Free Software for Indie Authors: Writing

Inspired by Holly Lisle’s course, Publishing While Broke, this is the first post in a series for indie authors who need software that doesn’t cost anything more than time. It’ll cover word processing, graphics, 3d modeling, and desktop publishing software that I’ve used. I may even cover formatting and e-book creation software, but I’m not as sure about that, so I may skip it.

Please also note that this first post is for writers in general, not just indies.

Brief background: I was first introduced to open source software in the early 2000s by a writer who used OpenOffice. I was considering putting some of my stories online in a format that didn’t require the reader to be online, but I had no idea how to create a PDF without spending money. did that. So, I tried it. From that moment, I fell in love with open source software. That’s why so many of the things I’m going to discuss in this series are open source.

That said, let’s look at the options.

*  *  *

There are four programs I’ve used to write stories: Apache OpenOffice, LibreOffice, Google Docs, and yWriter.

Apache OpenOffice, my first love, is now called Apache OpenOffice (hereafter called AOO) and contains Writer, for a long time the only word processing program I used. It’s a sturdy program that I still use fairly frequently, especially for writing and typesetting e-books.

In this review, I’m referring to version 4.0.


– Solid program.
– Good conversion
– Simple interface
– Working Find and Replace (I know this sounds odd but you’ll see in the next section why I mention it)
– Converts any document to .pdf.
– Can create templates using styles and formatting to speed up the process of creating either a submission or a published book.
– File recovery works great!


– Doesn’t convert to .docx.
– There’s no running word count. You have to go into Tools–>Word Count in order to find it. And if you only want a particular section, you have to highlight that section first, then go to Tools, etc.


LibreOffice is what grew out of a split in the original group. It also contains a word processing program called Writer. I’m somewhat new to the program, but I like what I see so far.

Review concerns version


– Prettier buttons than AOO and better overall look.
– Sidebar isn’t the default when you open it.
– Good conversion, and .docx is included.
– Converts any document to .pdf.
– Can create templates using styles and formatting to speed up the process of creating either a submission or a published book.
– Running word and character count in the status bar.
– File recovery works great!
– I’ve heard that Libre has an edge due to the differences in license agreements that come with the software, enabling Libre to grow faster than AOO.


– Maybe it’s just the version I got, but Find and Replace only worked half the time. Literally. I would put in a name I wanted changed and it would tell me it couldn’t find it, even when I was staring at that exact name in the manuscript. There was no rhyme or reason to when it did or didn’t work, except that there were words and names it consistently did not pick up. AOO doesn’t have this problem, so all my editing is now done in AOO.
– It looks like it’s trying to emulate Word, which is something that makes me pretty leery since I downloaded all those years ago to get away from Word.

Google Docs

Google Docs…Google Docs is a good, basic word processing program.

Not putting a version on this because, hey, it’s online.


– It appears to be built for hassle-free collaborations and that’s where it works best. All comments are made in real-time with next to no lag. When my husband and I used it, there was no lag at all. This makes it ideal for critique groups who might be using different kinds of software and plan to indie publish their work.
– It’s got various levels of sharing. So, I can set it so that everyone and their brother can see my document, only certain people I invite can see it, or I can keep it totally “private” and no one but me and Google can see it. Theoretically.
– I know of at least one published author who used it to write a short story in public.
– It can be used on your mobile phone, allowing for writing wherever you might be.


– It’s online. That means you need an Internet connection.
– It’s online. That means anyone with the time and energy can see your manuscript if they want, no matter what permissions you set.
– It’s online. I asked the authors in an online forum I love (Forward Motion) if publishers were still leery of work published online, but not publicly available. The answer they gave was that most publishers nowadays don’t care, as long as it’s not public. However, there might be some who do, so that needs to be kept in mind if you plan on submitting your work anywhere.
– It’s part of Google, so in order to use it, you’ll have to use Google Drive. In order to use Google Drive, you have to have a Google ID. If you hate Google or don’t want an ID, this option is closed to you.
– Writing a story in public can tick off your fans if you ask them for a trigger and ignore the ones whose ideas you don’t use. Even if you’re very polite and make sure you thank everyone who contributed, there might still be someone who thinks you’re being rude.


yWriter (by Spacejock Software) is kind of like Scrivener. I use this during the editing phase since it gives me a clear picture of the overall story, as well as how I want it organized. I’m considering using the e-book functions more, but that’s in the future (possibly the near future). At the moment, I use HTML documents created by AOO, converted by Calibre, and tweaked in Sigil.

