the Writing Toolbox

WritersToolbox Email Microsoft Word

We’ve come a long way from pen and paper. A long way. In fact, with modern technology, we have more options for writing than any one person can easily process. With this excess of choice, it’s wise to take some time to consider the different tools available to you and make informed decisions about how to spend your writing budget.

Today, we’ll look over a few of the ‘standards’ in writing software.

MS Word Logo

Microsoft Word

MS Word is one of the most accepted and versatile writing tools in the world. Despite Word’s perfectly adequate word processing, it is the tool you’ll want primarily after you’ve written. Word, at its core, is a formatting and layout tool.

Because the word processing is relatively easy, many writers will use Word exclusively as their writing tool. And for most this will be just fine. But for some, the tools and style controls will be cumbersome, and the sheer volume of options overwhelming. For the writer who demands a simple, versatile writing tool focused on just getting the text typed up, Word may be too much.

The best way to use Microsoft Word is as an editing and design tool. You can take a completed manuscript and give it the final touches it needs prior to publishing, as well as export a PDF in a variety of formats to accommodate your printing needs.

It is also worth noting that Word, as part of the Microsoft Office Suite, is one of the more expensive writing tools on the market. Thanks to all the editing and design tools built in, along with the utility of the entire Office Suite, Microsoft’s product is important for any serious writer and is generally considered the standard for word processing tools.

Libre Office Open Access office suite

Libre Office

A free, what you see is what you get, Microsoft Office replacement. Libre Office offers much the same functionality as Microsoft. For those who want the editing and design power of Word without the price tag, you’ll get that same functionality with Libre Office. The controls and navigation will differ so a user familiar with MS Word may be put off by the learning curve when using Libre Office’s word processor. If you’re very comfortable with Word, the transition to Libre Office may be jarring. But as a completely free to use, open source alternative, Libre Office is a powerful tool.

Another difference to note is that Libre, being free and open source, doesn’t have any dedicated support in the way MS Word or other commercial software d0es. If a problem arises, you’ll have a fairly thorough wiki page and a community forum to rely on, but nothing more.

Scrivener writing software


While Microsoft and Libre Office offers tools for writing alongside layout and design, Scrivener is a writing-focused tool with a multitude of functions to assist in the creation process. This includes a storyboard layout, utilizing a ‘Binder’ to contain all elements in one easily navigable location. Focused Mode puts all other tabs and programs in the background, allowing you to avoid distraction while writing.

Scrivener is a complete writing tool, though it should not be relied upon for formatting or layout details. Many common features (page sizing, margins, font control) are present and allow you to play with some of the layouts, but the real power of Scrivener is in organizing your ideas and generating the initial content. The utility Scrivener offers, coupled with the clean, no-nonsense writer will appeal to writers of all sorts.

As an added benefit, the software stores your files through a Dropbox link, meaning you can work on your content across multiple machines, and even with an iOS app on your iPhone or iPad. What Scrivener lacks in versatility, it makes up for in utility.

Sigil WYSIWYG Ebook editor


Sigil is a unique program designed specifically for working with EPUB files. It is also a fully functioning word processor and if you plan to release your book primarily as an EPUB, the option is there to work solely in Sigil.

For most writers, I would not recommend using Sigil as your Word Processor. The tool will be too foreign, and the output can only be an EPUB file, so working in Sigil alone will not produce anything appropriate for print ready use.

But, for a more advanced user interested in fine-tuning a book for EPUB use, Sigil is a powerful, easy to use tool with all the options you’ll need to create a high-quality EPUB. Unfortunately, Sigil does not have an option to import a text file from other word processing tools like Word or Libre Office, but the text can be copied into Sigil. More often than not, users will find Sigil most beneficial for editing and fine-tuning an existing EPUB file.

If you are planning to only create an ebook (no print files necessary), you might find Sigil a nice tool for writing and editing, as the simplified text tools will limit you to only the options an EPUB can support. And once you’ve completed your ebook, Sigil can be used to generate the necessary metadata and table of contents for your work.

Evernote note taking software logo


Evernote is a handy note-taking and organizational tool. You probably won’t be composing a complete piece within Evernote, but you can easily write on the go and export to standard file types. You’ll have the security of cloud storage so your Evernote files will be secure and accessible.

