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Level Up Your Writing with These 5 Apps

The apps you use in your writing process can level up the whole experience, or waste your time and cause you massive headaches. I’ve tried many in my eleven years of writing novels, and I’ve found some clear winners—and some apps you’re probably better off leaving behind.

First up, the most important part of writing: actually putting putting words on the page. You might think any old word processor gets the job done, and you wouldn’t exactly be wrong… but there’s one writing app that blows the others out of the water, especially when it comes to writing novels.

1. Scrivener

I use Scrivener for every part of ideation, outlining, and writing.

I used to write in Word, and I’ve also tried Google Docs, but this was a major upgrade. Especially with how many ideas and miscellaneous notes I end up having for everything I write, the ability to organize everything in folders and subdocuments comes in handy a lot.

You can set writing goals, which will track how much you’ve written and how much you need to write every day to hit a target by a certain date. You can give your chapters and scenes summaries and tags and custom icons, and get an overview of your story in cork board or outline view. You can make character sheet templates, and store research for easy reference.

One of my favorite things about Scrivener is how customizable it is. You can create theme presets with different fonts and colors for the entire app, and then switch between them with a couple clicks. I always create a new theme for every new story I write.

One thing that’s highly customizable and a great feature I use every time I write is Composition Mode, which completely blocks out any distractions. It hides incoming notifications, and doesn’t show anything except what you want it to show. You can even use a focus mode to highlight only the text you’re actively working on.

Scrivener automatically saves your document anytime you make changes. You can set it to save after as little as 1 second of inactivity. Believe me—this is extremely important. I’m still haunted by the day when I was eight years old, writing my second novel, and opened the document to discover a horrible sight. I’d lost pages of writing… so many words… because Word had closed… without saving.

Not only does Scrivener automatically save your document while you’re writing, but it also creates backup files just in case. And you can take a snapshot of a document to preserve a certain version before making changes.

The app’s got a lot of features, enough to make a whole video about, so I’ll spare you the exhaustive details here.

As for collaborative writing… You can add comments in Scrivener, so you could share the document with someone else, but they would have to also have Scrivener to open it. The one novel I wrote collaboratively, with my sister, I wrote in Google Docs. Right now, I copy and paste what I’ve written in Scrivener into a Google Doc that’s used for collaborative editing. Other than that, Scrivener gives you everything and more you need to plan and write a novel, or a screenplay, or a short story. Whatever you want.

Scrivener is a paid app, but well worth it in my opinion. (They’re not a sponsor, of course.) You can get a free trial if you want and see if it works for you. There’s also a student discount. Once you get the app for a certain platform, like macOS, you can use it across all devices with that system.

Unfortunately, the mobile version costs extra, and I haven’t used it, so I can’t attest to its awesomeness, or lack thereof. But for writing on a computer, which is what you’ll want to do 99% of the time, it’s probably the best novel writing software around. It’s also the only app on this list designed by a writer for writers.

2. Notion

I use Notion for project management and idea collection.

I primarily use the desktop app, but when I’m on the go, I use the mobile app to jot down ideas. I use Notion to track progress on the book development process and manage tasks I need to do for writing, editing, research, or publication. I mostly use it for behind-the-scenes work, like planning marketing and project timelines. I also use it to plan social media posts, newsletters, and videos. So Scrivener is for the creative side of writing, and Notion is for the business side.

While I sometimes use Notion to create standalone documents, I mostly use databases, which you can view as a calendar, list, gallery, board, timeline, or table, and filter and sort to your heart’s content. This makes it really useful for handling large amounts of information and giving you an overview of what you’re working on. You can create checklists, schedules, and whatever else you need to get your business, your creative projects, or your life organized.

You can also use Notion to create a wiki or a series bible for your story’s world, or worlds. You can create pages for characters, locations, technology, important events, whatever you want, and refer to your database when writing. You can use references to connect pages and tags to sort them.

I don’t use Notion for this, since I already built my own publicly accessible Taylorverse Wiki as a website, but Notion is a much easier way to go. And it’s free. There are paid plans, but there are practically no limitations on what you can do at the free level, so… check it out.

3. Spotify

I always listen to music on Spotify when I write. It helps me get immersed in the world of my story, and the feeling of the scene I’m trying to write.

