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Writing Fiction: An Introductory Guide: Tools of the Trade

A guide to the craft and business of writing fiction.

Tools of the Trade

Introduction to Tools of the Trade


Writers can't just write a novel in their heads and expect the world to be able to read and enjoy it, right? Right! So here are some popular tools used by writers that include open source word processors, websites to help you organize your characters and the world they live in, as well as motivators that treat your typing like a Role Playing Game, and editing programs to make your prose shine.


Tools of the Trade contents

Word Processors & Writing AppsUnless you're old school and prefer to write with pen and a paper (chisel and a slab of stone, maybe?), then you'll need something to hold onto all the words you're trying to write in your head. Here are a few writing programs and apps you might want to check out. 

Idea Creation & Organizational ToolsIf you've even contemplated writing a novel before, you know just how much planning and prep can easily go into it. If you need help keeping everything organized, or that nudge to create hobbies for some of your side characters, these are the tools for you! Keep in mind that most of these tools are free, but will have a paid version with more features. 

Motivators & Focus ToolsDo you often get stuck in your writing? These writing programs and apps will help you stay on task, whether you need music to keep you inspired, or an app that can erase your words the moment you stop typing. There's a little something for everyone here.

Editing ToolsEditing is one of the most important parts of writing and publishing your novel. It's always a good idea to edit your work before you submit it to anyone, anywhere. Here are a few tools that can help you polish your prose.


Free vs cost & technology platforms

  • Many of these tools are free, but not all of them. They have been listed as "Free" or "Cost" in parenthesis. Some will have a free version as well as a paid version and that has been noted as well. 
  • Each tool also has a list of what operating systems they will run on or they will say "Internet Based" if they are accessed via a web browser.  


A note on independent publishing tools

If you are looking for independent publishing tools, such as graphic design software for book covers and ebook formatting software, you will find those under the Publishing tab.

Word Processors & Writing Apps


Apache OpenOffice - (Free/Windows, Linux, & MacOS) An open-source software suite for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, graphics, databases and more. It is available in many languages. It stores all your data in an international open standard format and can also read and write files from other common office software packages. 

Bear - (Free & Cost for Advanced Features/ Mac & iOS) Writes notes and prose, handles photos, has multiple export options, a markup editor, a focus mode, use of hash tags to organize your work, and more.

Byword - (Free/iOS) Markdown app for writing in plain text efficiently. Sync with iCloud and Dropox. Export to HTML, PDF, and rich text, or publish directly with Wordpress, Medium, Tumblr, Blogger, and Evernote.

Campfire - (Free trial/cost) Where stories are written, planned, organized, and shared. Create interactive maps, characters, reference notes while you write and more... 

FocusWriter - (Free/Windows, Linux, & MacOS) A simple, distraction-free writing environment. It utilizes a hide-away interface that you access by moving your mouse to the edges of the screen, allowing the program to have a familiar look and feel to it while still getting out of the way so that you can immerse yourself in your work. 

Google Docs - (Free/Internet Based, Android, & iOS) Brings your documents to life with smart editing and styling tools to help you easily format text and paragraphs. Includes Documents, Slides, Sheets, and Forms. Converts files to Microsoft Word and vice versa.

iA Writer - (Cost/Mac, Windows, iOS, & Android) The focused writing app. iA Writer removes distractions, giving you a calm, focused writing space. It highlights syntax to improve your writing, uses hashtags to organize your work, can Embed images, tables, and text files, and export to Microsoft Word.

LibreOffice - (Free/Windows, Linux, & Android) This office suite's clean interface and feature-rich tools help you unleash your creativity and enhance your productivity. It includes: Writer (word processing), Calc (spreadsheets), Impress (presentations), Draw (vector graphics and flowcharts), Base (databases), and Math (formula editing).

Reedsy - (Free & Cost for Additional Services/Internet Based) Built for distraction-free writing. Our formatting toolbar makes it easy to apply styles as you write. Reedsy also has a marketplace to help you find editors, designers, and marketers to help your book become distribution ready when you're finished.

Scrivener - (Cost & 30-day free trial/iOS, Mac & Windows) Tailor-made for long writing projects, Scrivener allows you to compose your text in any order, in sections as large or small as you like and piece them together when you're ready. Keep your research accessible while you write, and use the outline tools to organize your work before you start.

Ulysses - (Cost/Mac & iOS) A pleasant, focused writing experience combined with effective document management, fast syncing and flexible export make Ulysses the first choice for writers of all kinds.

