Software listings (below the new reviews) are provided with ratings (from 1 to 4 stars) and arranged by category to help you find what you want faster and easier. Keep in mind that we only list the best programs we find to start with, so even one star means it’s pretty good!
In our section especially for Mac users, we’ve added ratings and more information, as well as some new programs. One of our readers, Hans Albanese, has kindly donated his time to test out and rate programs in this section. You can visit Hans’ webpage if you’d like more information. Many thanks for this valuable contribution!
Programs within each section are listed alphabetically.
Scrivener Stars: 4
Scrivener is probably best described as a project management tool. It allows writers to organize the reams of information and ideas that are part of any large writing project, whether it is a novel, screenplay, short story, or something else entirely. The fragments of ideas, the scrawled notes on post-its and napkins, the endless media files of inspiration…Scrivener gives you a place to put them all so that you can get down to the real work: writing.
Scrivener was created by a writer, and arguably offers the most comprehensive set of writing tools available in software. It offers a unique organizational style that allows writers access to multiple documents in multiple formats in the same window. No more opening up a media player, photo editor, and word processor and juggling them on your screen. Everything is organized inside the project Binder, which saves any changes as soon as they are made, an excellent tool for the chronic reorganizer. Particularly of note is the Cork Board, which makes it easy to see exactly what you have and what you need. It’s great for growing small ideas or structuring large ones.
A function that I find particularly useful is the highlighter. Different highlighter colours are set to mean different things (Rewrite, Check Against Outline, Good) when going through a first draft. Then you can search for those highlights by colour and tackle those tasks as the mood strikes.
Bonus for procrastinators: Scrivener has a Full Screen function which blocks out everything except the window you’re working in, removing distractions like chat messages and leaving you to work in blissful peace.
Once your project is completed in Scrivener, you will still need to export it to a word processor for final formating, so it’s not a replacement for a general word processor. However, the export feature is easy to use and can export to a variety of programs and formats.
Scrivener is available only for Mac, with no plans for a Windows release, so PC users are out of luck. The authors do give some suggestions for similar, Windows-compatible programs, though. They offer a free thirty day trial of Scrivener to those who just want to experiment, after which it is available as to purchase for $39.99. This includes a “generous household license” which allows multiple installations in the same household. With an affordable price tag and well thought-out tools, Scrivener is a seriously useful program for writers. I even wrote this review on it.
Updated: Windows users, your luck has changed. Visit http://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivenerforwindows/ for the details!
About the Reviewer Stephanie Snow lives, writes and knits in Nova Scotia with her husband and three giant cats. She blogs whenever she remembers at http://chanceofflurries.wordpress.com/
OS: Mac OS 10.4 (Tiger) or above.
Cost: $45 USD (Download only)
Limitations: 30 day non-consecutive trial.
Writer’s Cafe 2 Stars: 4
Writer’s Cafe is a software bundle that includes several components to make the writer’s life easier and more productive. Notable among these is the StoryLines structuring tool that uses an “index card” approach to organizing story scenes, characters, and story information. The drag-and-drop method of structuring and re-structuring makes this a very versatile item in the writer’s toolbox. Other software components include a journal, notebook, scrapbook (for storing and arranging ideas and information), thesaurus, “magnetic” poetry, writing prompts, a timer, and a collection of inspiring quotations about writing. Time has evidently been taken to make this into a truly helpful writer’s desktop environment.
The scrapbook feature is a very useful feature, allowing the user to save various types of information such as text, images, weblinks and collages. The journal and notebook have customizable backgrounds and font settings, and many other features of the programs can also be customized to the user’s preferences.
Writer’s Cafe includes a friendly and helpful “Getting Started” guide (in .pdf format that can be printed out for reference) as well as a brief walkthrough-type tour at the start of the program. Some features of Writer’s Cafe are limited in the demo version, but it is fully functional and capable of being evaluated before purchasing.
