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 terms of writing software.
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.
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.
While Microsoft and Libre Office offer 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 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 layout, 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 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 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 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 hundreds words is going to be tedious, and probably beyond the purpose of Evernote. Same thing goes for formatting. Evernote is a 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 is less well known than the other software we looked at today, but it boasts a couple of useful and unique features worth mentioning. 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
Paul is the Technical Writer at Lulu, responsible for all the words you see on our site (misspellings included). He also manages the community site – http://connect.lulu.com/en/ – and in his free time, he’s an avid reader and short story writer.