Writing Tools You’ll Like Far Better Than Microsoft Word

Writing Tools You’ll Like Far Better Than Microsoft Word

GIVEAWAY: Will is generously giving away a Kindle copy of his latest ebook, Writing for the Web, to the person who leaves his favourite comment. Bonus points if you make him laugh! Comment within one week to enter. Good luck! (Update: Martina won!)

Many writers struggle with MSW addiction. They tell themselves they’re not addicted. They tell themselves they need MSW. They tell themselves they can quit whenever they want.

But they can’t. No matter how much they hate it, no matter how much they wish they could stop, no matter how much it affects their professional and personal lives, they keep using MSW.

I, for one, will no longer enable the use of Microsoft Word.

I know all the excuses.

“I’ve been using it forever.”

“I have to use it. It‘s the only way to get my work done.”

“I just need it for one more project. After that, I quit.”

Does any of these excuses sound familiar? Well, I’m here to tell you there’s a way out.

No more fighting with frustrating and convoluted menu systems. No more deciphering mysterious formatting and layout quirks. No more emailing Word files to your friends and colleagues with your fingers crossed, hoping your document appears correctly.

Word processing beyond Word

To start, you might try another, better word processor. Apple’s Pages and Google Docs are the heavy hitters and Scrivener is a long-time writer favorite. There are also new entrants, such as Quip, who hope to modernize word processing. Each of these programs is superior to Word, but you can go even further.

Be bold: quit word processing altogether. Or at the very least, quit using word processors for composition.

You see, word processors, especially ones like Microsoft Word, aren’t actually good tools for composition.

The act of composing is about ordering and structuring thoughts. It’s not about setting your margins or choosing fonts or italicizing phrases. But word processors are notoriously bad at letting you just compose.

MS Word Just Say No

Word processors conflate composition with typesetting. Making stylistic decisions about your work is a separate mental process from penning your thoughts. When writing software forces you to deal with presentational elements, it only distracts from composition. Even if you try to ignore the stylistic decisions, Word will be typesetting your text anyway. And you’re still stuck looking at a bloated interface built for formatting, not composing.

So during your composition process, skip the apps that want you to make stylistic decisions. Instead, use a plain text editor.

Editing in plain text

Plain text editors let you compose in plain, unformatted text. Notepad for Windows and TextEdit for Mac OS X are the standards, but they’re nothing compared to more robust editors. There are fantastic plain text apps that provide a heavenly writing environment, especially compared to the hell of Microsoft Word.

Here are a few options to get you started:

  • iA Writer and Byword are beloved by Mac users. They also have iOS counterparts, so you can use them on your iPhone and iPad.
  • WriteMonkey and Q10 are Windows-only options. They’ve been around for years and have been battle-tested by many a writer.
  • OmmWriter and Texts are both cross-platform editors, meaning they work on both PCs and Macs. If you use multiple machines with different operating systems, these programs are a great way to maintain a similar writing environment on each device.
  • If you’re committed to writing on your smartphone, Brett Terpstra’s iOS text editors list will blow your mind. There are dozens of options to fit your every need. Android users, try LightPaper or Draft. Kelly Gurnett suggests even more writing tools in her post Valuable Productivity Apps That Help Freelancers Get Way More Done.

Try composing in several different programs to help you get a feel for which one you prefer. I guarantee they’ll all be a more pleasant experience than your word processor. And if you absolutely have to, you can always turn to a word processor later in your workflow, when you need to format or print a document. (Although, I suspect that if most of your writing is intended for the web, you’ll have little use for it at all.)

Remember, friends don’t let friends use Microsoft Word. (Like this idea? Click to tweet it.)

How do you feel about Microsoft Word? Do you have a favorite program for composition?

Don’t forget to comment so you’re in the running for Will’s ebook giveaway! You could win a free Kindle copy of his latest ebook, Writing for the Web. (Update: Martina won!)

Filed Under: Craft
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  • Brian Passman says:

    I’m an 82 year old techie dunce and all this time I thought my problems with word were my fault. I have just finished composing 30,000 words in Word. The possibility of being set free is like going home from school for the summer holidays: No more Latin, no more French, no more sitting on a rotten hard bench.” I just can’t wait to get started!

  • Robert Bulger says:

    I like Storyist. I use it on my Mac and iPad. Work can be saved on iCloud and Dropbox. The function I like best is an area to organize thoughts, characters, and my story “universe.”