This many-faceted software bundle is priced at $40 USD to download, and $46 USD on CD-ROM. A student version is also available, at a cost of $30 USD. With so many features in one software bundle, this is great value for your money. One very nice feature is that one registered version of Writer’s Cafe may be installed on multiple computers, for instance home and work. The creators go so far as to say, “In fact we’d very much encourage you to install Writer’s Café wherever you can take a few minutes to do some writing.” Now that’s an attitude that’s geared for writers.
reviewed by Sherry
OS: Windows® 95/98/NT/ME/2000/XP/Vista/7; i386 Linux with GTK+ 1.x installed and libc 2.2.9 or greater; Mac OS X
Demo Download: 16.4 mb
Limitations: Some features limited; no time limitations
Liquid Story Binder Stars: 3
Liquid Story Binder is a word processor designed with writers in mind. The split-screen view features editing space in the right-hand pane, while the left pane offers a list of chapters, so that you can easily move between sections of your work and keep an overall view of the story in mind. It offers numerous other features such as an easy formatting command, one-touch thesaurus panel, compatibility with dictionary programs such as Word Web, and integrated notes, images, and checklists. This is a definite bonus considering how much related material we often use in the process of creating a novel. This program allows you to round it up and keep it all together, easily accessible while you’re working.
The help file and information to get you started is thorough, well-organized, and easy to find. The only thing I found somewhat counter-intuitive was the lack of a double-click feature for opening chapters from the left-hand pane; they’re opened by selecting with the mouse and pressing enter. Considering the almost universal use of the double-click feature in today’s software, this departure surprised me, and it would take some getting used to.
On the whole I think this is a very useful program for anyone not too attached to their current word processor. If you’re willing to accept a bit of a learning curve, Liquid Story Binder has a wide range of features and has certainly been geared to work for the writer and to make the writing life easier. And at $28.00 USD, it’s a bargain compared to most mainstream WP’s. The demo features a 14-day non-consecutive trail period, so it’s definitely worth downloading to see if it fits your style of working.
reviewed by Sherry
OS: Windows® 95/98/NT/ME/2000/XP/Vista/7
Cost: $28.00 USD
Download: 2.7 mb
Limitations: 14-day trial, non-consecutive
Ablemind Stars: 2
Ablemind is a streaming idea generator, aimed at businesses but very applicable to writing! Words appear in random groups of three, hopefully triggering an association or a creative idea.
OS: Windows 95/98
Cost: $7.95 USD
Limitations: Scaled-down word list in demo
Musings© Stars: 4
Musings is an excellent tip-of-the-day type program offering inspirational writing quotes and creative writing exercises. Very well reviewed by several shareware sites.
OS: Windows 95, 98, or NT
Limitations: Free registration required to unlock entire program.
WordWeb 3.03 Stars: 3
This is a dictionary and thesaurus program that works in conjunction with almost any Windows program and provides definitions, synonyms, and related words. Simply highlight a word in any open program and click the WordWeb icon in the taskbar, and the results are displayed. Alternatively, the program can be opened and a word typed in manually for lookup.
OS: Windows 95/98/2000/NT/Me/XP
Cost: Free; Pro version $19.00 USD
Download: 5.94 mb
Limitations: Free version is fully functional but with smaller word database and fewer features
Letter Chase Typing Tutor Stars: 4
Does your typing slow down your writing? This excellent typing tutor by David Ray has an easy interface and lessons ranging from beginner to advanced. Learn touch typing or brush up your skills.
OS: Windows 95, 98, or NT
Cost: $19.40 USD
Limitations: 30-day trial
Write Express Rhymer & Phonetic Finder
A useful tool for poets. Supports various types of rhymes. Phonetic finder provides phonetic information for words you provide. Available in 16 and 32-bit versions.
OS: Windows 3.x and up
Cost: $29.95 USD
Limitations: Demo version contains words from A-D only.
Evernote Stars: 4
This could be the only organizing program you need. Free and flexible, for keeping notes, lists, pictures, web pages–and stored “in the cloud” so you can access it from anywhere.
Cinergy Script Editor Stars: 4
This is a free, full-featured script editor, and a completely functional application. It is not limited by trial times or disabled or limited in any way. The program features automatic formatting for character names, action, dialog and other elements while you write, and adheres to industry standards for formatting and pagination. The script editor is fully compatible with other Cinergy production and management programs, and the makers also offer technical support.
