The Best Novel Writing Software of 2020
So, you’ve just started writing a novel — which means you’re figuring things out as you go. You probably have a flock of Google Docs to wrangle, you’re always scribbling on napkins, and you have no idea where anything is. Know what you need? Some good ol’ fashioned (well, more like new-fashioned) novel writing software.
Luckily for you, we’ve come up with this list of the best, most affordable pieces of writing software in 2020. All of these will help you stay organized and inspire you to keep writing until the very last page! You can jump to each review using the ToC on your left, but here's a quick rundown of these apps and how much they cost:
- RBE (word processor, formatting, and conversion) — free
- FastPencil (word processor and exporter) — free
- yWriter (word processor and chapter planning) — free
- FocusWriter (writing productivity tool) — free
- Freedom (site blocker and time management tool) — $6.99/month
- Scrivener (word processor and story planning) — $44.99
- Milanote (story planning) — $12.50/month
- NewNovelist (word processor and story planning) — $29.99
- WriteItNow (word processor and chapter planning) — $59.95
- AutoCrit (advanced editing program) —$10/month
Now for the reviews! In the spirit of thriftiness, let's start with your free options.
Reedsy Book Editor
💰 Price tag: Free software!
✅ Features: Format as you write, track changes, export files that are ready for instant distribution, choose between "classic" or "romance" themes
Taking into account the fact that we created the Reedsy Book Editor (RBE), we'll admit this book writing software holds a special place in our hearts. But it's not just ownership pride; we genuinely believe this tool can add a lot of ease and value to the process of writing a book.
Some authors like a software with lots of bells and whistles — tools to help you research, structure, and outline. Other writers prefer completely minimal softwares — free from too many functionalities that mostly distract.
The RBE offers a happy medium between these poles. While it's definitely more than a blank piece of paper, its functions are super user-friendly and geared toward a single goal: creating a beautiful book. Indeed, it's a production tool that typesets as you write, turning your manuscript into a fully-formatted book or ebook that can compete with traditionally published, professionally formatted books.
In the "Writing Mode," you can insert chapter breaks, scene breaks, images, and end notes. You can view previous versions of your manuscript, in case you removed a passage you now want to re-add. When you've completed your book on the RBE (congratulations!), you can export a distribution-ready EPUB, Mobi, or PDF file.
💰 Price tag: Free software!
✅ Features: Easily navigable dashboard, drag-and-drop chapters, collaborative editing, multiple layout preview options, publication setup
FastPencil is essentially Google Docs for the professional (or aspiring) author. This online platform cannot be downloaded and is therefore only usable if you have WiFi. However, its nonexistent price tag more-or-less makes up for the inconvenience of not being able to work on planes, outdoors, or in Green Bank, West Virginia.
FastPencil’s simple, streamlined interface allows users to set up a writing project, invite collaborators, and communicate entirely through the app if they wish. Two people can also upload mutually accessible “Assets” for reference during the writing process, and devise “Tasks” for each other to be completed. Remember PalmPilots and other personal digital assistants? FastPencil is like a 21st-century, writing-oriented version of that.
Once your book is done, you can preview it in various modes, with distinct layout templates for different genres — such as “Business,” “Memoir,” and “Dragon” (designed for YA fiction). These templates are pretty basic, but they'll give you a solid idea of what your published book will look like.
Finally, you can export your manuscript under “Publication Setup.” Keep in mind, though, that this file will download as a ZIP, and you’ll still need to convert it to an EPUB or MOBI before uploading to Amazon and/or other ebook retailers.
💰 Price tag: Free software!
✅ Features: Pares chapters into individual scenes, scene labels for word count and scene status (e.g. complete or incomplete), storyboard that can be viewed by character arc, work schedule tracker
Another great free writing software is yWriter, a Windows-only app that makes your project seem much more manageable by breaking it down into scenes within chapters. This allows you to work on just one scene at a time, rather than a whole block of lengthy chapter text. Plus, the labels at the top of each scene make it much easier to monitor your progress.