WPS Office - (Free/Windows) Productivity office suite, consisting of Writer, Presentation, and Spreadsheets, plus PDF tools to fulfill all of your document needs. 

Writer - (Free/Android) Writer is a writing application without the fuss and distraction of a traditional word processor. It's perfect for everything from taking notes to writing a novel on your phone or tablet. 

yWriter - (Free/Windows) Breaks your novel into chapters and scenes, helping you keep track of your work while leaving your mind free to create. 

Idea Creation & Organizational Tools


Non-tech tools

The Complete Guide to Bullet Journaling for Writers - Let the folks at Writer's Edit show you how a bullet journal can help you set writing goals, plan novels, track your progress, practice all-important self-care, and much more.

Creating Your Very Own Story Bible - The story bible is one of the biggest aids for keeping track of information and maintaining continuity in a large story or a shared universe. Author, J.M. Butler, shows writers how it works in this article. 

How to Organize and Develop Ideas for Your Novel - This blog post by Laura Whitecomb for Writer's Digest, explains how to use index cards to keep yourself and your plot organized.


Tech tools

Bibisco - (Free & Pay What You Want Premium/Windows, Linux, & MacOS) Includes a full text editor and helps you create characters, organize your ideas, and see what's connected throughout your novel. 

Bookflow - (Free trial 28 days & cost/web based) Offers fresh writing exercises daily, tracks goals and progress to keep you motivated, and is built out to help you see both the big picture and the significant details. 

Campfire - (Free trial/cost) Where stories are written, planned, organized, and shared. Create interactive maps, characters, reference notes while you write and more... 

Coggle - (Free & Cost Versions/ Internet Based) Coggle is an online tool for creating and sharing mindmaps, which can help you brainstorm ideas organically. 

Evernote - (Free & Cost Versions/Internet Based) Helps you capture and prioritize ideas, projects, and to-do lists, so nothing falls through the cracks.

Family Echo - (Free/Internet Based) Create a family tree for your characters with this website.

Hiveword Novel Organizer - (Free & Cost Versions/Internet Based) Track characters, scenes, settings, plotlines, and more with the free Hiveword novel organizer. Hiveword's customizability ensures that you'll never outgrow it.

Manuskript - (Free/Windows, Linux, & MacOS) Uses the Snowflake Method to help you outline your novel. Includes a distraction free writing mode, and shows how frequently words and phrases are used in your manuscript. - (Free & Cost Versions/Internet Based) The free version lets you create and organize characters, places, and items. The monthly subscription unlocks the ability to create and organize other aspects of world-building including magic systems, creatures, and languages. 

Plottr - (Cost/Windows, Mac, iOS & Android) Create visual outlines, story bibles, automate your outlines, use existing templates or create your own, and export to Word and Scrivener.

Story Planner (Free & Cost Plans/Internet Based) Story Planner’s easy-to-follow steps help writers plan novels, screenplays and more. We take you through each stage of the planning process to help you create a better story.

Trello - (Free/Internet Based, iOS, & Android) Trello’s boards, lists, and cards enable you to organize and prioritize your projects in a fun, flexible and rewarding way.

WorldAnvil - (Free & Paid Versions/Internet Based) Map out and nest your plots, plan your character arcs, keep track of locations, side characters and languages, and add timelines to document the history behind your writing, and so much more!



ArtBreeder - (Free/Online) Remix images to create your own portraits, landscapes, and so much more!

Azgaar's Fantasy Map Generator - (Free/Online) This is a free open source map generator.

Chaotic Shiny - (Free/Online) A generator site aimed at people who write, game, or live in fantasy worlds of their own creation. Includes name, pantheon, and civilization generators among many others. 

Legomenon Shakespearean Insult Generator - Need unique insults for your novel? Get some ideas from Shakespeare! 

Rink Works Fantasy Name Generator - (Free/Online) Generates an endless number of random fantasy setting names (of people, places, or anything). It can generate names on its own, or you can tell it what kind of name you're looking for. 


Motivators & Focus Tools


Motivate and focus on your writing

4thewords - (Free trial/Cost) Your words have the power to defeat monsters. Defeat over 500 monsters, go on quests, earn items, and level up as you get your writing done!

ColdTurkey (Free & Cost Versions/ Windows & MacOS) A simple interface, ColdTurkey blocks the use of the rest of your computer until you have finished writing, whether you have set yourself a timed or word count goal.

