The 21 Best Writing Tools of 2020: A Guide for Writers
Before the computer there was the typewriter, and before the typewriter there was pen and paper, and before pen and paper there were plenty of other lost tools of writing — like clay, papyrus, wood, slate, parchment, and, of course, pens made out of reeds. (Fun fact: the name “Reedsy” is inspired by the “reed pen,” which was used as early as 800 B.C. for documentation).
As you can tell by now, the act of writing has been a part of human culture from the days of chiseling stories onto the walls of caves — and as we have evolved, so have our writing tools. In fact, today’s writers and storytellers are spoiled for choice when it comes to deciding which tools to use.
The following list details our favorite writing tools and resources for taking any idea through to its written conclusion.
We all know Google Docs and Microsoft Word, so we’re not going to waste your time giving those two a run-down in our list. Below are four other word processors you might not know about, and that are worth checking out.
1. Reedsy Book Editor
Does “fake it ‘til you make it” ring true to you? Well, the Reedsy Book Editor is a free, online word processor that formats your book as you write. See your drafts automatically turn into a professional-looking, ready-to-publish manuscript — and allow this glimpse of your work as the final product spur your motivation to write.
One of the Reedsy Book Editor’s best functions is that it lets you instantly typeset your manuscript to EPUB and print-ready PDF files.
Check it out if: if you want a writing tool that takes care of formatting and conversion for you.
Do you like a helpful tap on the shoulder, reminding you about something you need to do? Well, you’ll likely enjoy Draft then, because the online word processor not only keeps track of how many words you write per day, it can also email you daily reminders about your daily word count goals. (Of course, if this sounds a little too “hands-on” for you, you can always turn the reminder function off).
Other than that, Draft functions a lot like Google Docs: allowing you to track changes, collaborate via suggested edits, and make comments on the doc.
Check it out if: you like Google Docs, but want an even simpler interface.
Yes, we did say that we wouldn’t mention Microsoft Word, because by now everyone knows that it’s a useful writing tool. But we didn’t say we wouldn’t mention its free counterpart: LibreOffice.
LibreOffice is the open source answer for people who want to try Microsoft without paying the price tag. (Open source means that the software is built on code that anyone can inspect and enhance). Plus it’s compatible with all of the regular file types people are used to, such as .doc, .docx, .xls, .xlsx, .ppt, and .pptx files.
Check it out if: you like a classic word processor — and moreover, a free one.
Cost: $50 (or try a 30-day free trial)
The people behind Mellel don’t just know word processing — they also know catchy, memorable marketing. Their description of why writers should choose Mellel starts like this: “Mellel is a writer's dream come true. To start, it is exceedingly boring: it just works, day in and day out, reliably. An enormous number of people used Mellel to write and they all report that their journey with Mellel was boring and uneventful. As well it should. In other words, it does all the mundane bits, and leaves the creative stuff to you.”
Mellel is not free (and note that it’s only for Mac). In return for the price tag, you’ll get more book-specific tools than other, perhaps more traditional word processors — such as outlining and bibliography-making functions. And, judging by the witty, funny copy on Mellel’s website, Mellel makes the process of writing much more fun than they let on.
Check it out if: you’re a Mac user who wants more than the Pages app offers.
Plotters tend to finish their writing projects quicker than pantsers — simply because when they hit a wall, they have their notes or outlines to reference, allowing them to jump straight over that hurdle and hit the ground running. P.S. You can grab a free template for your book outline here in this comprehensive guide to outlining.
The following resources will help you keep your thoughts organized so that any bouts of writer’s block don’t slow you down.
The vast majority of novelist-oriented writing software is organized around the idea of a linear document. But for most people, writing isn’t linear — because thinking isn’t linear. Writing is about gradually getting a jumble of ideas into shape, and Milanote's writing app matches the way writers think.
Check it out if: you're a plotter who likes a flexible workspace to organize ideas and see a birds-eye view of how your story outline is coming together.
Cost: free for basic plan or $9.99/month for premium.
Its cute, little green elephant logo aside, Evernote is a great and easy-to-use option for writers who could do with a little more organization in their lives.
The app lets you quickly jot down thoughts, record audio notes, save online articles you’re hoping to reference, and it will sync all of this information across all of your Evernote-installed devices. What’s also handy about the app is the collaborative aspect of it: you can create shared accounts, so that multiple people can access saved documents at once.