The yWriter interface is deceptively rudimentary, with tons of interesting features hiding in its toolbar. Besides the unique scene-by-scene structure, you can also keep track of characters, locations, and items in different tabs. After you’ve written a few chapters, you can look at your Storyboard (under “Tools”) to see how your narrative is developing, and you can even generate a synopsis based on the notes you’ve made for each scene.
yWriter is particularly well-suited for the user who’s determined to keep not just their writing organized, but their work schedule as a whole: it records your daily work and tells you exactly how much you have to write to stay on track. If you’re an erratic writer who struggles to make progress because you lack routine, yWriter may be just the push you need.
💰 Price tag: Free software (you can tip, though)!
✅ Features: A beautiful blank page for you to write your novel
FocusWriter isn’t novel-specific software per se, but it will help you rocket-boost your productivity. And of course, it's completely, permanently free — no limited-time trial, no payment with a warranty, no “premium upgrade” — so you may as well try it out!
This software is exactly what it sounds like: it helps you laser-focus your efforts onto writing, and nothing else. You can still format your novel and check your word count and daily goals via offscreen tools, but the default state is simply a blank page. You can also use full-screen mode so the only thing you see is the page in front of you — just like writing IRL.
For authors who struggle to concentrate on their work more than anything else, FocusWriter is a dream come true. You might also consider combining it with app-blocking software, like the next entry on this list, to achieve maximum productivity.
And that rounds off our section on free writing software! Now let's get into your options for paid programs.
💰 Price tag: $6.99/month or $20/year, free 7-session trial
✅ Features: Website and app blocking, advance block scheduling, customizable block lists and whitelisting, optional “locked mode,” session history, syncing across devices
Writers who procrastinate uncontrollably, get ready for a game-changer: Freedom. This is by far our favorite time management software due to the clean user interface, the thoughtfully designed features, and the crucial fact that it works — unlike that fickle mistress, human willpower.
Freedom allows you to block specific apps, sites, or the entire Web for any amount of time. You can schedule your blocks in advance and sync across all your devices, so you can't have a last-minute, Netflix-based change of heart. And if you're prone to mid-work moments of weakness, simply put Freedom in “locked mode,” which completely prevents you from disabling it until that time is up.
Above all, Freedom is true to its name. It helps you get things done without distractions or stress, so you have more actual free time and less would-be free time that you spend catching up on work.
Yes, it might be a difficult adjustment for someone unaccustomed to any kind of discipline, self-imposed or otherwise — but hey, we're writers. We all need a little tough love sometimes to get us going. In that sense, there's no software more effective than Freedom.
💰 Price tag: $44.99 license fee, free 30-day trial
✅ Features: Corkboard planner with virtual index cards, planning templates, integrated outlining system, customizable full-screen interface, split-screen function, import and export capabilities
Scrivener is one of the most storied (no pun intended) programs and writing websites in use today. It markets itself as a “typewriter, ring-binder, and scrapbook all in one,” and comprises tons of helpful features. But perhaps Scrivener’s biggest benefit is the freedom it enables: with so many sections that you can arrange to your heart’s desire, the program lets you write however works best for you.
With Scrivener, you can do as much or as little planning as you want, so you don’t feel pressured to stay within certain constraints. You can shuffle your notes, outlines, and even chapters around wherever you need. It also has one of the most generous trial periods on offer — you can use it free for 30 days, but they don’t have to be consecutive. (When you do decide to pull the trigger, make sure to apply a discount!)
The only potential catch with Scrivener is that some authors might find it a little too liberating. It doesn’t provide much novel-specific instruction, as some other programs do. But it’s still an excellent organizational tool with a great interface. Whether or not you choose Scrivener just depends on how much guidance you feel you need.
💰 Price tag: $12.50/month or $119.88/year, free basic plan
✅ Features: Easy drag-and-drop interface, flexible notes board, "moodboard" for inspiration, web clipper to save research and inspiration from the Internet
As all authors know, writing isn't always linear, because thinking itself isn't linear. Too often, straight-laced writing apps can't match up to the messy, chaotic, and wonderful way in which writers brainstorm and develop their novels — especially when they're just starting to take shape.