The real power of Evernote is in its versatility. If you are already an Evernote user, you’ll know how handy it can be to have an App capable of organizing your calendar, holding your notes, reminding you to go to the grocery store after work, and so much more. Evernote is a one-stop, cross-platform, multi-purpose productivity tool.

With an array of features, Evernote is really a very powerful tool to have available. But it is not the best when it comes to being a useful writing program. Yes, it’s helpful for catching notes on the run (using mobile) and syncing to your devices. Organizing and writing up anything more than a few hundred words is going to be tedious, and probably beyond the purpose of Evernote. The same thing goes for formatting. Evernote is not a formatting tool.

The bottom line? Evernote is a great tool for note taking and organizing, but not ideal for layout or story boarding.

FocusWriter writing software logo


FocusWriter is less well known than the other software we looked at today, but it boasts a couple of useful and unique features worth mentioning. With FocusWriter, like Scrivener, stores your files in the cloud, allowing for easy cross-platform use and the security of knowing your files are safe. FocusWriter also features a focus mode like Scrivener, allowing you to push all other functions on your device to the background and focus on just writing.

The biggest upside of FocusWriter is that it is a free text editor and word processor. You can download the tool and begin writing immediately without paying a cent. Formatting and design will need to be handled elsewhere, but for a cost-effective, clean, and efficient first draft tool, FocusWriter is well worth a look.

These are just a handful of the more commonly used word processing tools out there. For a more in-depth look at some of these programs, check out our complete series:

Writer’s Toolbox: Microsoft Word
Writer’s Toolbox: Scrivener
Writer’s Toolbox: Evernote


11 thoughts on “the Writing Toolbox”

  1. The book I will write comes from the experience when The Lord Jesus reached down and touched me. I was not a nice person. I ran and walked with the devil and his demons. But you know what, I did not know what I was doing. I thought I was good to go. Because I knew about The Lord, but I was not living it. Some people may not believe what happened to me and what I went through. It is the truth because I would run when anybody said the name of Jesus. I’ll say one thing The Lord opened the dark door, so I could see what was all around us.When I complete this book, then you will know because Jesus loves you and He will come soon. I am a 1969 draftee at 19 teen V/N, Korean DMZ Combat soldier, retired law enforcement 27 yrs. You got to say if he was not following Jesus then it must have been a Hell of a RIDE. I will tell you things that will curl your toes. If you do not believe in The Lord Jesus, but one of the others, sorry take some ice and water with you.

  2. Richard Watson

    Firstly thank you for this. As a technical writer the aspects I see as not being covered in the above is the ability to handle tables, calulations, and diagrams. For example, Word enables you to draw diagrams but they are very unstable from version to version, and even between to copies of the same version if set up differently. I would therefore for drawing or editing diagrams to be used in Word recommend drawing/re-editing in say PowerPoint and then creating an Enhanced Metafile of the diagram and inserting that into Word as a picture.

  3. Hi Richard,
    Great point!
    Objects like tables and diagrams are a bit more advanced than I planned to touch on with this piece, but they are non-the-less an important part of file creation.
    In my experience with self-publishing, I have found most authors using alternative tools to build their tables and diagrams, then inserting those elements as a fixed image into Word, or directly into their PDF.
    Still, your point is valid and may warrant a detailed post about how to use those elements in Word. Thanks for sharing!

  4. A quick note on Scrivener. While the comment about formatting is correct, and a deliberate part of the Scrivener model, it applies primarily to print layouts. Scrivener formats a very nice ePub and Kindle ebook that can be directly uploaded to retailers, including Amazon. Then you export the text to a word processor for print formatting.

  5. Over the years, I’ve used several different word processors: e.g., Microsoft Word, Open Office, Scrivener, PageFour, et al., all good in their own way. But for first drafts, I usually employ the basic no-distraction simplicity of RoughDraft (an rtf app), Q10 or WriteMonkey (both txt apps), then do the formatting and layout afterward with Word.

  6. Word is a reasonable tool for composition and Scrivener is great for keeping one organized during the writing process. However, not mentioned is the even more expensive Adobe InDesign (successor to PageMaker) that I use when I wand careful control of page layout before generating PDFs for Lulu.

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