Check it out if: you’re prone to getting great ideas while on the go, and need somewhere to make sure you don’t forget them by the time you’re home.
Cost: $5/month or $40/year (or try a 14-day free trial)
While it’s ultimately a writing tool, one of the best assets of comprehensive programs like Ulysses or Scrivener are their organizational features. At the end of the day, whether you’re writing a blog post or a full-length novel, the seed of an idea doesn’t get too far without the ability to organize that idea into a cohesive piece of writing.
And that’s exactly what Ulysses allows you to do: organize your thoughts into a well-written work. This is accomplished through features like customizable writing goals and deadlines, plain text enhancements, a distraction-free typewriter mode, bookmarks, outlining functions, and more.
Check it out if: you’re working on a lengthy piece of non-fiction, like a blog post or essay. (For a comparison of Scrivener vs. Ulysses, keep reading!)
Cost: $45 (or a 30-use free trial)
Literature and Latte’s word processor is a popular writing tool — also, in large part, thanks to its organizational capabilities that seamlessly allow writers to turn fragmented ideas into a fully realized book/script/research paper/or whatever else you’re writing.
Scrivener vs Ulysses
Apart from the price (Scrivener charges a one-time licensing fee while Ulysses charges yearly), the two platforms offer many of the same features. So we’ll focus on what makes the two programs different.
- Scrivener’s corkboard function is an absolute favorite for writers who rely on visual aid to help with outlining. The function looks like an actual corkboard, and lets writers pin notes to the board in chronological order.
- Scrivener offers templates for works such as fiction, essays, recipe collections, screenplays, comic books — which gives Scrivener another point for versatility.
- Ulysses boasts an interface that is slightly more clean and simple — so if ease-of-use is high on your priority list, it might be the better option for you.
- Ulysses offers a very helpful WordPress and Medium integration, which bloggers who publish on either of these platforms will love.
Check it out if: you’re working on a longer piece of content (like a book or screenplay) and want one comprehensive place to manage all your work. (And don’t forget to check out our equally as comprehensive review of Scrivener’s newest update: Scrivener 3!)
Alright, let’s kick things into high gear now. You know what you want to use to write, and all of your thoughts and ideas are concisely organized. If you’re finding it difficult to buckle down and get the job done, these resources will help you realize that Nike manta: just do it.
Cost: free web version or $7 for the full program
Do you find the clacking sound of old typewriters satisfying? Do you find soft, neutral colours calming? Does nothing really get you focused quite like a purposeful, long, deep breath? If so, Ommwriter might be the tool to help you reach your goal. As the site’s tagline reads, Ommwriter is “a perfect place to think and write.”
With soothing background noises, customizable keyboard noises, and peaceful backgrounds to choose from, Ommwriter could just be the “break” from everything else going on around you that you need to write.
Check it out if: your very best writing ideas come to you while in “savasana.”
10. To Doist
Cost: free or $4/month for premium plan
Have you ever woken up in a cold sweat, panicking about something important you forgot to do? Or, god forbid, gripped in dread about how far behind you are on your word-count goals?
Well, To Doist might be able to help. It’s the ultimate app for creating to-do lists — but these aren’t your grandma’s pen-and-paper lists with little check marks beside them (though we mean no offense to your grandma). It lets you get a daily or weekly overview of your tasks, prioritize the tasks that are most important, and even lets you assign tasks to other people if you’re working on a specific goal with other collaborators.
Check it out if: you have never been able to find an agenda that’s souped up enough to keep you on track.
11. Marinara Timer
The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method meant to promote productivity. In a nutshell, it stipulates that you should work for 25 minutes, then take a 5-minute break, then work for 25 minutes, take another 5-minute break, etc., etc.
The free-to-use Marinara Timer makes this easy for you by alerting you each time your work sessions and breaks are up. It also offers customizable timers in case the 25/5 isn’t quite right for keeping you on track. Fun fact: taking a break to stand up or walk (or do anything but sit!) every hour is also a good way to protect your back if you sit hunched at a computer working for long stretches at a time.
Check it out if: consistent breaks from work help actually keep you focused on the task at hand.
12. Cold Turkey
Cost: Free for basic plan or $20 for premium plan
“Meet your match, Zuckerberg,” says Cold Turkey’s tagline. In case that, paired with the writing tool’s name, doesn’t make it clear enough, Cold Turkey is a program that allows you to completely rid yourself of distraction. And when we say “completely,” we mean completely.
