Microsoft Word is the Huffy bike from Wal-Mart of word processors; it’s a fine place to start, but you need to upgrade when you’re ready for long distance.

Some writers may be organized enough to write an entire novel in a single word document; I don’t know those writers. 

For screenwriters and playwrights, the industry standard is the very expensive* and very worth it Final Draft 9FD9 formats your screenplay as you type, has space to plot every aspect of your story and character arcs, and even virtual index cards for step-outlining that are integrated with the script. It’s all a bit daunting at first if you came up on Word, but there are a lot of how-to videos to help get your bearings, and once you do, it’s a dream to write with. For me, the best part is Courier Final Draft, the paragon of fonts. In a promo for FD9, Entourage creator Doug Ellin said before Final Draft, his work was a mess. 

FD9 does have a novel template, but it’s less than worthless. I tried drafting with it for a few weeks and went back to Scrivener after one too many indentation debacles. 

Image: Final Draft


Scrivener is the real deal for real novelists, and an affordable alternative ($45) to Final Draft 9 for screenwriters. As with Final Draft 9, the learning curve is steep. After nine happy months on Scrivener, there are still buttons I dare not press. I use what works for me, ignore the rest, and keep tapping away. 

Scrivener has index cards too, and ‘cork boards’ for outlining. There are daily word count targets, based on your deadline and what days of the week you write (all 7 if you’ve been learning anything from this blog.) Scrivener is for big projects and all the notes, outlines, character sketches and miscellany they entail. It has space for illustrations and maps of your story world. There’s a template for multi-part novels–Anna Karenina could’ve fit neatly into Scrivener’s Russian doll of folders. 

The program works just as well for non-fiction as Tim Ferriss(also a pour over coffee guy) will attest. When you’re project is complete, Scrivener lets you compile your work into a variety of manuscript and ebook formats.

Image: Literature & Latte

If you’re working on a Mac, both of these programs allow you to work in fullscreen, a big help at blocking out distractions.

*As software goes, it’s not that bad.
Complain about it to someone who uses
Photoshop or Pro Tools.