That's where this software comes in! Milanote is an easy-to-use creative writing app that allows you to organize your research, ideas, characters and outline in one place, without being too restrictive. Its flexible visual workspace lets you clearly see the connections between your ideas and characters, create mind maps, and develop moodboards to visualize more abstract aspects of your novel.
In other words, Milanote is ideal for the initial planning stages of your novel. Not to mention it's highly intuitive and easy-to-use, so authors can concentrate on the important stuff — their writing — rather than trying to figure out all the bells and whistles of the app.
💰 Price tag: $29.99 license fee with 30-day warranty
✅ Features: Customized templates for your novel’s genre and story, storyboard “visualizer” and chapter organizer, in-program search engine for research, animated readback, dictation, and textual analytics
This software's greatest strengths are processing and evaluation. You input what your book will be about, and NewNovelist generates a template based on that info. Then once you start writing, NewNovelist analyzes the content for proportional word count and reading level. Indeed, of all the software on this list, NewNovelist probably has the most technically advanced features.
This program also includes the standard lineup of organizational assets you get with most book writing software: outlining, storyboarding, character profiles, etc. But it’s the cool techy stuff that makes it stand out, such as dictation and the built-in search engine. The latter allows you to research as you write without leaving the platform — so that you (hopefully) don’t get too distracted from the task at hand.
Though it may not be as sleek as other programs (mostly due to the sheer abundance of features), NewNovelist is an incredible tool for authors whose first priority is sound literary construction. Interested parties should note that NewNovelist is another Windows-only program, but there are plenty of ways around that.
💰 Price tag: Free demo (doesn’t save your work), $59.95 license fee
✅ Features: Front and back matter sections, chapter outlines, element sheets, wide range of editing tools including readability score and repetition finder
WriteItNow’s no-frills design facilitates that all-too-elusive endeavor for authors: to simply write. Its interface is pretty basic, with a planning toolbar and a sidebar to keep track of the actual writing. But don’t let its minimalism deceive you: WriteItNow also offers a variety of unique resources, especially for editing your novel.
After you’ve written a chapter or two with WriteItNow, not only can you check things like spelling and word count, you can also run editorial “Critiques” via the Editor Tools tab. The program will point out any repetitive phrases, unnecessary “padding” words, and even clichés you might have used — helping you polish your writing in the same way a professional copy editor might.
Another one-of-a-kind feature in WriteItNow is the “Create Idea” function. You can select a character and type of idea — in a maneuver reminiscent of choosing personality traits on The Sims — and the program will spit out creative prompts for you to integrate.
This program may seem a bit on the pricey side, but the license fee does cover both Mac and PC versions of the software. In any case, WriteItNow absolutely lives up to its name in terms of helping writers get their work done, and you can’t put a price on that.
For book formatting software, check out this post on Vellum.
💰 Price tag: $10/month for the “basic” plan, $30/month for “professional,” $80/month for “elite,” or $1 for a two-week trial
✅ Features: Depends on the plan, but “professional” is considered full-use — entails genre filtering, an array of editing options for pacing, dialogue, “strong writing,” word choice, repetition, and direct comparisons to bestselling works
While other pieces of software help you organize, develop, and even self-edit your story, they don’t include the in-depth editorial functions that AutoCrit does. This is the program to use if you already have a decent draft of your novel, or if you’re a micromanaging kind of writer who likes to edit meticulously as you go.
AutoCrit tests your work for all the factors above, and even individual elements within those factors. So for example, after selecting “word choice” as your focus area, AutoCrit then allows you to narrow it down even more: do you want to check for generic-sounding descriptions? Improve your sentence starters? Work on personal phrases? You can achieve all that and more with AutoCrit.
The program also boasts an appealing modern interface, and decent prices considering the range of editing possibilities. Some writers might be reluctant to shell out for an editing program — but those writers probably don't know how hard it is to self-edit. When you think of it that way, AutoCrit is an amazing service: it helps you edit your manuscript with the perspective of a professional, all by yourself.
No novel writing software is actually magic — that is, none of it is going to write your book for you. But with the right tools to lend you some focus, structure, and a dash of inspiration, you might just be able to get ‘er done all by yourself.
Ever tried using writing software? Tell us about it in the comments below!