With Cold Turkey, you can block yourself from accessing certain websites — or even your entire computer — for periods at a time, only allowing you to use the current document you’re working on.
Check it out if: “willpower” is not a characteristic you’d ascribe yourself, and the only way for you to get something done is in a totally distraction-free state.
Cost: $7/month or $29/year (or a 7-use free trial)
Apart from pleasantly getting the “freedom” refrain from Aretha Franklin’s “Think” stuck in your head, the Freedom app is another resource that can turn your devices into tools of productivity once more.
It functions like Cold Turkey; however, a unique function of Freedom is the ability to sync your distraction-free periods across all your devices. So if you know that on Tuesdays, you want your computer, phone, and tablet to all block access to Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook — you can!
Check it out if: letting other people know not to bother you during your non-negotiable writing time isn’t enough, you need to let yourself know not to interrupt, well, yourself.
If total silence encourages your mind to wander, whereas light sensory action keeps your thoughts on the task at hand, Noisli will be a friend to you. The tool lets you choose from a range of soundtracks, such as rain, coffee shop, wind, lake, and more. You can mix several sounds at once, and choose the volume for each one. So let’s say you want to create the atmosphere of writing by a babbling brook, with a fire crackling next to you, and the moon shining brightly overhead. Noisli will make this happen for you!
Check it out if: you get the most work done with white noise.
If you’re planning to publish a book — or any kind of writing you’re hoping to make a profit from, it’s crucial that your work is thoroughly edited. To that end, working with a professional editor is an investment you should give serious thought to.
In the meantime, here are a few editing tools that can help you out along the way. Hopefully, they’ll either ensure a typo-free draft, so by the time you do work with an editor, they can spend less time fixing small typos and more time on big-picture work, or, if you decide to forego a professional edit, you’ll have the tools to do the best editing job you can.
The Hemingway app claims to make your writing “bold and clear.” It has a number of handy features like a word-counter and an automatic readability score. But its real use lies in the features that make suggestions to your prose. For instance, it might highlight a complex sentence that’s hard to read. It also highlights instances of passive voice, qualifiers, and adverbs. Let’s take a look at how this passage from Ernest Hemingway’s very own To Have and Have Not fares:
“Just” is highlighted because it’s a qualifier, and Hemingway suggests, instead: “Be bold. Don’t hedge.” The sentence in red is highlighted as being hard to read. And “probably” is pointed out as an adverb — the app suggests using a forceful verb instead.
Check it out if: you want to bring out your inner Ernie. (Curious what else Hemingway offers? Check out our full review of the app right here.)
16. Cliché Finder
Cliché Finder is exactly what it says on the tin: it combs through your writing in search of clichés, and then highlights them for you. It’s not always necessarily a bad thing to use clichés in your writing, but when you do, you want to be purposeful about it (and not to mention aware of it!).
Check it out if: you want to avoid clichés like the plague, and for your book to sell like hotcakes — and the rest is history.
Have you ever sent an email, only to realize just as you hit “Send” that you’d made a glaring typo? Well, no more!
Grammarly essentially functions like the spell checker tool from Microsoft Word or Google Docs, but here’s the great part: it’s a plug-in that will work wherever you happen to writing. That means Twitter, Gmail, Google Docs, Facebook — anywhere. Plus it offers vocabulary or alternate word suggestions — for instance, it might suggest you replace “walking aimlessly,” with the word “wandering.”
Check it out if: you’re typo-prone! (Read below for a comparison of Grammarly vs. ProWritingAid.)
Cost: Free browser extension or $60/year for the full software
ProWritingAid is a tool you can install that will proofread and spell check your material for you, no matter where you’re writing. It will also offer suggestions to improve your overall language — outside of just grammatical technicalities.
ProWritingAid vs Grammarly
The two programs offer a lot of the same services, so you might be wondering which one to pick. The main differences are:
- Grammarly is free to use, and while ProWritingAid offers a free Google Chrome plug-in, this free option only offers spell checking services, it won’t make editorial suggestions.
- ProWritingAid is slightly more tailored towards authors, while Grammarly is a slightly better fit for articles and essays. Ultimately, both tools lend a very helpful editing hand, so deciding between the two mostly boils down to the one you enjoy using more.
