre fiction who want to see how their project will ultimately lay out or who want to road test developing structures, plot, character development, or progression of ideas before implementing them in the greater project.
(J.K. Rowling did not use Miro when plotting out Harry Potter. Nor did Gay Talese, Sylvia Plath, or many other writers who were known for pre-mapping the worlds of their stories. Imagine if Miro had been around for them? *Mind blown.)
Once you use Miro, you’ll see what a pleasure it is to have all your complicated ideas and possibilities in one place. Miro allows you to create and store timelines, family trees, and visual outlines, all things that can become tangled if left in your head or lost if left on a piece of paper.
You can also add notes, photos, documents, and other kinds of files, so you have the whole giant picture in one spot. Zoom out to have a bird’s-eye look at the whole thing or zoom in to see the details as you wish.
Working on a project with another writer or editor? Miro also has a collaboration feature, so you can share projects in real time, which is a fantastic tool, or asynchronously (though the program will sync up constantly so the project is always current, and you can see who has done what and when).
Plus, it offers you the option of collaborating not just on the documents and files but with each other in real time: text and video chat, screen sharing, and commenting options make all manner of connecting over the work possible.
(How fun does this sound? Far less like work and far more like a writing party!)
(Plus several other neat and useful-looking softwares from programmer Simon Haynes, aka “Space Jock”)
This free writing app for Windows is designed to pull your long-form book project into chapters and the chapters into scenes. The developer of the software created it because it can be dispiriting to write and write and write only to end up with 20,000 or 40,000 or 80,000 words without an organizational structure.
Seeing how your book can be broken up into beats or chunks that each develop the overall story and move the plot or ideas forward at the outset may save you a lot of time and prevent heartache for having to work backwards.
7) Planning and Tracking: Pacemaker
When you’re embarking on a new writing project, it’s highly motivating to start with knowing your goals for the work, short and long, so you can meet markers along the way and see your progress or know how to adapt your work or timeline if needed.
Plunging into the writing and and letting it take you where it will is fun and energetic, but at some point, the going gets real, and that’s when many people get stuck or give up.
A plan, however, makes your work concrete and keeps your goals in your sights.
Some examples of writing projects that benefit from having a plan:
- NaNoWriMo, a month-long international initiative to get writers from zero to finished book
- A master’s thesis or PhD dissertation
- A work presentation or speech
- A novel, memoir, or business book
- Journal article, blogs, or e-book
You get the idea- any project benefits from goal-setting.
Pacemaker is also a word count planner and tracker. You can customize it based on your individual routine, and it’s always there for you either in graph, calendar, or table form.
You can tell the app how much or little you want to write: steady amounts every day, more on the weekends or holidays, or during naptimes (yours or your kids’).
Once you set it, you can forget it, sit back, and simply write. The program will tell you how much writing you have on the dock for the day.
And if life happens and a last-minute work trip, family emergency, or the holidays rear up, the program will automatically re-calculate your writing days to keep you on track. This is an excellent feature; it is dispiriting to see yourself falling behind, so this realistically manages your workload and your motivation so you can enjoy seeing your progress!
Plus, you can download it into your iCal (and even share with peer writers or your writing mentor to keep accountable!)
One of the hardest aspects of writing is to have to shoulder the dual burden of being both the creative plus the administrator of the process. Pacemaker takes on the accountability part, leaving you free to worry only about the writing.
8, 9, & 10) Copyediting & Proofreading: WriteWords, Cliché Finder & Grammarly
What a beautiful day it is when you finish your article, story, or book. That’s a heavenly feeling that only writers get to experience!
But “done” may not mean “perfect,” so this is where you need to proofread your work to ensure it’s clean, lean, and grammatically spot-on.
Great, you will proofread the work.
However, there are two issues with you being the last eyes on your project:
1) By this point you are very familiar with the lines. You may even dream them. After reading something even a couple of times, your eyes stop seeing it as distinctly. This means if your writing contains errors, you likely won’t catch them. This is a neurological phenomenon called “Semantic Satiation.”
So that dangling modifier that would make a reader laugh out loud? It may not even phase you (because you may have glossed right over it!).
2) Unless you are a trained editor, English teacher, or hobby grammarian, you may
a) not know what a dangling modifier is, and
b) not know how to fix it (which could also hold true for any of the myriad quirky things that may have crept into your sentences).
(Nothing like typing “pubic” when you mean “public”!)
The ideal solution is to have a human editor look over your work to make sure it is clear, clean, and tonally spot-on.
(Check out all the many ways our OLP human writing coaches and editors provide support to our writers)
If using an editor is not an option, you can use a writing app to catch *nearly everything* you may have missed.
WriteWords, Clichéfinder and Grammarly are great tools. They are not a substitute for a person who is trained to hear and see the music of the lines, catch awkward or disconnected contextual issues or maintain the integrity of the lines and tone for the projected audience. But they are good in a pinch.
You can also use the apps before bringing on a human editor, who, having less to do, may be able to charge far less. (The best of all worlds!)
WriteWords Word & Phrase Frequency Counter: self-plagiarizing happens to the best of us. If you use a word or phrase at the top of a paragraph, for example, your brain is now primed for having that word on the tip of its brainy tongue, and you may inadvertently use it again a few lines later.
- Write Words will find those words and phrases with its Word Frequency Counter and Phrase Frequency Counter, and let you know when you need to reword or re-phrase in order to keep the flow flowing and the reader turning pages, entirely mesmerized by your beautiful language use.
- The Online Cliché Finder by Arczis, similarly, will detect common expressions in your writing: nobody should be leaning on clichés, for heaven’s sakes. Why would you use tried and true language that’s been around since time immemorial (see what I’m doing here?) when you can find a cool new way to say the same thing?
- Grammarly: a super helpful program, no question. It catches whatever mistakes are in the text you have missed and even teaches you how to fix the issues for the next time.
Any line-level errors, missing or incorrectly used punctuation, mistakes like subject-verb disagreement (he say –> he says), and spelling gaffes all *mostly* get caught by the program.
Grammarly’s AI is limited, however, to specific instances of misuse on a line-by-line basis. It’s great if you want to catch the obvious typos and errors your eyes skimmed over (a critical step if you want to uphold any credibility as a person of letters), but where feasible, it’s always wise to get a peer writer or editor to at least skim the work before you send it out.
These 10 writing apps are some of the best out there (here’s an article that reviews 15 apps and softwares, including some we didn’t cover, such as voice-to-text and other useful features). My hope is to help you identify what app could benefit you and your writing projects so you’re able to write more productively and effectively.
Like with any tech designed to make your life easier, if you find you’re investigating apps as a distraction/procrastination mechanism, then it’s worth considering that what you may need more than any writing app is to brew a coffee, sit down, and simply start writing. Or get some help from a compassionate/tough-love writing coach who can help you get out of your own way and guide you to your own best writing.
In the end, you have all you need to write. Consider the greats of our time and before who had nothing but a pen and paper. Somehow they managed. And so will you. But a little leg up may make the work just a bit sweeter!)
We look forward to seeing your fabulously clean desk on Instagram,