NaNoWriMo Writing Tools Revealed – Our Write Side

Sunday starts the 2015 race to start and finish an intense writing project known as “NaNoWriMo” or National Novel Writing Month.

You’ve probably seen tips and tricks all over social media to help you prep. Everyone has their own system, and if you are a first time participant, it can be very overwhelming. Now, I’m not a pro, but I do have 5 years of NaNo under my belt. I didn’t win every year, but I did learn something every year.

In fact, as I grow as a writer, I learn plenty of new things constantly. This is the main reason why I want to share some tips and tricks with you that might make a difference in your personal NaNo success this year.

Last week, I offered 8 tips. Today, I break down different writing programs and share my personal experience with each and why I prefer the ones I use most.

There are so many different writing programs out there it can get confusing. One of the most frequently asked questions I see on Facebook is “What is a good free writing program?”

As an author pursuing publishing, I have tried several different writing programs, from Word to Evernote, Open Office to Google Docs, Scrivener to some writing app I downloaded to my iPad I don’t remember the name of. If you are an Apple user, I can’t really give any advice to pages, as I never used it, and still don’t on my iPhone. That being said, I do use both Word and Google Docs effectively on my iPhone, and could access Evernote if I wanted to.

Let’s begin…


This is a fantastic program. It includes an app for your phone that can be used on or offline. It also has a cool Chrome extension. The Evernote Web Clipper is easy to install, and it allows you to grab and save stuff you find on the web, making it easier to store all those little notes and research things you need to help move your story along, and not forget where you found it. It is easy to share your writing with another person from evernote, as it provides options similar to Google Docs to share a link or send in an email. The downside of this program is that while it is great and easy to use, whatever you add on your phone or tablet offline won’t show up on the account until you get your device online. You don’t have to do anything special, except get online. Another downside is that you can’t submit to publishers from Evernote.

Evernote has plenty of features in it’s attempt to keep up with Google Drive and Word, and I have not explored all of them. I use only the free program. I rate this program with 3 out of 5 stars. It is a great option to use in a pinch if you find yourself needing to make a note or something in a dead zone or without wi-fi.

Open Office

When I didn’t have Word, this was the #1 recommended program when I needed to format my manuscripts for submissions. It functions much like Word, right down to the layout. It’s also free. I have only used the program for writing, so I can’t say anything about the other parts it offers. I don’t have a lot to say about this one as I didn’t care for it. It worked as far as having a place to write, but the lack of word count input meant that I had to spend extra time adding what I’d written into a word count tool and saving that number on the document. This also meant that I had to remove that number in editing later. I’m lazy. I have a busy life. I don’t want to spend any more time in any one document than necessary, just too many voices in my head.

I rate this program with 1 out of 5 stars. It just wasn’t effective for me in my needs.

Motivate. (Scavenger hunt)


I have only used this program during one year of Nano, when the download was free for NaNo participants and they offered a 50% discount to the winners. I did not take the time to watch the videos or research all the information on the proper way to use this program. I don’t want to have to do that.  I like programs that are user-friendly, easily used, easily understood with just a simple exploration of the different drop downs provided. An author designed Scrivener so it has many uses for the long term writing, including chapter/scene notes, a “corkboard” to pin notes, and just about anything a writer needs. It is a highly praised program that generally costs about $40. Many writers I know use this program and love it, but I also know they spent many hours watching the videos and learning how to use the program before diving in. I do recommend the program if you have the time, patience, and money to use it. Many places offer discounts on the program so research before you pay full price.

I did notice that my projects saved as a Scrivener and I had to reformat them to use proper submission procedure. On the flip side, all of my projects that I started in the program are still accessible through the program so I can continue working on them, even though NaNo ended.

This is honestly probably the best paid tool to use for all your longer manuscripts, though it is not necessarily the best for screen/playwrights. I’ll rate it 4 out of 5 based on my experience. I can’t give it a 5 as I found a program I like better and use 99.9% of the time.