Check it out if: you want to make sure your writing is as polished as possible.
At the end of the day, all you really need to write is a pen and paper. All the fancy tools and apps in the world won’t get the words out for you. That being said, creating an environment that’s appealing — and conducive! — to write in can make the whole process more enjoyable, and encourage you to get the job done.
Here are few physical tools to look over if you’re thinking of sprucing up your workspace.
19. Livescribe Pen
Cost: starts at $100
If you prefer writing on paper, but dread the process of transferring your words to a computer, Livescribe will likely be right up your alley. Through Bluetooth technology, the pen can actually transcribe your pen and paper words to your device. What’s more, it can also transcribe voice notes into digital documents for you.
Check it out if: you’ve ever felt envy at Rita Skeeter’s Quick-Quotes Quill in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
20. Ergonomic desk setups
As more and more of the workforce moves to sedentary jobs where the majority of 9am to 5pm is spent sitting — usually hunching — at a computer, a growing number of sitting-related health injuries have been occurring. That’s why looking into more ergonomically friendly desk setups is a good idea for writers who spend long hours at the computer — or even writing in a notebook. This could be a standing desk, or even just a number of textbooks piled under your desktop so that your screen is eye level, resulting in less stress on your shoulders.
Check it out if: you don’t want writing gains to come at the cost of growing back pains.
21. Computer Glasses
Writers are all familiar with computer-caused eyestrains. Because you blink far less when looking at a screen than you do otherwise, computer vision syndrome (CVS) is a condition people have been developing due to long stretches of staring at a computer.
One way to help alleviate this — other than just making sure to take time looking away from your computer — is to invest in some computer glasses. They typically come in blue or amber shades, and are coated with a protective coating.
Check it out if: you notice itchy or tired eyes after long writing sessions.
FREE writing courses
Maybe you’ve got all you need to actually get the writing done, but you could use a leg up when it comes to craft. These free, ten-day courses are intended to help you do the best writing you can!
Novel Writing 101 — Over the course of ten lessons, you will learn how to plan an amazing novel, create compelling characters, and build a writing routine to make sure you get from 'page one' to the final chapter of your magnum opus.
Writing Non-Fiction — In this 10 day course, publishing coach Azul Terronez goes through which common writing mistakes to avoid, which questions to ask yourself before you get started, and finally, how to stay motivated throughout the writing process.
Writing YA Novels — Over ten lessons, you will discover the most common pitfalls of first-time YA authors, and learn how to hone your craft towards writing for a teen audience.
How to Write a Business Book — In this course, Alison Jones, a publishing partner for businesses and organizations, will teach you how to approach the writing of your first book, from the idea itself down to the day-to-day writing routine you should adopt.
Build a Solid Writing Routine — Over ten email lessons, we’ll give you a bunch of practical, actionable tips to help you understand and face down your procrastination gremlins to find a writing habit that works for you.
How to Stop Talking About Writing a Book and Actually Start Doing It — In this short course, book coach Jennie Nash shares the secrets for how to start strong so you can move forward with confidence. It’s a powerful way to stop talking about someday writing a book, and to actually start doing it, by getting the idea out of your head and onto the page.
How to Self-Edit Your Manuscript Like a Pro — Lisa Lepki of ProWritingAid is here to help you spot (and fix) the ten most common writing mistakes. These mistakes won't just make you seem like an amateur — they will also hinder your chances of landing an agent or securing a publisher.
Story Editing for Authors — In this email course, author and Fictionary CEO Kristina Stanley shares her method for ensuring that your story is well-told, well-paced and highly effective. Over ten lessons, you will be guided through the process of reviewing your story, scene-by-scene, with the help of a downloadable resource that you will receive in lesson one.
Novel Revision: Practical Tips for Rewrites — The editors behind #RevPit will show you how to dive into the revision process and methodically prepare your book for publication.
At this point, your arsenal is fully stocked: you’ve got a place to do the writing, tools to help you concentrate and edit, a workspace that makes long hours at your desk a little more fun, and advice from professionals on perfecting your craft. At the end of the day, putting these writing tools to good use is down to you — so show us what you’ve got!
Have you tried any of the above writing tools — and if so, which were your favorites? Or maybe you feel there are some great resources missing from this list? Let us know in the comments below!