Welcome to our fourth NaNo prep post! November is creeping up, but don’t worry. There’s still tons of time to plan if you’re a planner, or procrastinate if you’re a pantser. If you haven’t been following our NaNoWriMo series, you can learn more about what NaNo is here, find tips about setting up your workspace here, and take a quiz to find out if you’re a planner or a pantser here.
This week, we’re going to be looking into some tools that will make meeting your word count easier. One of the recurring questions I see in writing forums is “What writing software should I be using?” The answer varies based on writer, but there are a few go-to pieces of software and tools that many authors love. Here we delve into a few options–from the most basic, to all the bells and whistles. Have we missed any? What’s your platform of choice? Let us know in the comments!
Word and Pages
Why mess with a classic? You’ve been writing your papers in these basic word processing programs for years, so if that works for you there’s no reason to look for something different. All you really need is yourself, your computer and a blank screen, and that’s what Word and Pages give you.
Pros: You most likely already own it, there’s no learning curve, and it’s a simple, straight-forward way to get your words in. Plus there’s a word count right there on the bottom of the screen.
Cons: Jumping around between chapters is a little annoying, especially as your manuscript gets longer and longer (though you could just Control F it) and you need to make sure you’re saving it regularly. I find there’s nothing really wrong with using Word, but there’s nothing great about it either. It’s a very solid, basic choice to get your word done.
Cost: Pages: included with your Mac. Word: $120 for the student edition, or a $70 annual subscription for the Microsoft Office Suite.
I, personally, don’t love writing in Google Docs, but I definitely see the appeal. For one thing, everything you write is automatically saved to the cloud every few minutes so you never have to remember to save or sync it. That means you can access your novel anywhere you have an internet connection, so you’ll never be without your story if you find yourself with a few free minutes. All the basic features of a word processor are there.
Pros: It’s free–all you need is a google account, your work is always available, and you don’t have to worry about saving it.
Cons: You need an internet connection, and like Word or Pages, scrolling between sections of your manuscript could get annoying.
Ahhh Scrivener. The darling software of writers everywhere. This magical piece of software is everything you never knew you needed. There is a bit of a learning curve here, but once you figure out how to use it, it’s really, really helpful. Features include everything from templates for character sketches so you can flesh out your backstory, a section for research (you can drop webpages in and read them offline later), a cork board view so you can drag and drop things as needed, and much more.
Pros: You don’t need an internet connection to use it, you can very easily move chapters around, you can export in pretty much any format you could possibly dream of, and the full-screen composition view is really easy on the eyes.
Cons: Steep learning curve, can definitely feel overwhelming the first few times you use it, doesn’t sync between devices, and doesn’t automatically back up.
Cost: They offer a 30 day trial (by which they mean you can open the software for 30 days. If you use it 30 times over six months, that still counts as your free trial). They also offer a discount to NaNoWriMo winners, so definitely get the trial for NaNo and then once you win, if you like it you can get it half-off. Pricing varies based on what device you use, but it’s generally around $45.
Scrivener for iOS
Pretty much the same as above, but worth calling out because so many people love it. Scrivener just recently launched an iOS app after high consumer demand. I haven’t tried it myself, but writer friends have said it’s even better than Scrivener for computers. If writing on an iPad or phone is your thing, it’s definitely worth checking out.
Aeon Timeline 2
This is not actually a word processing program, so technically shouldn’t be in this post, but I love it so much I want to give it a shoutout. The novel I’ve been working on is historical fiction, and one of my pet peeves is when anachronistic things take place in historical fiction. So I spent a good deal of time researching the historical context for my book and needed a place to track everything in an effective timeline. No surprises, I found my answer through the NaNo community. Aeon lets you color code events, tag them, tie them to your characters or plots, and move them around very easily. It also syncs to Scrivener, so you can use the two together seamlessly. This is super useful for any writer–whether you’re writing historical fiction or not–because you can track your world here, and make sure you’re keeping your plot and characters straight.
Pros: Works with Scrivener, fully adjustable depending on your needs, fairly intuitive, you can import events in bulk from a .CSV to save time.
Cons: You do need to pay for it, you have to make sure you’re backing it up, it doesn’t sync between devices, and tracking this much research is time consuming (but hey, so is writing a novel).
Cost: $50 BUT they usually sponsor NaNoWriMo so check the prizes page to see if you can get a discount. They might also offer a free trial during NaNo.
