I want to write a short story (and maybe later a book) together with a colleague from work.

Is there an online service which we can use to do this in a convenient way?

Useful features would be (not all necessary):

  • write at the same time and immediately see what the other one is changing
  • see latest updates from the other writer highlighted
  • manage tasks (maybe in a kanban board)
  • manage timelines like upcoming deadlines

Depending on your requirements, something more lightweight like etherpad might fit your needs. It offers basic formatting functionality like headings, bold and italic.

It's very customizable and if you host it yourself you don't have to give your data to any external company.

You can look here for a demo.

  • We'll probably go with hosting etherpad and start with this setup for our short story. :-) – Kaadzia May 28 at 12:17
  • Thanks to all the other really good suggestions! If I could accept more than one answer I would, since I will probably use one of the other suggestions later on. Big Thanks to all of you :-) – Kaadzia May 29 at 6:55

This sounds like Google Docs, perhaps combined with Trello (for the Kanban board and calendar view), would do for you.

It's got live updating -- I don't think it tracks edits by author exactly, so you could agree on a convention -- like my students on one team devised a rule where each of them owned 2 colors. (4 students, so like light blue and dark blue was one, red and pink was another, etc.) Anything NEW they would do in one of their colors. Any EDITS to others' work, they'd do in their edit-color. (They copied original sentence to comments, in case people wanted to compare.) They would comment each paragraph with "ok" if they had no changes. Their teamleader would turn paragraphs BLACK if everyone had said "ok".

Since it's only 2 of you, that part could be simpler.

If you want to stay in Google things, you could fake a KanBan with Google Sheets, just name your columns, and each spreadsheet Cell becomes an Item, which you can move through the process. And then Google Calendar of course also exists for deadlines or blocking out time to write.

But Trello is free to use and lets you link to Gdocs also, so that's probably a better Kanban/Deadline solution.

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    You've beaten me to the answer! +1 to you. – Liquid May 23 at 13:11
  • Google Docs and Trello might be a good combination for us as long as we're working on the short stroy. Thanks. Maybe we'll need to switch to LaTeX and Trello later on when we are really planning on writing a book instead of a short story? I have no experience yet with special layouting software for books (aside from LaTeX) so that's hard for me to judge. Do you have any experience there? – Kaadzia May 24 at 12:17
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    @Kaadza Write wherever you want, at the end of the day it's going to get converted to another format anyway (whether it is because of conversions for ebooks or conversions for print or anything else). The only thing that might help a bit is to always use the paragraph/line style options rather than changing font/text styles directly for a range. – David Mulder May 24 at 14:17
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    As an addendum, Google docs has native support for an edit mode; you can toggle it for yourself (if you have permissions) or you can grant another user only edit permission. In this mode, additions/deletions, etc are shown as green/red text – eques May 24 at 14:53
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    "I don't think it tracks edits by author exactly" -- Google Docs will tell you exactly who wrote what, if you view the doc's history. It also has a "suggest" mode, where it will color what you write (and strikethrough what you try to replace or delete) until someone with edit privileges approves your suggestions. – Brian S May 25 at 12:56

Only tool I can think of would be Google docs.

You can have multiple people writing in a document at the same time and see where their cursor is, there is no color coding on who's typing by default.

You can enter what's called "suggestion mode" where changes you add are not validated immediately but merely appear highlighted to your color, allowing the owner to accept or refuse the change.

For updates, it keeps track of any changes through the document, so any day you can view the history of the doc and it will show you what was changed and by whom.

There is however no task or timeline managing that I can think of.

  • Thanks. I didn't know about the suggestion mode until now. That sounds very handy. – Kaadzia May 24 at 12:18

Another alternative (if you are not afraid to use LaTeX) would be Overleaf. While a learning curve exists you can layout documents beautifully with it.

I come from an engineering background where special characters and formulas are needed on a regular basis. We used Overleaf within our team to work on several parts of our document simultaneously.

Not for simultaneous work on one document, but maybe of interest for you: should you get off the grid for some reason, you can use offline editors like TeXstudio to continue working on your files. Once you get back online, you would still have to carefully merge stuff together, but there won't be many bad surprises in regards to formatting.

EDIT: I missed some of your points, sorry.

You can see where your colleague is working (there is a visible cursor) and who is logged in atm. I do not recall any other highlighting, though.

You can leave comments within the text visible for everyone working on the document - this might offer you the task management functionality without overburdening you with yet another tool.

As for deadlines... I did not notice any tracking functionality in Overleaf. I would personally use Gantt charts to organize myself, including milestones and the like. GanttProject offers everything I need, only used it offline though. But if you put the project files into some secure cloud storage or inside a git repository, it may suit your needs.

EDIT2: As Eric Lino pointed out in the comments, there can only be two people working on the document if you are using the free version (source: pricing list).

  • Using LaTeX is actually a great idea. Since my colleague and I are both software developers we're not afraid of LaTeX at all ;-) ( Used it for my thesis already) With LaTeX we would already have a great base for neat and clean formating. – Kaadzia May 24 at 11:55
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    Overleaf would be my answer ,I'm glad to find another person suggesting it. The only downside is that in the free version there can't be more than 2 people writing in the same document. Other than that, it's very good. You can use basically any LaTeX package (as long as you call it, of course) and see the pdf and the code side by side. SInce you're developers, I don't think you'll use what I'll say next, but you can also write your code in a rich text format, which helps visualization for those not that familiar with programming. – Eric Lino May 24 at 14:41
  • @EricLino Ah, thank you for pointing out the limitation regarding participants. Do you know if Overleaf is missing any packages? – Alexander Mayer May 24 at 15:15
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    @AlexanderMayer I'm not sure, but it has over 4,000 packages, so I'm pretty sure you're covered if you want to write books with it. Unfortunately, Overleaf doesn't specify on his website which packages it uses. I found the following page: pt.overleaf.com/learn/latex/List_of_packages_and_class_files – Eric Lino May 24 at 18:29

Depending what you mean by 'online', there's Gobby


  • Looks like it would satisfy "write at the same time and immediately see what the other one is changing". Do you have experience using gobby for collaborative writing? – Kaadzia May 24 at 12:14

I want to mention Confluence Wiki ( https://www.atlassian.com/software/confluence ) as it supports editing the same Wiki page where you see the cursor of the other Editors as well what they are typing. For less than 10 users the licence is 10$ single payment (which gets donated) - and can be setup on your own server. You could create one Wiki page per chapter for example. - The structure (as on wikis in general) is your choice. There is also a version history to see what changed from version x to y

  • Good idea. Confluence in combination with Jira could actually cover all features we need. Notification when someone mentioned you are also something that might be very handy for us. Thanks! – Kaadzia May 27 at 4:29
  • Confluence also informs the user if you write @Username - so probably you can setup one page with "tasks" and list up the things todo together with "@Username" - so you could probably avoid installing jira for the first time – Wolfgang Jun 4 at 7:53
  • I would have used Jira e.g. for a Backlog and Scrum Board to organize the work ahead of us. – Kaadzia Jun 4 at 8:03

Depending on what you use for writing, you should consider git. With LaTeX it works like a charm, each of you can create his own branch and merge when he finishes a chapter/ paragraph. Git will keep track automatically about who made which changes. And with git diff every change will be highlighted for you.

  • Thanks :-) I discussed that option together with my colleague. I don't think it is a very good fit for our use case. The "see what the other one is writing right at the moment" feature is important to us. (At least as long as we're working on the short story and not the book) GIT would of course be great for merging changes. – Kaadzia May 24 at 12:23

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