5 apps for a better noveling workflow

You probably know the feeling of sitting down to work on a half finished novel only to find yourself rummaging through a top heavy Word document or, worse, several top heavy Word documents. Also, when you have to scroll through a bunch of text you’ve already written, it can take away your focus. Being organized with your writing output is an important key to finishing your novel. So in this post, we’re going to take a look at five desktop apps for efficient noveling organization.

Consider your options below and – we can’t stress this enough – just pick one. If you find yourself endlessly window shopping for apps or going from one app to another, it’s going to take away from what matters most: the writing.


1. Scrivener

This is probably the best app for writing novels. It has become fairly standard for many novelists, from National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) participants to New York Times Bestselling authors, such as Karen Traviss. I’ve used Scrivener for a lot of writing projects, and I definitely use it for my novel projects. It allows you to arrange files and folders in the sidebar, write in a writing pane, view outlines or notes in external windows, and automatically spit out a correctly formatted manuscript for print when you are done!

Scrivener costs 45 dollars as of the time I’m writing and works for both Mac OS X and Windows. If you run Windows and want an app much like Scrivener that is free, yWriter seems to be a useful choice. People who know me know I always choose free, but I still chose Scrivener and it has saved me many headaches not only in noveling but also blogging, content management, and to some degree, academic writing. However, in the last year, I have switched to…

2. Ulysses

Although I recommend Scrivener for working on novels, my recent personal favorite is Ulysses. There are not as many features on Ulysses as there are on Scrivener, but Ulysses’s strength is its simplicity. It is also the best app for writing in Markdown, which is a way of writing in plain text using asterisks, hashtags and other conventions to denote things like *italicized words*, **bold text** and #headings. I have grown to prefer this method of writing just about anything I need to write (including these blog posts), because it’s a lot easier than dealing with apps or programs that require you to click around everywhere just to do styling. Using Markdown plain text syntax is not for everyone though, so the decision is up to you.

3. Storyist

Storyist is probably Scrivener’s main competitor. What it has that Scrivener doesn’t is support for iOS devices (iPhone, iPad). It is also simpler, as it is meant solely for writing fiction like novels and screenplays. However, if you want to get a noveling app that will also be there for you when your working on other types of writing projects like research papers or blogs, then Scrivener or Ulysses is what you want. I haven’t used Storyist myself, but you can read some good reviews here and here.

4. iA Writer

iA Writer was one of the first apps to use Markdown in a similar way as Ulysses. I’ve never used iA Writer, but I know someone who has. It’s main feature is its distraction-free writing mode that goes into a minimalist full screen in order to prevent you from looking at anything else on your desktop besides your project. Furthermore, it has a focus mode that keeps your current sentence front and center while greying out all other content in the document. It is not as good as its counterpart Ulysses when it comes to organizing multiple files. It’s not for me, but my brother has met many a NaNoWriMo deadlines because of the laser focus iA Writer facilitates.

5. Sublime Text

This app is awesome, because it doesn’t cost anything. It is nothing more than a plain text editor, yet it is so much more. Geared toward web developers and programmers, Sublime Text features fast search-and-replace functions and color-coded syntax options, and on the whole, it simply manages texts large and small extremely well. It is the app that is less likely so freeze on you or go really slow, because it only uses plain text.

Since I use Markdown syntax in all my writing projects, no matter what they are, Sublime Text can come in handy. Unlike the apps above, Sublime Text is just a text editor that allows you to edit text files directly. Therefore, you are still reliant on your computer’s directory. This is no way to reorganize your files within Sublime Text. However, you can drag a folder from your computer over to the app and see it in the Sublime Text sidebar with all the child directories.

This is both a blessing and a curse. While there is a certain freedom to using a simple text editor like Sublime Text as opposed to an app that “traps” your project in the app, there is also something to be said for those same apps, because they give you so many organizational tools you simply don’t get in Sublime Text.

I hope you found these suggestions for apps for writing helpful. The main point here is not to be reliant on Microsoft Word for your working documents! However, Microsoft Word has its uses, which I will discuss in a separate post.

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