Best Writing Apps and Tools of 2018

August 07, 2017 | 6 min read

 


Today’s guest post is by Matt Grant. Matt is a Brooklyn-based writer and editor. His work has appeared in Literary HubBook Riot, HuffPost, and BookBrowse. Find Matt online, or follow him on Twitter and Facebook.


Writing Software that Will Blow Your Mind

As writers, we know that our craft takes time and energy. The last thing we need is to get bogged down in the process itself. Beyond the basic story, we’re often also struggling to keep track of character details, side plots, and random flashes of inspiration for parts of the story we’re not even working on yet. We need a solid place to keep all of this information in one, easily accessible place.

Thankfully, gone are the days where you sat down at a typewriter and wrote everything in one long document. Yet one of the most frustrating things in our technological age is to be plugging away on a work in progress, only to get sidelined by bad or sluggish software.

Below is a list of some of the best planning, writing and editing software available today with amazing features you didn’t know you needed. And the best part is, many of them are free.

Planning:

Scapple

Scapple, by the folks at Literature and Latte, is a basic mind-mapping tool. It’s super simple and easy to use. All you do is make notes and connect them to one another by dragging and dropping them onto one another. Notes can be customized by color and size, although these options are limited. This can actually be a good thing, though, since you can’t waste too much time worrying about making your map look pretty.

Scapple makes brainstorming not only easy, but fun. It’s like having an endless amount of paper at your disposal. Running out of room? No problem, you can easily zoom out of your working area and start a new map or connection in another area.

yWriter – FREE! (Windows Only)

yWriter is a free word processor for Windows PCs. Built by a writer for writers, the program breaks up your novel into scenes or chapters, making it easier for you to keep track of what goes where. You can create character cards and tags, and add a lot of helpful customizable notes to your scenes, such as the time of day it takes place and how long the scene is supposed to last.

Due to its simplicity, I wouldn’t recommend yWriter for writing a full novel, although it has been done. There are much more advanced programs for that. yWriter is better for planning out your story scene by scene. But if you’re on a budget, yWriter will get the job done!

Writing:

Scrivener

I’ve been using Scrivener for several years now, and it’s hands-down the best thing that could have happened to my writing. Scrivener is one of most popular writing tools available today. It’s so much more than just a word processor – it’s a novel-generating machine.

Similar to yWriter, Scrivener allows you to break up your project into different parts, but it’s not just confined to chapters or scenes. You can have a flashback, a brief exchange between characters, or an entire short story in one document. These can be edited separately, allowing you to focus on just one small part of your work, or in “Scrivenings Mode,” which links together a series of scenes, like a whole first act. There are tons of easy-to-use, customizable features like split-screen, a digital note card outliner, a binder, and my personal favorite, compose mode.  

If it all seems overwhelming, you don’t have to use all of the features. With Scrivener, you can find what works for you. It’s also cheap – at less than $50, Scrivener is an absolute steal.

Sprinter – FREE!

If you like “word sprints” – quick, 15-minute bursts of writing – consider giving Sprinter a try. Sprinter is an uncomplicated, distraction-free web-based writing program with a timer. You simply start writing, and the timer on the right side of the page begins its countdown. Need more than 15 minutes? No problem, set the timer for as long as you wish. You can also make a word count goal.

Sprinter is great for brainstorming, flash fiction, writing prompts, and more. If you need to save your work for later, create a Postbox account and sync to Dropbox, Google Drive, and Evernote.

Ulysses (Mac only)

Similar to Scrivener, Ulysses is a customizable writing tool with lots of great features. You can organize your writing by project or subject, attach files, set writing goals, and add links and images to your text with ease. Ulysses utilizes a clear, clean, and beautiful interface. The editor allows you to choose your own colors, outlines, and more.  

One of the greatest benefits of Ulysses is its synchronization capabilities. The program syncs seamlessly with iCloud and works on iOS as well, so you can write anywhere you are, on any device. It also integrates with Dropbox, making it easy to collaborate with others.

iaWriter (Mac and Android only – FREE on Android!)

iaWriter earns its place on this list because it’s a clear and clean plain-text editor with some of the most important features of the others, but at a much lower price. iaWriter might not be as versatile as Ulysses and Scrivener, but it works on the same principles.

One of the coolest features that set iaWriter apart is Focus Mode, which dims everything except the current sentence you’re working on. You’re sure to have better and stronger sentences after using it. Syntax Control makes Focus Mode even better by highlighting your sentence’s grammatical structure. With the latest version of iaWriter, you can even add pictures and tables to content blocks, in case you’re working on something other than a straightforward novel.