(After writing out the pros and cons, I think I may try creating a story in yWriter again. A lot of the problems I initially had with it were mostly due to my inexperience as a writer. I’ll also be testing the e-book features because I want to make sure there are no issues with that, not when I already have a system that [currently] works.

I’ve changed straight quotes to curly quotes by hand. Never again.)

Even though yWriter was built for novels, I can see it working for short story collections, too. The creator, Simon Haynes, points out that some have modified it so that they can write “plays, nonfiction, and even sermons.”

This review concerns yWriter5.


– It’s a free, standalone application. Files stay on your computer instead of being immediately available on the Internet.
– Writing is sectioned off by scene instead of becoming one long document. This can allow for a tighter focus if you’re used to going on and on and on instead of viewing each scene as a mini-story with a beginning, middle, and end.
– POV is clearly marked for each scene and you can organize chapters pretty easily.
– Things such as conflict, tension, and so on, can be rated on a scale of one to ten and graphed (for those who are trying to create an emotional build and want to take a long view of it). Also, these categories can be altered by the writer to fit specific genre requirements, such as romance.
– Each scene’s goal, conflict, and outcome can be written down and each scene marked as either “action” or “reaction,” for those who want to keep track of that.
– It has a time feature in the scene details that can either track hours and minutes in a story, or can be switched to dates and times. This is critical for making sure you aren’t having characters running through a pitch-black night when your internal story timeline says it’s early afternoon.
– All items related to the scene (description, characters, locations, items, notes, etc.) are in a tabbed section below, giving easy access to information relevant to the scene.
– Scenes can be storyboarded to give an idea of POV flow.
– Chapters and their descriptions are on the left, allowing for an immediate overview of the whole book.
– It has word counts for each scene, chapter, and for the project as a whole.
– It can generate a number of different reports, including a synopsis (based on the descriptions you entered) and a daily word count.
– Files can be exported to plain text, LaTeX (for print), and html (for ebook creation). It can either convert the whole book to html or create not only the html files but an index to go with them. (I have yet to test this. I’ll update this section after I do.)
– You can create a project work schedule that includes multiple edits and the program will let you know when you’ve gone beyond your deadline.
– You can export parts or all of your background.
– Can be personalized (within reason) to each writer’s needs.
– For those using Linux, Play-On-Linux supports yWriter under the “Office” group. (Thanks to Todd Carnes from the yWriter Google Group for mentioning that.) Also, it runs on a Mac and Linux using Wine. See the website for more details.
– Please note that the creator recommends Scrivener for Mac users.
– There’s a lot of support for yWriter, both from the creator and fans. If you have a question, chances are very good you’ll get it answered after a quick search.


– There’s a bit of a learning curve. It’s not huge, but if you really want to use yWriter to its fullest, expect to spend more time learning than you would with Libre or AOO. At the moment, I think it’s worth it. The reason I put in that caveat is because I’m not sure how well the transfer would work if you write your book in yWriter, then move it to a different program to create the e-book or a Word version.
– It can be a huge time sink; I found myself playing around with features more than actually writing.
– Though LaTeX and HTML are fantastic exports, giving a lot of control when it comes to formatting, that’s about it for advanced conversion options. There’s no converting to a Word format, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, imo. I put it in the Cons section because I do like a bit more flexibility, especially when it comes to sharing work with beta readers or submitting.
– Some people may not like the way the interface looks. I like it, but it’s not as pretty as some other programs I’ve seen out there.
– There’s a temptation to have an enormous amount of detailed background work done before you ever write a word. If you have the discipline to only add what you need, this is not a problem.

So, that’s it. I hope you found this article helpful. Next time, I’ll discuss free graphics programs I’ve used.

If you have any other recommendations or comments, please share them using the form below!


One thought on “Free Software for Indie Authors: Writing

  1. Pingback: Free Software for Indie Authors: Cover Creation (e-book and print) | Amy Keeley


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