I'm working on outlining a novel and would like to start a first draft but I can't decide on any of the endless amounts of writing software available. What's the best place to start? Text editors? Word processors? Pro writing software? Any suggestions would be appreciated.

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    Like... Seriously... I've only ever worked on microsoft word, and have never had any issues. There's no need to spend money on software. Don't waste your time on complex things like writing software – Featherball Feb 12 '17 at 7:49
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    I use pen and paper. – evilsoup Feb 12 '17 at 10:50
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    @DanielCann MS Office isn't free. If, as you say, there is no need to spend money on software, MS Word isn't among the options. – user5645 Feb 12 '17 at 16:37
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    @DanielCann Mine didn't. – user5645 Feb 12 '17 at 18:39
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    @DanielCann MS Office may have come with your computer, but you surely paid for it as part of the purchase price. LibreOffice and GoogleDocs are free software. I happen to use Word and it does the job, so I'm not knocking it, just pointing out that Bill Gates did not get so stupidly rich by giving his software away. – Lauren-Clear-Monica-Ipsum Feb 13 '17 at 16:11

11 Answers 11


The best tool to use for writing when you're starting out is, simply, whatever you feel comfortable writing with. The delay involved in learning a new tool is only going to interfere with the process of getting words on the page.

If the tool(s) you are most familiar with are too expensive or otherwise unavailable, here's a link to Wikipedia's category on free word processing tools: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Free_word_processors

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    For the record, I prefer LibreOffice at home. It's very friendly to people who are used to MS Word, but totally free. – Adam Miller Feb 10 '17 at 22:40

Some of the best writing tools for the first draft are the following:

  • Microsoft Word, an all-purpose writing tool that can be used for drafts, notes, or final formatting.
  • Scrivener, a drafting tool that is used to efficiently create your initial draft using an in-depth set of tools for taking down ideas and quickly accessing them as well as plan your story easily.
  • Google Docs, a free tool that can be used for not only notes but act as a drafting tool with automatic cloud saving.

Personally, I find Google Docs is almost 100% the best choice for a free writing software, with dozens of plugins that you can find online for it. However, I've begun to grow the habit of using Scrivener to become more efficient in my work.

  • Can you tell me more about Scrivener and how it's helpful? – aparente001 Feb 11 '17 at 8:26
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    @aparente001 I've only just scratched the surface of Scrivener as I've only just started, but the things that help me the most as a fiction writer is that it lets you easily organize chapter locations and formatting and provides an easy layout for it, lets you provide a summary for each section you're writing about, lets you sort notes onto each individual page, has a corkboard and outliner that lets you summarize information over dozens of different sections, etc. I'm not running a sales pitch for Scrivener but those are just things I find the most useful as a drafting tool. – Kyle Li Feb 11 '17 at 13:19
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    There are a lot of "useful" features in Scrivener that I don't bother with. The best features are 1) Ability to write in short scenes and have the compiler stitch them all together for you. Gives you a nice blank page to write on and the option to have a previous scene displayed side-by-side. 2) Full-screen, distraction-free writing mode. Especially useful is the feature to have the cursor always in the centre of the screen like a typewriter. It's hard to describe the benefit of this feature without a demo so you should go and download the trial! – Rapscallion Feb 13 '17 at 9:44
  • I find the organisation of Scrivener a huge benefit to my understanding of the structure. I use folders for chapters, a separate named document fragment for each scene, which is anywhere from 500-1000+ words a pop. Each scene document, I assign a coloured icon to show the POV character of that scene. Then, using the chapter/scene hierarchy, I can compile Novel PDF, iPad PDF, Kindle eBook and iBooks formats in about 2 minutes. I do this every time I finish a writing session. – Nick Bedford Aug 31 '17 at 4:40

Scrivener is great in that it allows you to outline, storyboard, drag and drop and reposition chapters, notes, character profiles and all the elements you need to tell your story - safely in one place. It also makes publishing for Kindle and print relatively easy. There is a learning curve, but there are also plenty of helpful videos on YouTube. This is my personal experience.

  • One of my biggest reasons for using Scrivener besides the organisation is the compilation features that make it super easy to generate PDF, eBook and other versions at the click of a button. – Nick Bedford Aug 31 '17 at 4:41

I'm adding an answer here that is posted on a question that will probably soon be removed.

Evernote is also easy to use, especially if you have different documents (world building, characters, plot, backstory, actual story, etc.) and want to keep them together. It uses 'notebooks' which can then keep those different documents in the same place. It is also free and works on-line (in-browser, app, mac/pc-software and synced between devices) and offline as well.

I've switched from Google Docs to Evernote because Google Docs has no offline function (on Mac/Pc)Corrected, it does. see comments and because I have a lot of different documents like mentioned above.

It does however NOT help you with a logical format like Scrivener does, but it is a good place to start since it is free and keeps things manageable. I like the additional fact that it runs very smoothly compared to word on Mac, but I may be particularly picky when it comes to this.

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    Google does does have an offline function... you can enable it in settings. – Kyle Li Feb 12 '17 at 14:51
  • Would this allow me to access my Google Docs withouy internet access from my laptop? I'm aware of the apps' offline functions.. – storbror Feb 12 '17 at 14:56
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    Yes, if you disconnect your laptop from the internet with it enabled you will be able to enter drive.google.com and open any file in offline mode, which will save the changes when you reconnect. Basically, the way this works is it downloads all of your files onto your computer, and modifies it there - treating google as a cloud saving system. – Kyle Li Feb 12 '17 at 17:08

I know this sound old-school and probably not the answer you're looking for, but for outlining or drafting a novel, my best tools are plain, simple, pen and paper.