I listen to film and TV soundtracks, and sometimes classical or other instrumental music, depending on the story.

For every book I write, I create one playlist for the entire book, with instrumental music that basically fits the entire story and world. I’ll often also create secondary playlists for specific characters, locations, or types of scenes. There’s often a lot of overlap there, but the additional playlists are curated specifically for a certain kind of mood.

Of course, you can use any other music streaming service to listen to when writing. I prefer Spotify’s UI, and I’ve also been introduced to some music I really like for writing by its new AI DJ. Just make sure your listening experience won’t get interrupted with ads, which will happen with a free Spotify plan.

And you don’t have to listen to music when you write. But I’d recommend trying it out, with instrumental music that suits what you’re writing. Music can have a powerful transportive effect—and it helps eliminate distractions from the world around you. You could even simply listen to atmospheric effects, like rain or white noise, on Spotify. Find what works best for you.

If you want recommendations on soundtracks for your story or genre, ask me in the comments! And you can find my own Spotify playlists here.

4. Maps

Perhaps a surprising addition to the list, but it’s been surprisingly helpful to my writing. I use Maps to check distances and travel times, and also to look at images of real-life locations I’m writing about.

Maps came particularly in handy when I was writing my mystery novella A Rogue Game, in which the protagonist detective went to different locations across New York City to solve a case within 24 hours. I had to make sure the timeline of events lined up correctly, and I knew exactly how long it would take him to get from place to place, whether by train, taxi, or walking. Getting an accurate timeline also informed how I would describe the setting of a scene, like whether the sun would be setting. And since there are some real-life locations used in the book, I used Street View to see details I could include in descriptions of a location. (Of course, it also helps that, as an NYC local, I’m familiar with a lot of the places I was writing about.) The detective actually uses Maps to figure out a piece of the mystery, so it can be useful to both writers and their characters.

Speaking of A Rogue Game, you can get a copy of the book for free here.

If your story is set on a different planet or in outer space… Maps would be pretty useless, but since all my books are set on Earth, it comes in handy a lot. Even for something set in the future, I can use Maps to see the distance between locations or how long it would take modern-day forms of transportation to cross those distances. That gives a baseline for how long it could realistically take fictional, futuristic forms of transportation to get a character from A to B.

As for the specific Maps app, I’ve used both Google and Apple Maps. They’re basically the same, except there’s no desktop version of the Google Maps app. Use what you prefer.

5. Dropbox

No matter what you do, never store your documents locally on a single device. Because if the device gets lost or broken, or you accidentally delete the file, it’s gone. I speak from experience. Plus, you won’t be able to access the same file on multiple devices.

So it’s imperative to store your writing files in the cloud. I use Dropbox, but you can also use Google Drive, iCloud, whatever works best for your workflow. Then, you can open the document from any device, and it makes it a lot easier to share files with other people without making duplicates.

Backing up your files is also very important. As previously mentioned, Scrivener does this automatically, and you can also tell it to make a backup manually. Make sure these are also stored in the cloud. And do yourself a favor by making sure your files on Dropbox, Google Drive, or whatever are organized. This means having a consistent file naming pattern, using a logical folder structure, and keeping track of different versions of one project.


These five apps have streamlined and improved my writing process over the years. Maybe they can help you, too. Every writer has a slightly different process, so find what tools work best for you and the way you write.

And don’t be afraid to experiment a little. It might take time to get used to a new app, or you might find you prefer a method that’s completely different from mine, like writing with pen and paper in the middle of an empty field or dictating while doing a headstand. I don’t know.

But trying new things can help you optimize your writing experience and transform the ideas in your mind into words on the page. If you’ve got any favorite apps you use in your writing process, I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

If you want more videos on writing and publishing, make sure to subscribe. And of course, like this video if you enjoyed it.

Also! One last thing. I just launched a newsletter. It goes out every week, and it’s got behind-the-scenes looks, sneak peeks, thoughts on writing-related topics, and recommendations of books, films, and music I’ve been enjoying. Subscribe here, and you’ll get that free book I mentioned earlier. Thanks.

If you want to watch the video versions of these blog posts, head over to my YouTube channel here, and subscribe for more videos on writing and publishing. – Grayson Taylor


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