em-box-medBack in the day, all you needed to write was a pen and some paper—or a stick and tree bark, if you want to go that far. Technically that still holds true, but why deprive yourself when there are better tools in your arsenal? Writing software can help you better plan your structure, check your grammar, format your text, and minimize distractions, among others. Here are some cool programs that can help you in writing essays or that novel, or screenplay—or at least make the job easier.

Open-source word processing

Maybe you’re a hard-up writer or a student trying to get your first break. In any case, you can’t afford the $300-plus Microsoft Office suite, and Notepad simply isn’t doing the job. The answer is open-source software—programs written by a community of developers and made available to the public for free. OpenOffice has all the functionalities of Word and is able to save in all formats. AbiWord is also a great option, especially for those working in multiple languages or across various operating systems.

Collaborative work

If you’re working with other writers, you’ll want to be able to access your files simultaneously and track the changes your partner makes. Google Docs is a free system that lets you store documents of all file types, including .doc, .ods, .pdf, and .rtf. A strong competitor is Writeboard, which allows you to save every change and revert to any previous version. Although strongly made for collaborative documents, it works just as nicely for solo work.

Fiction writing

A 60,000-word novel or 200-page screenplay can be too much for even the latest version of Word to handle. In this case, you’ll need more specialized software. New Novelist, for instance, allows you to start with notes and references, divide your book into chapters and headings, and even choose from about a dozen preset structures. If you’re having trouble planning, check out Character Pro by Typing Chimp Software—it uses a programmed psychological structure to help you round out your characters.


Need a hand with some French dialogue or want to polish your English? There’s probably a program for that too. WhiteSmoke is based on a technology called natural language processing (NLP), which goes beyond the basic grammar and spelling runs to check your text for smoothness, professionalism, and overall flow. Lokalize, a professional translation program, is great for translating context-specific text and correcting foreign-language grammar.