It's very affordable, you can use it anywhere, and if you're the kind of person that loves shuffling ideas, or if you want to organize your scenes in a different order, or add plot points and see if they have connections between them, you can do it on post-its or loose pages and arrange them as you want. The only bad point is this method takes a lot of space.

The closest program I found that seemed really confortable to me is Edraw Mind Map, which allows you to draw boxes, type text in it, and link them to the others boxes, like a giant memo panel, with arrows and colors.

But I didn't really stick with it because, well, I'm definitely a pen-and-paper person for that kind of things.

  • Man it's amazing how much computer's changed things. Hand writing a note of only a couple lines makes my hand cramp now and I can crank out 20 pages of typing in no time. I can understand the appeal of hand writing from the stance of being a traditionalist but props to who ever does this for thousands of pages. – ggiaquin16 Aug 30 '17 at 20:15
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    To be honest I'm not going to write thousands of pages by hand only, my hand is aching just at the though of it. 4-5 pages a day is enough to me (and by pages, I'm talking pocket notebook-sized pages, not A4). When my draft is done and I feel ready to type in, I'm coming back to Word, but most of my preliminary work is done by hand. – kikirex Aug 30 '17 at 23:45
  • Being a dyslexic/dyspraxic paper is no good for me. – Matthew Brown aka Lord Matt Sep 2 '17 at 9:57

Keep it simple. I've used Word mostly in the past but for my current novel I'm using Google Docs. It's very handy because I often write on both Windows and Mac laptops, and this way I don't have to worry about having the right software on both machines. If you have an internet connection and a web browser (who doesn't these days), you have the software ready for you.

Also, Google Docs has super easy collaboration features, so you can share a doc with specific people and they can comment on it with suggestions etc. We use Google stuff exclusively at my work and I don't miss Microsoft software at all.

As others have said, the offline functionality for Google Docs does work, and I always download a separate copy each day as a backup to my hard drive.


I would use Grammarly. It has worked for me beautifully and when you install it on your browser it works for almost all of the typing you do. It's free too so you don't have to spend any money unless you get the Premium Version.


Use Microsoft Office Word, that's even available online. Or you can use LibreOffice Writer. And use Grammarly Software for Grammar and Spelling check.


I'm going to go unusual here...

I do a lot of writing in Microsoft OneNote. Although it's designed and marketed as a note-taking application, it handles light word-processing duties extremely well, allowing me to do all my writing directly in the page. It also handles images, links, and notes very smoothly, letting me illustrate and annotate as I go.

It organises data in a nice, natural hierarchy. You have notebooks, which are divided into sections (and section groups, if you wish), which are divided into pages. I tend to have a notebook for each project, then sections for Characters, for Worldbuilding, and for Chapters, then a page for each individual character/worldbuilding element/chapter. These elements can be easily moved around or linked to one another as needed.

It integrates with cloud storage and has apps for mobile devices, so I can keep my novels on a OneDrive site and access them from my home PC, work PC, or tablet just as easily.

From what I've seen of Scrivener, it seems that OneNote and Scrivener are very similar, but I actually find OneNote to be more full-featured and user-friendly than Scrivener.

Best of all, it's free!


If you're on a PC, I'd recommend using Microsoft Word. It offers great functionality, is very versatile, and if you're self-publishing, you can go straight from word to Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing or other publishing platforms to e-books and paperbacks. If you're on a Mac, I'd recommend Vellum, which is a dream to use.

  • Hi April and welcome to Writers! Thanks for the input you have been providing on our site so far but one thing I may ask is try not to necro old posts unless you can provide something of quality different to what is already provided. Not saying you are posting bad answers, just asking you to be aware of this :) Vellum looks amazing but holy cow a 200 dollar price tag. I will need to work more on my writing skills first! – ggiaquin16 Aug 30 '17 at 21:42

The Novel Factory is purpose built novel writing software that includes a step-by-step guide to writing a novel for newbies.

Disclosure - I am the creator of this software.

It has special areas for characters, locations, drafts, etc - and has a load of character development resources.

It's only around $40 for the Windows desktop version, so pretty cheap as software goes.

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    Please clearly disclose any relevant affiliation. – user Aug 30 '17 at 14:09
  • Apologies - comment added. – TheNovelFactory Aug 31 '17 at 8:49
  • I think that's much better. It's generally fine to suggest a product of your own (or your employer) if it is genuinely an answer that meets the OP's needs, as long as you don't do that in every post (or nearly so). Promoting your own product in a majority of your posts, and even more so without disclosing your affiliation, can easily be seen as spamming (even if your intentions are genuinely to simply try to help). See How to not be a spammer in the help center for a longer (and more authoritative) discussion on this. – user Aug 31 '17 at 8:52
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    Many thanks - I definitely don't want to be a spammer, but I would like to be able to mention my product when I think it's genuinely relevant, and these guidelines do seem reasonable and fair. I will read that article now, and make sure I'm more careful. Thanks for your patience. – TheNovelFactory Aug 31 '17 at 9:03

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