Fighter's Block - (Free/Internet Based) Fighter's Block is a writing app that exploits conditioning to overcome writer's block and sheer laziness. Rewards for writing and punishments for stopping are wrapped in a battle system inspired by turn-based RPGs.

Ohwrite - (Free/Internet Based) Word sprints with friends! Create a room for you and your friends to write together and keep each other accountable.

Write or Die (Free/Internet Based, iOS, & Android coming soon) An application for Windows, Mac and Linux which aims to eliminate writer's block by providing consequences for procrastination and rewards for accomplishments.

Written Kitten - (Free/Internet Based) Set a word count goal and every time you reach that goal, Written Kitten will show you a picture of a cat! 


Listening experiences

Ambient Mixer - (Free) Listen to relaxing music, ambient atmospheres and astonishing sound effects. You can even create your own atmospheric sound mix, online and for free. 

Bensound - (Free & Cost/Internet Based) Royalty free music great for listening while writing or creating book trailers on YouTube.

Hipstersound – (Free & Cost Experiences/Internet Based) Provides writers with the ambiance of various cafés such as one in Texas or Paris and includes other sounds like a crackling fireplace, traffic, and rain to add to your cafe experience. 

MyNoise - (Free & Cost Experiences/Internet Based, iOS, Amazon, & Android) Background noises and interactive landscapes. Block out the noises you don't want and hear what you do. Focus at work. Relax at home. Sleep at night.

Noisli (Free/Internet Based, iOS, Android, & Chrome Extension) Mix and match a selection of nature and other sounds to create your perfect writing environment. Listen to a babbling brook with a train running past, or a fan in a noisy cafe. The options are endless.

Pandora - (Free & Cost/Internet Based, iOS, Android, Windows, & Amazon) Create your own radio stations based on the music you like. The Music Genome Project® enables Pandora to respond to your tastes and tailor each station to you.

Purrli - (Free/Internet Based) The sound of a purring cat is one of the most comforting sounds available and can help soothe and calm you down when you're feeling stressed. Purrli tries to recreate both the sound and the presence of your very own virtual cat through a custom sound engine modelled after real purrs.

Spotify - (Free & Cost/Internet Based, Android, iOS, & Windows) Whether you’re working out, partying or relaxing, the right music is always at your fingertips. Choose what you want to listen to, or let Spotify surprise you. You can also browse through the music collections of friends, artists and celebrities, or create a radio station and just sit back.

Editing Tools


Ginger Grammar Checker - (Free/Internet Based, iOS, Chrome, Safari, & Windows Office) Corrects a vast range of grammatical errors.

Grammarly - (Free & Cost Versions/Windows & Chrome Extension) Scans your text for common and complex grammatical mistakes, spanning everything from subject-verb agreement to article use to modifier placement, and explains your mistakes.

Hemingboard - (Cost/iOS, Mac, & Android coming soon) Synonyms, rhymes, & puns. This is an in-line digital thesaurus in the form of an add-on to the iOS stock keyboard or a keyboard shortcut on the Mac.

Hemingway Editor (Free & Cost Versions/Internet Based, Windows, & MacOS) Color-codes your document to help you edit your work by showing things like where your sentences are too long, or where your voice might be too passive.

Natural Reader - (Free & Cost versions/Internet based, Mac, & Windows) Edit your novels by listening to them being read aloud! 75 different voices to choose from; supports PDF, DOCX, and text documents; create mp3 files, and more.

ProWritingAid - (Free & Cost/Windows, Microsoft Word, Google Chrome, Google Docs, Scrivenor, & Mac) Whatever your level of writing, ProWritingAid will help you achieve new heights. Exceptional writing depends on much more than just correct grammar. You need an editing tool that also highlights style issues and compares your writing to the best writers in your genre. ProWritingAid helps you find the best way to express your ideas.

Synonymful - (Free/Mac, Windows, Linux, & Ubuntu) Improve your vocabulary and communicate like a pro.

Voice Aloud Reader (Free/Android) Listen to the app read aloud or read on screen web pages, news articles, long emails, TXT, PDF, DOC, DOCX, RTF, OpenOffice documens, EPUB, MOBI, PRC, AZW and FB2 ebooks and more. It's an HTML reader, document reader and ebook reader all in one, both for reading on-screen, or listening when your eyes hurt, malfunction or are busy elsewhere.

Word Frequency Counter - (Free/Internet Based) Copy and paste your document into the box on this site and it will count the number of times you used every word. They also have a phrase counter.