This one is super useful if you spend a lot of time driving, or if typing irritates you. Dragon is a voice recording and transcribing app you can dictate your novel to. It then writes down everything you’re saying and you can export it into a word document. You still have to go through and make sure it caught your words correctly, but it’s easier than having to type everything out yourself. Lots of authors use this.
Pros: You can save your fingers from wrist irritation and fingers from carpal tunnel, you don’t have to physically write 50,000 words, all you need to use it is your phone (and internet to export).
Cons: It definitely misunderstands words often, the app frequently crashes, and you can only work in one language at a time, so if you’re including more than one language in your novel it won’t be particularly helpful.
Cost: The app version is $10. The desktop software version is $48.
A fellow writing friend drafted her entire Song of Ice and Fire length novel using a typewriter. When I looked at her like she was crazy, she told me “My fingers work faster than my brain when I type on a computer. The typewriter slows me down and makes me more intentional.” This may not be the best strategy for NaNo, but hey, if it works for you and you love the clacking of the keys, by all means.
Pros: It sounds really cool, you get to feel like Ernest Hemingway, and you look badass.
Cons: It’s time consuming, you will most likely drive everyone you live with crazy, you can’t easily bring your typewriter with you and you only have one copy of your novel which you’ll have to retype anyway to validate your word count. You also need to buy a ribbon? I literally only know this is a thing from Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
Cost: Depends on how much you want to invest in a typewriter, but they range anywhere from $50 to $500 (or more).
Pen and Paper
Sometimes it’s easiest to go back to basics. Lots of writers like writing their novels out by hand, then transcribing it into a word processor.
Pros: Using stationery, the joy of filling up a fresh notebook, channeling your inner Jane Austen, and being able to carry your novel with you wherever you go.
Cons: Writing 50,000 words in 30 days is hard enough, let alone writing it out by hand and then transcribing it in time to validate your word count. But hey, some people run 100 mile races instead of a marathon.
Cost: As little as a buck or two, or much more depending on how nice you want your stationery to be.
The only thing possibly more important than your writing is backing up your writing. Back it up, back it up, for God’s sake Back it up.
If you’re writing in Google Docs, your work will be automatically saved every minute, and accessible to you from any computer as long as you log in to your gmail account. Talk about ultimate protection. You could also save your work to platforms like Dropbox, though you would need to remember to save during each writing session to make sure you don’t lose work. Other options include iCloud, Box, and Microsoft OneDrive. Check out this list here to see if which one makes the most sense for you.
Pros: Security, never feeling like you need to run back into your burning apartment to save your laptop, being able to access your work remotely.
Cons: There is an element of concern whenever storing something that could be hacked and you need to have internet access.
Cost: Most of them have a free option but charge for additional space if you need more storage.
I love my Time Capsule, and it has gotten me out of a lot of jams over the years. Time Capsule will automatically and wirelessly back up your work every hour. Then you can go back and view your computer exactly as it was in that moment in time, with all your documents there. So if your computer crashes, you can open your hard drive on another computer and access everything that was on your computer the last time it backed up, which, at most, would be an hour before. This is also useful if you decide your story took a turn you ultimately don’t want. You can go back to any previous backup and get that version of the file.
Pros: It’s insanely easy and useful. You pretty much never have to worry about what would happen if your computer crashed.
Cons: It’s expensive and you need WiFi
Cost: $300 for 2 terabytes; $400 for 3 terabytes
External Hard Drive:
Time Capsule is an external hard drive, but there are a lot of cheaper options if you don’t care about having your work back up automatically. Chances are, your computer isn’t going to crash in the middle of a writing session (though…this definitely does happen) so you’re probably okay with manually backing up at the end of each day. Your call, though.
Pros: These have gone down significantly in price, your work is stored outside your computer in case something happens, they have SO MUCH SPACE.
Cons: If you don’t have one that automatically backs up, you’ll need to remember to manually back up your work every day or so. They can also be clunky (though they’ve gotten a lot smaller) so it could be annoying to carry around with you or have it take up space on your desk.
Cost: About $50 for 1 terabyte.
Don’t need as much space as a hard drive but want somewhere physical to store your writing? Get a small flash drive. These have also come down a lot in price and gone up in storage capabilities, so it’d be really easy to just slip one of these in your laptop case and carry with you everywhere.
Pros: They’re small, cheap, and exactly what you need to back up your work.
Cons: They’re easy to lose and they’re also fairly easy to bend or damage.
Cost: $10 for 32 GB
If you’re opting to write your novel by hand or type it on a typewriter, please make a copy. My heart would explode on your behalf if you left your notebook on a train, or you pages blew away like Colin Firth in Love Actually.