Perhaps the biggest discussion here is between Google Docs and Microsoft Office. They compete with each other, constantly trying to out do the other. In fact, the new Office coming out soon is due largely to Microsoft wanting to keep up with Google Docs and offer the same easy use and features.

Google Documents

This is my preferred program. I have lots to say about it, but I’ll keep this short and to the point. Google docs has all the functionality of Microsoft Word and then some for free. Not only can I create a new document, but I can share that document in editing, viewing, and commenting modes with whomever I choose via a sharing link or email invitation, or both. Not only that, but once the document is shared, I can chat with the other person, watch as they make suggestions, read their comments, and watch them edit if I choose to. If I happen to miss something, no worries, as I also receive an email with each suggestion and comment. This is actually a better system for editing, simply because by offering suggestions rather than changing, you learn more about how to write better. You can choose which suggestions to keep or dismiss, and with the simple click on the checkmark, it’s instantly fixed for you, eliminating time spent doing edits.

Another bonus for me is that I can leave myself little comments along the way, similar to the “notes” and “corkboard” of Scrivener. I can highlight and keep notes on names and places, or something that I might want to flesh out later with a right click and notation, and I don’t have to lose my place in the story at all. Along that same vein, I find it easier to edit for other people in this program. It’s easier to navigate, smooth to use, and the comments are easy to read. The added feature of an email sent to the other person is a bonus.

It also offers a word count in its tools. Unlike Word, it doesn’t show you your word count at the bottom of the screen. You have to actually click on tools and word count to see it. For NaNo purposes this is actually a fantastic system, allowing me to just write without the pressure of the word count. I’m always surprised to see the word count when I’ve completed an essay or article, or even a short story.

Additionally, it is a free app that works on any phone. You can create documents that will automatically save to your Drive, edit and make suggestions, and much more.

The only downside I have noticed about this program is that the formatting changes if you copy from Word to Docs, or vice versa. It does save as a doc, so if you email it to yourself, you might get around this. I haven’t tried it. It’s only annoying when I have page breaks for whatever reason. For NaNo purposes, I suggest you just write without worrying about chapters or page breaks. You can always add those in during editing stage as you format your manuscript in Word for submission purposes if necessary.

I must note that Google Documents has a lot of the same features as Microsoft, including forms, slides, and more. What’s great about Google Drive, where your Google Docs get saved, is that you can openly share your folders with anyone, anytime, with a simple link or email invitation. This is particularly handy if you have a writing partner or someone you go to first to give you feedback on your work. Once you grant them access, they can keep up with you until you remove their permissions. That is something Microsoft didn’t offer when we started using it, and the main reason why we use it over anything else.

Note: Powerpoint is better for audio additions then Google Slides. Google needs to catch up to Microsoft in this aspect.

I rate Google Docs as 5 out of 5 stars. I simply love this program. I can link my ProWritingAid editing tool to it and it will catch errors without have to copy and paste into the editing site itself. It offers a drop down for add-ons to personalize your Google Docs to your liking, as well.

Microsoft Word

I know Microsoft just released the new 2016 version, but I’m still working on the 2013 edition. I don’t use it online, instead I pay $10 a month and have installed it on every device I own so my teenagers can also use it for their documents and such as required by their schools. I recently discovered you can use Microsoft Word online now for free, but I haven’t explored it enough to talk about it. All I know about it is that it is supposed to function much like Google Docs to make sharing easier.

Here’s what I can say about Word. It is, of course, the most popular writing program in existence. Most publishers accept .doc and .docx as preference. It makes formatting smooth and easy. Your word count is right at the bottom of the screen. You can do most anything you need to do in Word. I used Word until I discovered all the conveniences and ease of Google Docs. I rate it with 5 stars also. ProWritingAid also has an option for Word.

I do recommend Word over Google Docs when it comes to formatting your document, simply because it has a better format for adding a cover page, page numbers, and the little nuisances most publishers require in their guidelines.

Stay tuned. I’ll be adding more NaNo related goodies as November goes by, including a discussion of the various editing tools and how they can help you.

What’s your favorite program? I’d love to talk about them.