Editing:

Hemingway Editor – FREE!

If you haven’t been using this free online editing software that highlights your sentence structure and syntax, you’ve been missing out. Simply copy and paste your text into the Hemingway Editor’s interface, and it will show you what needs to be fixed. Things like overly complex structures, use of passive voice, and readability all become instantly highlighted and color-coded, allowing you to see all problems at a glance.

You can even format your text into headings, subheadings, and add quotes and links. There’s a paid desktop version that works offline as well.

Grammarly – FREE!

Grammarly is a neat little browser extension that does essentially the same thing the Hemingway Editor does, but in real time. It will highlight spelling and grammar errors and suggest fixes. Grammarly also sends weekly emails summarizing your editing stats. You can opt out of if this feature if you wish.

The greatest thing about this free plugin is that it works on most websites and text boxes, including Gmail and social media sites. Use it, and you’ll never accidentally send an unedited tweet again!

When it comes to your writing projects, don’t settle for just a straightforward word processor anymore. With so much technology at your fingertips, there are thousands of writing tools and apps available that can make your writing time more productive and enjoyable than ever. Yet each program is as unique and different as every writer. Remember that not every program is going to fit your particular needs and style.

If you’re spending money, take time to choose a program that will work for you. Most of these programs offer trial versions, so spend time learning them and working out their features before you pay. Just don’t take too long – your work in progress still needs your attention as well!

What writing software do you swear by? Do you have any programs that you love and would recommend to others? Let us know in the comments!

 


Matt GrantMatt Grant loves to write about writing, business, and all forms of popular culture – books, film, and television. Matt started writing DVD reviews for Pop Matters in 2012, and in 2016, he followed through on a life-long dream by launching a part-time writing business at www.mattgrantwriter.com. Since then, Matt’s work has appeared in Literary HubBook Riot, HuffPost, and BookBrowse, and he has several ongoing clientsHis first personal essay, Swimming Lessons, is being published in LongReads at the end of August. Matt is also currently hard at work on his first novel, a comedic take on fantasy tropes for young adults. When not writing or reading, Matt works in youth development as an after-school program director for one of the largest middle schools in Manhattan. Matt lives in Brooklyn with his wife, Katelyn. You can find him online at www.mattgrantwriter.com, on Twitter @mattgrantwriter, and on Facebook @mattgrantwriter

 

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There’s an age-old debate about the superior version of a story: Is it the book or the movie? Most readers and far too many writers will default to the idea that “the book was better.”

But was it? Was it really?

May 20, 2024 9 min read


Talking to Alex Kazemi doesn’t feel like talking to the guy who wrote 2023’s “most dangerous book of the year,” a book Ellen Hopkins calls “raucous, raunchy, and sure to offend.” And it certainly doesn’t feel like talking to Bret Easton Ellis’s “favorite millennial provocateur.”

It feels like talking to a friend I haven’t caught up with in a while. And my friends just aren’t that cool.


We’re chatting because Kazemi lives a ruthlessly offline lifestyle, a philosophy at the core of Freewrite and which Kazemi sees as necessary to being the best artist he can be. Having garnered a book deal at the tender age of 18, he knows a thing or two about life as an artist.

Kazemi released his first book, Pop Magick, an occult book about how to manifest, in 2020. “Madonna helped me launch that,” he says, casually mentioning one of the biggest pop stars of the twentieth century. “So, yeah, that was insane.”

But it wasn’t until the release of his first novel, New Millennium Boyz, nearly a decade in the making, that things got truly wild.

Kazemi’s unflinching look at Y2K culture and teenage boyhood reads like a horrifying screenplay — or the transcript of a violent AIM conversation between bored, lonely teenagers. Even before publication, the book faced criticism calling it dangerous, prompting the publisher to splash a content warning across the front matter, to Kazemi's extreme annoyance. Conservative American moms later flagged it for book bans, leaving the Canadian author baffled.

Was an honest look at the 90s and early ’aughts really worth all that uproar?

We sat down with Kazemi to discuss the driving force behind his portrayal of this often-glamorized time period, why he felt compelled to present this reality to modern audiences, and how in the world he lives an offline lifestyle in the year 2024.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

 

 Mirror selfies without a smartphone

ANNIE COSBY: First things first. Are you a millennial?

ALEX KAZEMI: Yes. I was born in 1994, which means I’m on the cusp. I do not identify with any Zoomer qualities or tendencies at all.

