Many new writers and authors start out using a word processor such as Microsoft Word, iA Writer or Google Docs.
But word processors are not designed to help you with a creative writing project such as fiction books.
Word processing, spreadsheets, email managers and a desktop publisher are for commerce and administration and are not the best tools at all for creative thinkers and the writing process.
You want to write a book or a novel, not a letter or a report so forget all about using Microsoft Office.
But don’t worry. There are plenty of alternatives when it comes to free book writing software.
Choosing the right tools to write your book
When you decide to write a book, you would be much better advised to look in an app store for a writing program that is more distraction free (yes, no social media!) and explicitly designed for writing a book.
There are a lot of book writing software packages available for writers. But, some such as Ulysses, Vellum and even Word can all cost you a lot of money.
If you are a book writer and just starting writing your book, there are many free alternatives and editing software that you can try.
There is always a learning curve when you start using new software programs. So it is much better if you can spend your time and not your money when you are learning how to use a new writing program.
Luckily though, most of the applications in this post are easy to learn how to use and set up for writing your new book.
It takes a long time to write a book. That’s why as a non-fiction or fiction writer you need software designed for the task.
The main criteria for good book writing software are that you can write chapter by chapter or even scene by scene. You also want to be able to keep notes about your characters, events and if possible mind maps and record a timeline. An auto save function is also desirable.
Another feature that is important to many writers is to have a distraction-free mode. Or at least reduce the clutter on your screen while you write in a text editor. Sometimes, a plain text editor is all you need.
Books are long-form writing, so working on one huge, long lump of text in one document is not only cumbersome but also prone to file and save errors.
It really is an unsafe way to write a book because the chances of something going wrong technically are very high. Especially with Word.
Another consideration is that a good program for writing a book is rarely suitable or available as a mobile Android or an iPhone or iPad iOS app.
When you try the software and online book writing apps below and start writing, you will immediately notice the difference and understand why writing a book needs a totally different approach.
To get you started, here is a selection of the seven very best totally free web-based and open source book writing apps, software and tools.
There are also details later in the article about three free trial book writing software programs.
7 Free book writing software choices for authors
1. yWriter (Free)
I have to start with yWriter because it was developed by a writer, Simon Haynes.
He explains the reason for going to all the trouble to create this software, and it should resonate with many writers.
“I really struggled with my first novel because I wrote slabs of text into a big word processor file and I just couldn’t make sense of the whole thing at once. No real overview, no easy jumping from scene to scene, nothing.”
An excellent explanation as to why word processors are not designed for writing fiction.
The key feature of yWriter is that it breaks book writing into chapters and scenes. When writing a book, this is a must-have feature.
It also comes with the ability to build characters and locations.
2. Manuskript (Free)
Manuskript is a feature-rich book writing tool. It has an outliner, word count, distraction-free mode and a novel assistant to help you develop characters using the snowflake method.
You can also keep track with notes about all your characters, the plot, events and places in your story which could certainly help improve your writing.
3. Sigil (Free)
Sigil is open-source, free software that is well regarded for producing e-books in epub format. In this respect, it is similar to, if not even better than Calibre.
It has multiple views including book view, code view and preview as well as a WYSIWYG editor. It also has a Table of Contents generator with multi-level heading support.
There is a metadata editor as well as spell check with default and user dictionaries.
It also supports the import of EPUB and HTML files, images, and style sheets.
4. Wordcradle (Free)
Wordcradle is a free online novel writing tool that really has a lot going for it.
You can set up projects with word count goals and how much time you want to allocate to your writing aims. These are great tools to have if you want to practice writing on a schedule.
The character cards allow you to construct a profile for each one during your rough draft and they are set in an attractive table layout.
Index cards are a must when writing a novel, and Wordcradle is equipped to handle all your ideas and to track changes you might make to your storyline.
5. Bibisco (Free)
Bibisco is open source software specially designed for writing a novel.
It has all the elements you will need including character development and tracking, chapter and scene organisation and note tracking.
Everything you need to write a novel in one free software package. Bibisco is available for Mac, Windows and Linux.
6. Focus Writer (Free)
FocusWriter has one key attribute. It is about total distraction-free writing.
While it has many options you need to set things up for your writing your book, it has a hide-away interface that lets you concentrate on the one big thing you want to do. Write.
Forget about menus, toolbars, drag and drop or copy and paste with this app. There is all focus mode with nothing between you and your words.
It is very user-friendly, free and available for Linux, Windows, and Mac OS X.
For a dedicated book writing app, Shaxpir gives you a lot of features in its free version.
The Manuscript Builder provides drag-and-drop tools to rearrange your manuscript. You can change the order and hierarchy of chapters and scenes, so you can find a structure that works for you.
You can set goals and track your progress and keep detailed notes about your characters, places and events.
It also allows you to add margin comments as well as collect concept art.
There is also an in-built spellchecker.
As far as free book writing software goes, Shaxpir offers you a huge range of features.
It is available for Mac and PC with offline plus cloud access.
Three free trial book writing software packages
Wrap up on free book writing software
From the choices of the pieces of software above, you’ll find at least one of these free book writing apps will help you write and publish better, overcome writer’s block and be more organized no matter what your writing style.
Combined with a reliable online grammar checker to keep your use of adverbs, passive voice and repeated words under control, you are surely going to be writing better and more every day.
So forget about office applications that belong to cubicle warriors, and start learning how to write a book or even a short story with tools that are specifically designed for the purpose of creative writing and maximising your writing time.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, there are many fine paid apps which come highly recommended but are very often more suited to professional writers, content writers and writing a blog post.
However, there is no need to make a big investment in book writing software if you are just getting started on moving away from Word and Google Docs.
Try a few of these free writing apps and see if they work for you and if they can help you write a better book or novel. They might not turn you into a bestselling author overnight. But you never know, do you?
More apps: We have another article listing 40 free and productive writing apps for writers and bloggers that may interest you. Take a look.