Top 5 Free Writing Programs for Drafting Your Novel

Seeing as Camp NaNoWriMo is less than a month away, I thought I’d kick off the prep with something that will be useful for the nanoers out there. And it only seems fitting that I begin this blogging journey with something near and dear to my heart – writing.

So I decided to create a list of the five free writing programs that I would recommend to fellow NaNoers and writers alike.

I had four criteria for this list:

  1. They had to be free or have a good free plan available – NO free trials
  2. They had to be versatile – if you’ve ever done NaNoWriMo, you know that you’ll want to be able to write whenever you have time, and that doesn’t mean you’ll be sitting in front of your computer. I wanted them to have online sites, or some sort of mobile functionality so you can write whenever you get the chance.
  3. Good for drafting – I wanted to include programs that had features that were good for specifically for drafting. Some of these lend themselves pretty well to editing as well, but that isn’t the focus of NaNoWriMo.
  4. Something I’d used fairly extensively myself – I’m not going to recommend something I’ve never used. I’m not cool with that.

If you’re tired of Microsoft Word and want to try something new, or this is your first time writing a novel and you don’t know where to get started, maybe consider one of these five amazing programs:

1. Google Docs

google docs interface for writing your nanowrimo novel, free writing program

I’m sure this is no surprise, as Google Docs is a well-loved writing tool, but this one is first on my list for several reasons. Firstly, is that many of you will probably already have a google account, which means there is no sign ups involved, and no extra account information to remember.

Secondly, it’s all online, which means you can easily work from any device. I love being able to write at home and then pick up right where I left off on my phone when I’m commuting. And when I get home again, everything I wrote on my phone has already been updated. It makes for such a stress-free, hassle-free writing experience. And for those who like to disconnect while writing, Google Docs does have the option of making your documents available offline so you don’t have to worry about having an internet connection.

It’s a decent text editor, but I’ll admit it is fairly basic. And that brings me to my third point, and something I learned of only recently. You can actually add to the functionality with add-ons, including speech recognition, mind maps, and fancy text editors. Fair warning, some of them are paid, but there are also a lot of free options to play with.

While I find Google Docs to be a refreshingly simple writing experience, it isn’t perfect. The biggest downside has to be the sorting system. Google Docs will sort things in order of last opened, which isn’t helpful when you haven’t touched your outline in two months and you have to scroll past every rough draft of a scene or chapter to find it again. To circumvent that you can organize all of your documents in Google Drive but it’s a little frustrating having two apps on my phone when it makes more sense to consolidate them.

Still, it’s probably the easiest to jump into and the one I would recommend starting with.

2. Evernote

Feature rich free program, use evernote to draft your nanowrimo novel

Evernote is probably the program I use more than any other, though it has become more of a backup system for me at this point than anything else. With desktop software, an excellent web service, and a mobile app, you can use it pretty much anywhere. It also has a ton of amazing features and a unique tag system for organizing. You can organize your writing projects by notebooks, and even group notebooks together so you can organize even further and have one notebook for characters, one notebook for worldbuilding, etc., and if you’re as over the top as I am you can have a notebook for each draft.

Again though, I’m not a fan of the sorting system. Though it has lots of different options for sorting, I’m still not able to choose how I want things organized which is frustrating. I think it’s also important to mention that there are a few subscription tiers, but the free plan is decent and more than enough for your novel-drafting needs.

It has a lot of bells and whistles and that also makes a little less intuitive than some of the other options on this list. Still a really good program, with excellent versatility and organization potential.

3. OneNote

microsoft one note free program for writing your nanowrimo novel

OneNote is another really solid note-taking program that I think works really well for drafting. I’d say it’s fairly similar to Evernote where novel-writing is concerned, and it employs a similar notebook system for organizing everything. It gets a leg up because you can organize and reorganize your notes the way you want to, which is so useful, especially if you write out of order or tend to shuffle things around like I do.

In the end, Evernote has far more functionality, including audio clips, annotation, and handwriting recognition which makes it stand out and adds usefulness beyond text processing, but if you’re drafting, none of that probably matters to you, making One Note an excellent alternative. It’s a little more intuitive and user-friendly than it’s rival, Evernote.

The app itself is totally free but it uses OneDrive which does have a file size limitation. To get more space you will have to pay for a subscription, but the free plan gives you 5gb which is more than enough for drafting. Both OneNote and Evernote have handwriting functionality, if you happen to prefer physically writing and I largely prefer the handwriting in One Note.

4. Apache Open Office

Open office is a great alternative to microsoft word, another free program to write your nano novel

I didn’t forget about the traditionalists out there. If you like the standard Microsoft Word experience but don’t want to shell out for their monthly plan, Open Office is an amazing alternative that I used for years before I switched to using apps that were online and/or cloud-based.

There is also a Word app (Google Play/iTunes) for your mobile device and Open Office can save your files in the standard Microsoft formats so you can easily edit on your phone or tablet, using something like Dropbox. I’ll be honest, you end up juggling a lot of programs (which is why I opted for something else in the first place) and it can be a bit of a hassle, but if you like the pure word processing experience, than Open Office works great and it’s open source so it’s totally free!

5. Trello

write your nano novel using trello, free novel writing program, scrivener alternative

I’ll admit, Trello might be a little unconventional as a writing app, but hear me out. While not as powerful as Scrivener, if you like the idea of an index card system where you can move chapters and scenes around as you need to, you might want to give Trello a shot.

It’s free, you can have multiple lists for character profiles, arcs, drafts, or povs, and it even has a really good labelling system that is bright, bold and easily configured. It also has an easy to use app so you can draft on any device.

It doesn’t have much in the way of formatting and what it does have uses markdown which you may not be familiar with. There is a handy formatting guide, but it won’t be second nature the way it would with a regular word processor. But I don’t mind the simplicity, and I like how easy it is to move things around. I think Trello offers good flexibility, a very pure drafting experience and it’s totally free, so what have you got to lose?

Got Any Suggestions?

Have you used any of these programs? Which did you prefer? Did they work for you or didn’t they? Do you have any recommendations to add to this list? Share your experiences down below!

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