COSBY: In general cultural discourse, millennials tend to get a bad rap – very infantilizing, even though some of us are 40. What's your take?

KAZEMI: I think it's pretty insane because we were dealt a really bad card, with the recession, jobs being lost, the digital age booming… Many of us still have memories of going to Blockbuster and, you know, AOL chat rooms and the early web. But then we watched everything go chronically online and digital through the 2010s. We watched technology and the information age replace a lot of skillsets. So we became a weird bunch, for sure.


COSBY: I do find it interesting that people glamorize that period specifically because it was the beginning of everything being online — so everybody's mistakes and drunken pictures are out there.

KAZEMI: Right? And we did it willingly.

COSBY: Oh God, the things I said to strange men in chat rooms.

KAZEMI: Me as well. And it’s so, so dark, because the internet has always been and will always be, even as we're adults and growing older, a mirror of our subconscious vomit. The frequencies we vibrated to when we were coming of age were more about exploration, and that's why there was so much stranger danger. There were so many scary scenarios that kids could get themselves into with the early web because of how unregulated it was, as well.

COSBY: Would you say New Millennium Boyz is a defense of the way we Millennials are? Or is it a commentary on how misremembered that era is?

KAZEMI: It's definitely a commentary. And it's supposed to be historical fiction, educating younger folks and also older generations about how, you know, this beautiful picture that you see of Rachael Leigh Cook from She's All That on TikTok? There was actually a lot of darkness and chaos going around, especially when it comes to very normalized racism, misogyny, and homophobia.

 

 

I find it very ironic that this new generation that is so fixated on social justice and evolution and freedom would fetishize the aesthetics of an era of true debauchery and chaos and cruelty — like really — which was mirrored in the art in that period. Look at 2000s teen movies! I just wanted to write a satire of that extreme teen genre, like Catherine Hardwicke's Thirteen, Larry Clark's Bully, Spring Breakers...

My second motivation was to really look at boy culture in the post-Columbine era and how this was very much a prescient, predictive time of where we would end up with the alt-right and 4chan and “incels,” and how it's all connected.

And then of course exploring the romanticized aspect of Y2K — going to the mall, people wearing Marilyn Manson shirts, and the aesthetic obsession with it. I wanted to create the book I wanted to see in the world that I didn't feel existed yet.

COSBY: I’ve heard you talk about the misogyny of the “teen girls are bitches” trope. It's like, have you met boys? Have you been a teen boy talking to other teen boys?

KAZEMI: Oh, they're the biggest bitches. They're so cruel. You see the “mean girls” trope in tons of movies, like Jawbreaker, but it’s so strange how we don't ever look at the cruelty teenage boys face. And not just the cruelty but also the misguidedness and the culture that feeds that.

Especially in the 90s and 2000s, boys were so encouraged to be testosterone-driven and hyper-masculine. Woodstock 99 was such a great example of the chaos of too much of something – and it’s being talked about now because of the documentary.

COSBY: New Millennium Boyz really explores this violence inherent to 90s culture for boys, and because of that, it got a content warning, right?

KAZEMI: Yes. During the final cuts of the book, when we were in edits and copy edits, I got the call from my publisher that “So-and-So is not going to stock it without a content warning because they're really worried about how teenagers are going to react to the work and if they're going to reenact the behavior.”

And I was like, this is a cultural critique. It's not anything to be glamorized. I think anyone who reads it would understand that.

COSBY: Do you think we as humans always look back on past time periods with rose-colored glasses, or is there something special about Y2K?

KAZEMI: There's something really freaky about what we're doing with the 90s and 2000s. I don't think we've ever before been in a place, as humans, where corporations like Meta and TikTok can just algorithmically feed into us all the time.

A teenager in the 90s could fetishize the 70s or the 60s, but they could close the book when it was done or finish the movie and turn off the TV. But with Gen Z, and every generation now, we're just inundated every day with memes, photos, videos, and other people’s thoughts.

And I guess this 90s nostalgia is partly because it represents familiarity for people of a certain age, but even for the people who didn't live during that time, it seems to represent a kind of order, a sense of quietness — “Oh, 90210 is on at 9 p.m. and that's all there is.” No choices to make. There weren’t one billion options like kids today have.

COSBY: So you think people are viewing that period as a time of simplicity and unplugging, which we’re all kind of yearning for now?

KAZEMI: Yeah, and you certainly could unplug then, but you can unplug today, too — we're just brainwashed into thinking that we have no choice, that we have no free will. But it's totally not true. You could simulate Y2K if you wanted to! You just have to set a lot of boundaries.

