Have you ever heard Underground’s motto? It was coined by one of our first editors, Mark Flower, back when we first started. It says ‘No war has ever been waged, like that between the pen and the page.’
Mark knew, as many of us do, that finding the right words, the right structure, the right voice… all of it, is a pretty hefty task.
So today, we’re looking at seven apps and programs that can help you overcome any number of obstacles in the writing process.
Best for: writing longer works like books
Scrivener is the ultimate novel-writing tool. The developers have looked at all the possible ways authors need to work and have done their best to develop a comprehensive program to make that process as easy as possible.
Intended to replace your usual word processer such as Microsoft Word or Apple’s Pages, Scrivener gives you the power to move sections around, keep extensive notes across each chapter, keep a ‘cork board’ of character profiles, settings, names and any other research you may have done. It provides dedicated space to planning, syncs across multiple devices, and allows for files to be opened side-by-side for editing and rewriting.
It’s also perfectly lined up to export in whatever format you may need, whether that’s back to a Word document for submission to an agent or publisher, or into an e-publishing format.
Scrivener’s only downside is that it can be a steep learning curve, but your purchase comes with a tutorial (albeit a long one) to help you get to know all the tools, and there are multiple courses available online to help you make the most of the program.
If you’re serious about writing a novel (or multiple novels), you should definitely consider adding Scrivener to your repertoire. Scrivener has a one-off fee of $77.
Best for: self-editing
Hemmingway App is a handy free online tool for assessing your writing and identifying areas of potential weakness. It marks sentences that may be too long or dense for readers to follow, words that are overly complex, and potentially unnecessary or weak adverbs.
There is a desktop app that you can download but otherwise you simply paste your work into the panel, and it will produce a report that looks like the one above.
While Hemmingway doesn’t replace the role of a good editor, it can help you assess your own writing and identify strengths and weaknesses in your style. You won’t necessarily make all the changes it flags, and really, you shouldn’t; doing so would ultimately result in the loss of your voice and style. However, the app may help you identify when your writing needs a bit of a boost or where you need to be clearer and more concise. You can buy it for a one-off fee of $19.99.
Best for: checking your grammar
Grammarly is another useful app for self-editing but with a focus on spelling and grammar. There is a free version available online to all users, but also premium paid options which offer assessments on style and tone. The paid versions can also be downloaded into various apps and programs such as your email host, Word documents, and your browser to ensure clear and correct writing in all of your endeavours.
Like Hemmingway App, Grammarly doesn’t always get it right, and you have to be wary taking on changes that will change your voice and style; however, for the most part it’s a great way to ensure you’re using the correct spelling and sentence structures.
Again, it doesn’t replace a good copy editor, but if you’re looking for a way to make sure your manuscript is as clean as it can be before submitting to an agent or publisher, you can’t go wrong with running your work through Grammarly and carefully working through its recommendations bit by bit.
Best for: dictating your work
Dictation can be used to overcome so many writing barriers. While some people feel that they think more clearly when they are moving and therefore dictate while they walk, others may find dictation a useful way to overcome writers block or to get through a particularly difficult scene. Still others who may suffer from injuries or limited movement in their hands, may use dictation to help them overcome physical barriers to the writing process.
Dragon programs transcribe your dictations so that all you have to do is edit the words you have spoken. They have multiple packages depending on your use. Dragon Anywhere is a mobile dictation app with no word limits and extensive voice-editing and formatting abilities. It has a learning function that can help you train the app to understand your accent and can be shared across multiple services. The desktop professional package offers more powerful editing and formatting options and allows for custom dictionaries for project-specific words and acronyms.
Dragon’s biggest downfall is its price: at $22 per month, $220 per year or $479 for a personal desktop package, it’s far from the cheapest writing app on the market. However, the monthly price may be worthwhile for intermittent use while working through a first draft, and the package price may be useful for writers who find the program can overcome physical barriers to the process. There is a one-week free trial available of the Anywhere app if you’re not yet sure how much you would incorporate dictation into your routine.
Best for: note-taking and research
The Evernote App has many different uses, with people using it to create calendars and to-do lists, share notes, and even plan entire novels. But the app really shines in its use as a research and note-taking tool. The easy interface allows for multiple ‘notebooks’ which can be filled with any number of notes. Notes can also be tagged with keywords and linked to web pages and photos in your camera roll.
The app can sync across multiple devices, making it perfect for taking notes on the go, and its handy integration tool can be loaded into your browser to make for quicker and easier tagging of interesting materials.
Evernote has both free and paid plans. The free plan gives you 60MB of room and basic note-taking abilities and image annotations. The premium plan ($9.99 per year) comes with added ability to annotate PDFs, forward emails to your Evernote account, create presentations from your notes, and have AI-suggested content in relation to what you’re writing about.
Best for: preventing editing as you go
If you’re the sort of writer who gets bogged down in self-editing while you’re still writing your draft, then this app is for you! Often described as one of the weirdest writing tools you’ll ever use, you’ll either love or hate the app, but it aims to help you pump out the words regardless of spelling errors and typos. The only thing you see as you write is the last letter you typed (as shown in the image above) and you can’t backspace or delete.
The app encourages you to enter a word-count goal and remains blank until you reach your goal. After, you can open the editing screen to see what you wrote and make any necessary changes. It has a dashboard to help you challenge yourself to write more and to track your writing goals as time goes on.
Ilys offers a free trial of 3000 words, after which it charges a membership of just $9 per month. If self-editing on a first draft is your Achilles Heel, then this might just be the app to help you get the ball rolling.
Best for: eliminating distractions
Alright, it’s not exactly a writing app, but let’s face it; writers are very good at procrastinating, especially when social media is only a click away. Enter Freedom, the website/app/internet blocking tool to help you focus and waste less time.
It’s a pretty simple design. You just select the devices you want to block, set your timer and mark problematic apps and websites that have a tendency to keep you off topic. You can even plan out your ‘Freedom-time’ in advance, blocking out sessions that recur daily or weekly if you want to make your writing sessions a habit.
Freedom offers a free trial period before charging for the service. Payment plans are available monthly from USD $6.99 per month, or if you pay for a year in advance you can get it for USD $2.42 per month.
In this wonderful age of technology, there are so many apps out there to assist you in achieving your goals. No matter what obstacles you face in the writing process, you can be sure that there’s an app for it!