The Best Apps for National Novel Writing Month #NaNoWriMo

When I see the Halloween decorations getting cracked out (ever-so early!), it's not the holiday itself I anticipate. It's what happens at midnight. It's the beginning of National Novel Writing Month, which is one of my favorite times of year. The community comes together and cheers each other on and the creative spark is nurtured into some 1667 daily words to meet the lofty 50,000 word goal. If this is new to you, I encourage you to check out the NaNoWriMo website and see what's going on in your neck of the woods.

Given the intensity of writing and my propensity toward technological solutionism (thank you, Evgeny Morozov for that lovely formulation), I have collected a number of apps over the years that enhance the process in any number of ways. Let me count them. I have maybe one or two suggestions for my PC friends, but this list is dominated by the Apple eco-system. #sorrynotsorry


Windows | macOS | iOS

It's software made for writing novels. It really doesn't get any more apropos than that. Scrivener is a feature-rich (possibly even feature-dense) tool for working on longform fiction. Whether you want a distraction-free editor or the ability to move your scenes around on index cards, this magical piece of software will accommodate your writing and editing style.

I'm particularly keen on the function that allows you to download web pages to view offline (Wikipedia, for instance) so you can turn your WiFi off to focus on your writing while still having your research handy. Also great for NaNo: you can set many different types of goals, including a daily goal of 1,667 (or your choice) words. There is also a recent addition to the family: an iOS app that syncs with your macOS and between an iPad and iPhone so you can work on the go.

Downside to all of this amazing functionality: it's expensive. With the desktop app coming in at $45 (check out their NaNo trial) and the mobile app at $20, this is no small investment. It is, however, some of the best software for writing and it will eat your Microsoft Word for lunch. [$45 | $45 | $20]


macOS | iOS

If you're interested in Scrivener but turned off by the skeumorphic design and complex interface, you should consider giving Ulysses a try. With similar functionality for easily moving scenes around and a nice typewriter mode to keep you from agonizing over what you just wrote, this beautifully designed app (winner of a recent Apple Design Award) might just win you over.

The minimalist interface reminds me of a particularly slick Evernote with its three-column layout, but unlike the notetaking app, organization and subheadings (for, say, scenes within chapters within parts within books!) are given great weight. The documentation is friendly and integrated into the app, which is great for folks who prefer to learn by doing. Also includes word count goal setting with nice visual indicators.

The price point is similar to Scrivener at $44 for the desktop version and $25 for the synchronized mobile, which strikes me as slightly high. I am, however, a proponent of paying for good design and while I wouldn't necessarily want both Ulysses and Scrivener, I would encourage someone who owned neither to download both trials and see what appeals. The Ulysses trial is available for 10 hours of writing time after which documents can no longer be edited. [$44 | $25]

OmmWriter Dāna II

Windows | macOS

This is not the fully-fledged word processor you're looking for. It is, however, a stunning distraction-free text editor with elegant writing backgrounds (think a snow-covered fields and neutral gradients), soothing music, and satisfying keystroke sounds.

OmmWriter fills a number of niches: hands-down the best distraction-free editor (far prettier than Byword or iaWriter, both of which are still excellent products), perfect background noise for when you don't feel like playing disc jockey, and the keystroke sounds are a unique feature that shouldn't be dismissed. The feedback that makes mechanical keyboards so satisfying is fully present here, but the sounds are far less intrusive than the traditional clacking noise of a true typewriter.  If you find yourself frequently distracted by the magical time sink that is the Internet, this app may be for you. [Pay What You Want | $6]



There are a million and one background noise apps available, many of which are fine -- lovely, even (I'm thinking specifically of RainyMood and Thunderspace here) -- but Noizio is, in my opinion, superior for two reasons: first, the variety of sounds is great without being overwhelming, and second, the design is tremendous. None of the alternatives hit both points and I always appreciate having a native app instead of yet another tab to manage and the ability to use it offline. If you're looking for a web or Android option, Noizio was heavily inspired by Noisli, which is another great choice. [ $5 | $2 ]

Be Focused Pro

macOS | iOS [currently unavailable]

The Pomodoro Method is famous in Indianapolis's NaNo community, so much so we have anointed one of our MLs The Tomato Queen. During our write-ins, we use Pomodoro timers to divide up our time between word sprints and social time.

A standard Pomodoro lasts for 25 minutes, followed by a 5 minute break. After the four Pomodoros, you take a longer 15 minute break. However, this excellent app gives you a great deal of flexibility in Pomodoro and break length, so if you work best in 45 minute chunks and want a 10 minute break, you can do that, too.

Be Focused has a free version in the Mac App Store, but if you want synchronization between iOS and macOS, then you need Be Focused Pro, which is $4.99. You can name your Pomodoro tasks and keep track of how many Pomodoros you spend on your writing! A great productivity tool whether you're working alone or at a write-in. [$5]



If you've never heard of the Seinfeld productivity method, it's pretty straightforward: you identify a habit or task you want to begin doing regularly. Every day you do said task, you cross a day off your calendar. By crossing the day off, you're creating a chain that, theoretically, you won't want to break by skipping a day. If you'd like to apply this method to your NaNo activities, this is a wonderful app! You can track multiple habits or tasks, so while you're tracking your daily writing, you can also make sure that you're still keeping up with things like bathing and reading. Fun little app with absolutely beautiful design (another Apple Design Award winner!). [$4]