OS: Windows 98SE/Me/2000/XP, 233 MHz Pentium or higher, 10-30MB of available hard disk space, Internet access for online updates. Minimum system RAM: 32MB
Macintosh G3, G4 or G5 with Virtual PC. Pure Macintosh Version (not yet released) will require OS X
Download: 15 mb
WriteItNow 4 Stars: 3
WriteItNow 4 is an excellent all-in-one program for planning and writing short stories and entire novels, and is versatile enough to use with non-fiction projects as well. It features numerous tools to help the author keep notes, data, background and manuscript together in a neat and easily accessible format during all stages of the writing process.
OS: Windows, Mac OS X
Limitations: Must register to be able to save stories
Writer’s Deskbook© Stars: 4
Writer’s Deskbook is a versatile writer’s tool for storing, organizing, and combining notes and ideas. Instead of easy-to-lose and easy-to-forget scraps of paper, or countless unrelated computer files, the Deskbook holds all the writer’s random jottings and ideas in a convenient and workable format, where they can be organized into a coherent story plan when the time is right.
OS: Windows 95, 98, Vista, 7
Cost: $14.95 USD
Limitations: Full program demo runs for 45 days or 60 uses.
Writer’s Toolbox Stars: 3
Writer’s Toolbox helps you to develop stories, scenes, and characters. It is designed for the novelist, screenwriter, and short story writer. It features context sensitive help and the ability to print all your work.
OS: Windows 95, 98, ME
Cost: $25 USD
Limitations: Full demo allows only four stories, scenes, & characters.
For Mac Users
Manuscript Stars: 4
This is a word processor for the creative writer lets you write and manage a hierarchy of notes, write in the margins separately from the text, and view the text by individual chapter or as a whole. The program is a little hard to learn but very worth trying.
On par with Z-write, Manuscript is great for those who want to keep their notes in the same place as the text or want to be able to put notes in the margin of their document. Z-write is good for writers who want a word processor with the ability to organize text by chapters. Both are great Macintosh writing programs; my advice is to choose according to your preferences.
OS: Mac OSX 10.2
Cost: $25.00 USD
Download: 328K stuffit archive
Limitations: Un-registered copies of Manuscript are fully functional but are limited to 5000 words
Excalibur Stars: 3
Excalibur is a free mac spell checker for checking files. It says that it is a “Latex” spell checker, but if Latex parsing is turned off in the preferences, it can be used with any program.
OS: v4.0: Mac OS 8.6 or higher and Mac OS X compatible
Nisus Write Stars: 3.5
Nisus Write word processor is available in two free versions, a light one (Nisus Compact) for powerbooks and Nisus 4 for others).
OS: almost any Mac system
Grammarian Stars: 3
Grammarian is an interactive grammar checker that works with text-based applications such as ClarisWorks 4.0, FrameMaker, CopyPaste, BBEdit 4.5, Microsoft PowerPoint, Microsoft Works 4.0, Microsoft Excel, and Macromedia FreeHand 8.0. Grammarian can check your grammar while you type or batch-check and perform statistical analyses on your entire document in a single pass. This version addresses minor problems recognizing older Grammarian 2 files, fixes bugs, and adds some enhancements. Grammarian contains a limited number of writing styles, and its writing rules are unchangable. The same company offers a spell checker which functions in a similar fashion.
Cost: $19.95 USD
Limitations: Demo is a 21-day trial.
Z-Write is a unique word processor designed for creative writers. In the process of writing a story, writers tend to create dozens or even hundreds of pages of notes, character bios, rewrites, reminders, and bits of research info… Z-Write makes it easier to find and keep track of a huge amount of divergent material. Best of all, everything’s preserved in a single, compact file!
OS: Mac OS & Mac OSX
Cost: $20 USD
Limitations: 30-day full demo
Comments: “I actually ended up buying this. It really is a great program.” – H.A.
Post a comment
You must be logged in to post a comment.