This year marks the 20th anniversary of the National Novel Writing Month project, which challenges people to write a 50,000-word novel in November. NaNoWriMo, as it is known, is a nonprofit that supports creative writing and education. Those who sign up for the group’s free annual event get community support, progress tracking and motivational advice to complete a book draft.
If you think you have a novel in you, here is a quick guide to digital tools to help you along your way.
(And if the thought of cranking out an average of 1,667 words a day in the NaNoWriMo challenge doesn’t fit in with your schedule or you need more prep time — don’t despair. You could write it at your own pace.)
The NaNoWriMo site has useful writing guides and other material to help you map out your plot and develop your characters before you dive in.
Check your app store for software like Novelist (free for Android), which has a text editor function and templates for organizing plot points, themes and characters — along with tools for tracking word-count goals and backing up your work. Writing Shed ($10 to $14 for iOS, iPadOS and Mac), Bear ($1.50 a month for iOS, iPadOS and Mac) and Writer Tools (free to $5 a month for Android) are similar options.
For those serious about book writing, Scrivener is a full-fledged composition and manuscript-management program. It uses a clever interface to break long documents into sections so you can write, research and rearrange word chunks more easily. Scrivener runs on Windows, Mac and iOS systems; prices start at $20 with a free trial available.
If you’ve already done your prep work, fire up your word processor. Most common programs — including Apple’s Pages, Dropbox Paper, Google Docs, Microsoft Word and Zoho Writer — work on computer and mobile devices. You can write on the screen you’re currently using and have the text update everywhere, although you may need an Office 365 subscription for syncing Word files.
Want a stripped-down interface without toolbars and other distracting elements? Consider an uncluttered writing app like Ulysses ($5 a month for iOS, iPadOS and macOS) or iA Writer ($30 or less for Android, iOS, iPad OS. Mac and Windows). And to keep your attention focused, inexpensive productivity aids like Cold Turkey, Freedom and RescueTime block the internet and time-wasting apps if you don’t have the willpower to go offline or get away from Facebook.
How do you want to physically produce your words? Scrawling in longhand on a legal notepad has an old-school flair to it, but you’ll eventually have to retype it. Some writers prefer to compose at the keyboard from the start.
If you’re using a tablet but hate typing on a glass screen, cases and covers with built-in keyboards are readily available at a variety of prices. You can also connect a keyboard to your Android or Apple phone or tablet for less than $30 — like the Logitech K380 Multi-Device Bluetooth Keyboard favored by Wirecutter, a product review site owned by The Times.
But if typing for long stretches is uncomfortable or impossible, a speech-to-text app might help. Third-party transcription programs are available, but Android and Apple’s mobile systems — as well as Windows and Mac — come with a free basic dictation function so you can “voice type” instead. Just be sure to speak clearly and memorize the vocalized punctuation and “new paragraph” commands.
Build in time to read your work after you write it. Look for plot holes and other flaws in your story — and don’t forget to use your app’s spelling and grammar tools. Most word processors include a basic spellchecker, but you also have inexpensive options like Grammarly, which uses artificial intelligence to analyze and improve your overall writing.
When you’ve completed your manuscript, whether by finishing the NaNoWriMo contest or working independently, pause for a minute to congratulate yourself. You’ve written a book.
Next, decide what you want to do with it. If you want to share, post your chapters on a social storytelling platform like Wattpad, Penana or Radish. Or you could self-publish it as an ebook using free tools like Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing or Apple’s iBooks Author.
You can also go back, rewrite your manuscript and make it better, possibly for professional publication. After all, Sara Gruen’s 2006 best-selling novel “Water for Elephants,” which became a feature film in 2011, started as a NaNoWriMo draft.