COSBY: Like writing on a Freewrite.

KAZEMI: Yes! That’s why I write offline. Over the years, I’ve had different cool ways to do that. For a lot of my teenage years, I wrote in Apple Notes. Then, I ordered a BlackBerry off eBay and used it as a word processor for a while. I have a dead AlphaSmart here — rest in peace.

I feel like what's so crazy about Freewrite is a lot of people don't know that these products exist, which is a problem.

COSBY: It's also super polarizing. Without even trying it, some people are like, “What is this hipster thing?” Meanwhile, we get so many messages from new users saying, “What is this magic? I'm actually writing for the first time in years!” It's really interesting to see people's reactions. Tech is such a weirdly touchy subject.

KAZEMI: And a Freewrite is way better than a typewriter. I'm not fucking doing the ribbon, there's no time for that.

COSBY: Some people do though, right? Aren’t you friends with Matty Healy?

KAZEMI: Yes, yes. I told him about Freewrite. I love his songwriting. I love the 1975's lyrics. I love him as a literary mind.

COSBY: Alex. [heavy pause] Is he the one being referenced in the song?

KAZEMI: [rolls eyes] Honestly, I'm not really interested in all the gossip. I don't think great artists should be reduced to that.

COSBY: OK, that's fair. I think they're both great storytellers, too. And it would be so hard to live a creative life under that kind of microscope. On that note, your offline approach to life goes beyond writing, right? How does that work?

KAZEMI: Well, it definitely includes a lot of conscious boundaries that annoy a lot of people.

I’ve had a flip phone for a few years now, and I have a landline. When it comes to the internet and iMessage and emails, I try to do regulated “office hours” of screen time.

It's a very privileged position to be in, because a lot of people have to be on call all the time for work. But being disconnected definitely gives me more time for my mind to be free and creative and to write more.

COSBY: And this annoys people?

KAZEMI: Yeah, it drives everyone insane. It's a huge boundary I put in my life. People have to go through loopholes to contact me. But it's the only way that I can have a life as an artist and as a writer.

All of this technology can be a tool. There's nothing inherently bad with the tools that exist on the Internet. It's just the compulsivity and the addictive mentality we have with it that creates this chaos for us as writers and artists.

COSBY: You've mentioned being on Tumblr before, back in the day — are you on social media now?

KAZEMI: No, I'm not. Sometimes I have to look at it on friends' phones to get a person's email or something like that, but no, I don't have social media. It's so scary, the pressure of having to perform or turn my most personally valuable things into currency — to monetize it. It just feels weird. I'm not into it. I'm not into it.

And when you're online so much, you're like, “I don't have to be doing this. Why am I doing this?” That's where that punishing feeling of addiction comes in. A lot of us, when we are in those spirals, we don't even really even want to be there. There isn't a sense of agency or control.

It's a loss of control.

And I think that submission of when you are looking at other people's work, what they’re doing, and you're scrolling, scrolling, it just creates a huge sense of inadequacy and darkness.

COSBY: It's interesting to me because time goes so much faster when I’m scrolling — and I feel the same way when I get really into something I'm writing.

KAZEMI: Like a flow state.

COSBY: Exactly! It’s complete absorption. But scrolling doesn’t make me feel good after, the way creating does.

KAZEMI: It’s like a black market, counterfeit flow state. A heroin flow state.


So I guess the question is: How can we induce positive, offline flow states?

COSBY: Isn't that the question. How do you do it?

KAZEMI: I find that just setting boundaries is so important. You have free will over your boundaries. This idea that we have no sense of agency and have to give all of our energy and life force to these corporations zapping us is just so crazy and unfair.

But when you bring up these things to certain people, they can't even fathom living without their online habits.

COSBY: Yeah, it has to be a conscious choice.

KAZEMI: You have to ask yourself:

"OK, am I going to just sublimate myself to be a consumer of everyone else's content? Or am I going to be a creator and produce?”

COSBY: Most of us know which one we want to be.

KAZEMI: You have to know which one you want to be.

COSBY: Any last words for the creators out there?

KAZEMI: For creators and artists and writers who are overwhelmed by information overload and the prospect of putting your work out there, just know there is an audience for your work. Just stay focused and don't be discouraged. You’ll find your place in the weird world.

--

Annie Cosby is the Marketing Manager at Freewrite, a former fiction editor, and the author of seven books — and counting. Her work deals with Celtic mythology and has twice won the YA Indie Author Project in Missouri. See what she's writing on Freewrite.

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