    I wish it had an interface with Grammarly (which should be considered another entry here). Grammarly allows users to create in or download into a top-notch grammar, spelling, and structure checking tool. Grammarly doesn’t have a MacOS Microsoft Word add-in, but does have a MacOS desktop app that works admirably. The desktop app allows you to create in an environment without distraction. For those that like to compose in Microsoft Word on Windows, they can use the really awesome Grammarly plug-in.

    I happen to really like Microsoft Word 2016, both on the Mac and Windows. The ribbons can be collapsed to minimize the impact the interface might have on the user. I like how Microsoft has embraced the cloud so that my Office 365 subscription allows me start a document on my work PC, fiddle on it again on my Mac, and then still later finish it up on my iPad.

    I hope this posts helps folks looking for something to help them get their thoughts down faster and better. Enjoy!

  • Pavel Vladov says:

    Another nice alternative to MS Word is Nevron Writer. It provides most of the features of Word some more like generating and inserting barcodes, much better HTML import and export (including support for HTML5 and CSS3), but the most important features, which make it better than MS Word for writers is the built-in support for creating Electronic Publications (i.e. eBooks in the EPUB format) and its optimized performance. It is fast even when working with very large documents or books.

    More information and a free demo is available at: https://www.nevronoffice.com/products-writer-about.aspx

  • Dwight says:

    I didn’t read all the previous comments, I will admit. I just came here to blow off some steam, because I am in the midst of fighting with Word’s penchant for thinking it knows what you want better than you do. In my experience it an exceptionally poor excuse for a word processor. Why should I have to fight with it to get my way? I am not a person who normally curses, but Word brings that out in me. I’m restraining myself from typing what I’m thinking.

    For the record, I used WordPerfect for a number of years, then was forced to switch to Word in the mid-1990s because that was what everyone else was doing. I’ve been using it regularly ever since, so it isn’t like I’m a newbie. The more I use it, though, the less I like it. You can do almost anything you want in Word as long as you have enough time and you can spare the hair you’ll pull out along the way. But if you want to have control over your page, and you want to get things done more quickly, get something else. [WordPerfect, for example, is vastly superior to Word, even in light of its penchant for crashing periodically. What I can eventually do in Word, WP can do in half the time.]

    Thanks for letting me vent.

    • Jeanne Voelker says:

      Several people here have said Pages is better than Word, but it’s unclear to me HOW it’s better. I have an Apple computer and composing on Pages is no problem, but then I have to change it to a PDF or DOCX to send it to others. Then, I can’t edit the new doc without it reverting to Pages. Am I missing a step or a shortcut somewhere?

      • Robert Bulger says:


        Let it revert to Pages so you can edit it, and then save it as .docx or convert it to PDF to send it to others. It’s not a big deal.

        — Bob

    • Debs says:

      Basically, it comes down to what you’re used to. I have used Word for many years and have no problems at all. Other people are happy with other types of software. No-one is right or wrong, just use whatever floats your boat! It’s good to have recommendations for something new to try through, positivity is always a good thing…

  • Leyla says:

    When I use MSW, I feel like the “ugly girlfriend”. You know – grateful, loyal to a fault, keep coming back because I don’t think I can do any better?

    Even though I may have to take a word processing self-esteem class first, I think I will try these out. I’m tired of using MSW simply because I have a POS computer with a hobbled printer and, therefore, have to keep uploading everything onto a jump drive, and take that awesome bus ride with the unwashed masses to the local library to print out my stuff.

    Now, what to do with all the time and bus fare I’ll save…

  • Jacinto says:

    Hi: I would like to find a software to write that will assist you on replacing common words to formal or more professional words. Does anyone knows if there is a software for mac that can do that?


    • Robert Bulger says:


      I like Grammarly, but Hemmingway is very good as well. I’d check both of those out.

      Good Luck,


    • elgarak says:

      What you need sounds suspiciously like a “thesaurus”, that is, a dictionary that lists synonyms (different words with the same or similar meaning). macOS has a dictionary app built in (called “Dictionary”, d’oh), which includes a thesaurus. macOS also has tools built in that you can access the dictionary from within other apps. Just mark the word, right-click, and select “Look Up”. You’ll get a pop-up window that shows you the entry within macOS’s dictionary, and you can select and fine-tune where it should look up, and at the bottom, launch the dictionary app to look it up there directly.

  • elgarak says:

    I never was an MSW addict. I was an MSW operator forced due to choices by people not me. MSW is a terrible writing program. Historically, it has evolved from a computerized typewriter to an enterprise text document handler, and no one involved in steering that evolution wanted to write. Consequently, I was never writing using Word… I was operating Word (better, forcing it to do my will) to produce a text, and most routine operations I was forced to perform to accomplish that were superfluous menial tasks that I shouldn’t have to do.

