Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing & Publishing ~

Free Software for Writers . . .

There’s almost too much software for writers.

And, there’s certainly enough free software that, if a writer can afford a computer and at least temporary connection to the Internet, they can be well supplied with writing tools.

I have 10 free programs on my computer that I use at different times for different jobs. Most are PC-only :-(

First is FreePlane.

This is a mind-mapping tool—sometimes called concept-mapping or information-mapping.

It’s much easier to show you a screenshot then describe what it does (all those word-tags can have images or files attached to them, too):

Another organizational tool is TreePad. This program is a Personal Information Manager, Organizer, Database, and Word Processor—though I feel word processing is easier in other programs. Here’s a screenshot:

Next come the Word Processors.

WriteMonkey: A stripped-down, zen-like program that gets all the bells & whistles out of the way and lets you commune with the words. Here’s a screenshot (the colors can be easily changed):

Jarte: Based on WordPad but much faster and with expanded features. This is for .rtf & .txt files.

RoughDraft: Similar to Jarte in that it handles .rtf & .txt files but also has an on-screen file manager and can have a whole slew of files open at the same time. Here’s a screenshot:

And, the last Word Processor, which is actually a Full Office Suite, LibreOffice. This program has all the bells & whistles that Microsoft Office has and doesn’t cost a penny; plus, you can save files as Word .docs

Now, for some tools to help with words themselves and editing.

WordWeb is a dictionary and thesaurus that sits in your taskbar and can be activated by highlighting a word (in most any program or on a web page) and using the hotkeys—instant definitions, synonyms, and spell checking.

WordNet could be thought of as a thesaurus but what a thesaurus! This program is so high-level I feel compelled to quote the site:

“WordNet® is a large lexical database of English. Nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs are grouped into sets of cognitive synonyms (synsets), each expressing a distinct concept. Synsets are interlinked by means of conceptual-semantic and lexical relations.”

Then, there’s SmartEdit. You put text into it and it shows you the dialog tags, clichés, repeated words and phrases, adverbs, and any monitored words you enter into the program. Here’s a screenshot:

The last free program on my computer, which I’m still experimenting with, is AutoHotkey. Basically, you could automate the opening of all the programs I just listed with single keystrokes. It does a whole lot more:

  • Automate almost anything by sending keystrokes and mouse clicks. You can write a mouse or keyboard macro by hand or use the macro recorder.
  • Create hotkeys for keyboard, joystick, and mouse. Virtually any key, button, or combination can become a hotkey.
  • Expand abbreviations as you type them. For example, typing “btw” can automatically produce “by the way”.
  • Create custom data-entry forms, user interfaces, and menu bars.
  • Remap keys and buttons on your keyboard, joystick, and mouse.
  • Respond to signals from hand-held remote controls via the WinLIRC client script.
  • Run existing AutoIt v2 scripts and enhance them with new capabilities.
  • Convert any script into an EXE file that can be run on computers that don’t have AutoHotkey installed.


Those are my programs. What’s on Your computer :-)
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19 responses to “Free Software for Writers . . .

  1. janedarntonwatson June 22, 2012 at 7:16 pm

    I use Scrivener to collect my writings. I also use Tinderbox to graphically represent my notes, which can now synch up with Scrivener as well. For mind mapping I use My Thoughts and Inspiration. I avoid software that pretends to teach you how to write and favour that which helps the writer organise the chaos of their own writing and notes. On the iPad I use iThoughts to mind map, Notebooks to synch with Scrivener and I dabble with Manuscript whose layout I like, but which cannot synch with other programs so well. I am eagerly waiting for the Scrivener iPad app due out at the end of this year.

    Those of you who may like to think more deeply about software, and its uses, might find this link interesting by the maker of Tinderbox, Mark Bernstein:

    And finally, for a piece of real writerly software fun, go to the Lazarus Corporation and put your writing into their original Text Mixing Desk at – to see the Cut-UP technique, favoured by William Burroughs, who once said:

    “The best writing seems to be done almost by accident, but writers, until the cut-up method was made explicit…had no way to produce the accident of spontaneity. You cannot will spontaneity. But you can introduce the spontaneous factor with a pair of scissors.”



    • Alexander M Zoltai June 22, 2012 at 8:19 pm

      I visited Tinderbox and look forward to either their Windows version or my purchase of a Mac :-)

      As you know, I’m not the kind of person who likes to use programs like Scrivener or yWriter—just my particular process

      I love Mark Bernstein’s statement: “The Arts & Crafts movement failed in consumer goods, but it could succeed in software.”

      Also, the Cut-UP technique isn’t something I would use

      My feeling about spontaneity in writing is to have a permeable relationship with one’s Unconscious :-)

      Thank you, Jane, for letting us peek into your computer—I’m sure there are readers of this blog who will benefit from your recommendations.


  2. Simone Benedict June 22, 2012 at 7:22 pm

    I’ll have to check out the “Free Plane” program. It looks fun. For some of my longer work, it seems it would help if I could have character files in this program, rather than looking up an alphabetical listing in my docs folder. Maybe?

    Having a dictionary on my toolbar is a definite need. I’ve no idea why my executive assistant isn’t doing this stuff for me! :-)


    • Alexander M Zoltai June 22, 2012 at 8:22 pm


      You might want to explore RoughDraft. You can set up a folder (or nested folders) and have it in the sidebar; then, open any or all the files there and quickly jump between them..

      It would mean working in .rtf files but they’re easy enough to change into Word files after you’ve attained a certain stage of the drafting process

      Also, with FreePlane, you could have the character names on the mind-map (along with other aspects of the work) and each name could have an associated file attached to it—so you can contemplate the graphic relationships of characters and, whenever necessary, open the associated file and work on it


  3. janedarntonwatson June 22, 2012 at 9:12 pm

    “…My feeling about spontaneity in writing is to have a permeable relationship with one’s Unconscious…”

    I think that is the very best kind :)

    I also checked out FreePlane – it looks really good and is available for Mac :)

    Tinderbox for Windows is in development now….


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  5. magieken January 5, 2013 at 10:08 pm

    I have just been reading your blog. Thank you so much for this post. I am going to download Scrivener. It is an excellent program and much easier that anything else I have ever used.


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