Writing Software – Alternatives to Word


It’s been a while since I’ve really looked at writing software, specifically alternatives to Word. I know, I know. There are a lot of problems with Word, not the least of which is it is a Microsoft product. But the reality is it is still what most “pros” in the industry use and it is what many of us are familiar with. However, I hate the subscription model — and it doesn’t matter what software manufacturer is involved. When I pay for a piece of software, I want to be done with paying and not get hit for $100 (or more) per year (Yes, Adobe, I’m looking at you.)

So, I started looking at alternative word processing programs a while ago. No, I’m not going to talk about Open Office or Libre Office. Those programs are all right but, imo, have many of the same issues Word has. Plus, there can be some rather “interesting” conversion issues, especially with OO, if you use Smashwords.

Instead, I decided to look at programs that are ostensibly designed with writers in mind. The only caveat I will add here is that this is the first of two, maybe three, posts I’ll do on the topic because I’ve just started the head-to-head comparison.

The first piece of software I want to mention is Vellum. This is a Mac only piece of software and, unfortunately, it doesn’t have an iOS version. That latter is a drawback, imo, because a lot of us don’t carry our laptops any longer when we leave the house or office, preferring to take our iPads instead.

Vellum can be used as a word processing program but, to be honest, it isn’t a great one for that. Instead, it is a awesome program for formatting and converting your manuscript into both print and e-books. Not only is it a one time fee — Yay! — but it is pretty intuitive to learn. I was up and running with it in about 30 minutes the first time I used it. However, I don’t like it as a writing program. That really isn’t what it was meant for but give it a try.

BTW, you can download the full program to try it out. There are restrictions on conversion and output, but you can get a very good feel for the program during the trial. If you use a Mac I recommend giving it a try.

Next up is the Ulysses app. I have played around with the program a little and it falls in the middle-of-the-road area for me. Even though it is relatively inexpensive, it is a subscription app. In other words, every month, quarter or year, you have to pay to continue using it. That is a negative.

On the plus side, if you are a Mac user, you can use it across your Mac laptop, your iPad and your iPhone. That is a big plus and something I wish we could do with Vellum.

Also on the plus side, it’s document library allows you to see all your documents created with the app in a single pane of your work window. That’s awesome and something you can’t do with Vellum or with Scrivener.

The big negative for the app is that is is basically a text mark-up app. That means you aren’t going to see what you type formatted the way it will appear in the final document until you export it. While that is okay for some, it will drive others batty. Worse, it means you have to check extra closely how your text looks after both export and conversion.

The one thing I really liked was the focused composition window which is a black background with white text (you can probably adapt the colors, but I haven’t tried do yet.) It really is a lot less distracting than having all the ribbons and stuff you have with Word and other word processing programs. Just seeing the words on the page helps — a lot.

Now for Scrivener. This is the only program available for both Mac and PC. It also has an iOS version that was written to sync with Scrivener 3. I’ll be honest. I’ve had Scrivener for years but have never really done much with it because it always seemed too daunting. There were too many panels and too many distractions — a deadly trap for a writer when you are looking for reasons not to write.

However, when I learned Scrivener 3 had been released, I started doing a little research into it. I’ll admit right now I haven’t worked much with it and this is why I will be doing at least one more post on writing software in the next week or two.

I will say that, so far at least, I am loving the changes. You still have the basic features — cork board, etc. But the look of the interface is better. The colors are better adapted for the newer Macs and iOS devices. The included tutorial is good and there are some excellent videos. Scrivener also has the white on black composition screen. Add in a new function that keeps track of your word count on a daily basis and a few other bells and whistles and this new version is a huge leap forward — as it should be. It has been years since the devs put out a new version and tech has changed.

Also on the plus side, like Vellum, Scrivener is a one-time purchase. When a new version comes out, you don’t have to upgrade unless you want. If you do, they offer the newest version at a substantial discount. The upgrade from 2 to 3 was, iirc, $25. A new purchase is approximately $50.

One last note on both Scrivener and Vellum. Whenever I’ve had to contact the devs for either program, they have been extremely quick to respond. Vellum almost always responds within a day and usually sooner. Scrivener responds almost as quickly. I haven’t had a reason to contact the devs for Ulysses, so I don’t have information about that.

Right now, I give thumbs up to both Vellum and Scrivener but for different reasons. Vellum for the simple fact it is an awesome formatting and conversion program. Scrivener for not only the updates in its newest version and because you can see formatting as you write instead of having to wait until you export.

My one real question about Scrivener 3 is how well its compile and export function works. Going hands-on-hand with that is the fact I need to try out how well it ties in with Vellum. In one of the last updates, Vellum added that functionality and I have yet to try it. So those are two areas i will look at and report back on.

Now, it’s time to get back to the laundry and then, hopefully, I can sit down and get some work done.

Have a great weekend!


    1. Mark, run over to Mad Genius Club. I’ve done several posts there about software for writers. I know a number of writers who love Jutoh for formatting, etc., Scrivener (which is multi-platform) for writing and organizing, etc.

  1. Thank you, Amanda. I looked at the Jutoh website. I have a question. At first glance, the added features of Jutoh Plus seems kinda superfluous. Is there any real reason to buy the additional functionality?

    1. I will admit, I don’t use Jutoh currently. I looked at it the other day because another writer I know was asking about PC software. I did try it years ago and, like the original Scrivener, it felt too bloated and had too many distractions. So, unfortunately, I can’t really answer your question. I will ask one in return. What, exactly, are you wanting to do with the software? (write, format and convert, etc)

      1. Amanda, I’ve written prolly 4? books in a series that will likely prove to be 10+ books, depending on how I break them up. I decided that I oughta start putting them out, so my PRIMARY need right now is formatting them for both ebook and print on demand versions. Important to me is the ability of the program to fluidly incorporate illustrations. I’m an artist, so I want to make a more lavishly illustrated “deluxe” edition available for fans that might want to see that.

        1. Hmm. My first thought is you might need to go ahead and invest in InDesign, but I’m not sure. You might want to ask Cedar. My second thought is to remind you that, on Amazon at least, there is a transmission charge for e-books you’re charging $2.99 or more for. It is normally so small, you won’t realize it is being charged but it is based on the data size of the book. The more illustrations, the higher the fee.

          1. Thx for the heads-up on InDesign, I’ll check it out. I envision two versions: a “regular” ebook version, and a slightly pricier illustrated version for rabid fans. I don’t mind Amazon taking a bite on the spendier version.

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