    Nowadays, I like plain text editors (with a simple markdown for structuring) like Byword for simple jotting down texts, and Scrivener for writing longer texts.

    Scrivener’s awesome. The best writing tool since, well, ever. All hail our writing overlord! (That doesn’t mean you have to like it. If your writing style is different than mine, bless you, don’t use Scrivener if you simply cannot bend your workflow to it. Your workflow is paramount. That said, if you truly think Word is the tool of choice, there’s something wrong with you.)

  • Bob says:

    I write using an HTML editor. Here’s why —

    * It’s WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get). This makes for easy editing
    * Put each chapter in its own file. Link them together in any order you like.
    * HTML displays in any browser simply by clicking on the file name
    * Free HMTL editors are available for any computer
    (for example, Kompozer, Bluefish, Seamonkey)
    * Anybody using any computer can read your material simply by double-clicking
    on your Table of Contents file
    * If someone requires Word files, just display your HTML in a browser, and
    copy-and-paste it into a Word document
    * Best of all, you’re not dependent on Word. When Microsoft goes to a new version,
    it no longer effects you. Think of that novel you wrote ten years ago in Word 97.
    Did you upgrade it to each new version of Word? This problem no longer effects

  • Pilar Del Sal says:

    After an hour trying to get MS Word 2016 (the newer the worse the version) to save as my document, I turned to you guys, fellow writers, to see if anyone else is as frustrated as I am. I am an adept Word user and have nothing against it …..WHEN IT WORKS! like it used to before 2010. But now I’m ready to buy a Mac and go with Pages, but maybe I don’t even have to do that. SO frustrated. I just paid for another year for the privilege of RENTING Office 2016 apps. Sometimes I open a document and it tells me it’s now read-only (who made that happen? not me) and I can’t edit it or save it. Then when I make a copy it tells me I don’t have permission to save to that folder. When did that happen? I’m the only one on my system. Administrator, user, and sufferer, all in one.
    I write for the web and will try using google docs. I also am trying to write for the publishing industry and there’s the rub. They want to track changes in Word etc.
    WAHHH RANT grrrrr ….

    • Bo Grimes says:

      LibreOffice (https://www.libreoffice.org/) is free, cross-platform, can read and save Word files as well as other formats and can now be made to look more like Word http://www.omgubuntu.co.uk/2016/12/microsoft-office-ribbon-ui-coming-libreoffice

      I use it when I have to use a word processor. For web writing there are a million better tools, one of the newest and best of which is Ghostwriter https://github.com/wereturtle/ghostwriter

  • Judy Becker says:

    I just got through entering, “Is there any such a thing as a word processor that is not connected to a computer.” When your article popped up.

    Finally, some good news. I have been using MSW for years and years. I write Bible Prophecy that I have been studying since 1958. I didn’t have that much trouble with it until the later updates come out since 2007. My last book: After Globle Warming What? -Overlooked Bible Prophecies Happening Now, I had to send my manucript to the book printer 17 times before I got one through that Micro soft Word hadn’t scrambled, took out pages. messed up the formating, put in blank spaces–all after I had saved the manuscript. I began to think demons were in machines. Naturally my family thinks I’m crazy.

    It was so automatic, Word wanted to do my writing. I can’t begin to telll you how much I hate that program!!! The reviewers want to tell me what to write!

    I will be looking into your suggestions.

  • Kent Dickerson says:

    You don’t mention the biggest reason for quitting Word for me, corruption. A couple of months after I first starting writing a book, I I had my first experience. All of a sudden every footnote after 6 was also 6. Nothing I tried would change it for 6 months. I just quit making footnotes ’till much later when I’d moved on to an updated version.
    Now I have more corruption caused by track changes while going from Word on a PC (editor) to a Word for Mac on my Mac. I’m now going through the process of copying to Pages bit by bit and typing out the places the program will not accept to rid myself of it. One pain is Pages changes font. It also changes spacing at weird intervals and sometimes puts in a double space after a paragraph that you can’t get rid of, though this may just be more of the corruption getting through.

  • Robert says:

    Word is a psychological irritant. Like a noisy neighbor or an approaching deadline.

    The reason I have gone back to it is search. Spotlight can usually find names hidden away in Word files, even those that haven’t been opened for years.
    With Scrivener, this is more difficult. Spotlight will point you to the right file but then you have to repeat the search in Scrivener to be pointed to the correct document.

    I’ve also tried Pages. I liked the program, although maybe not as much as the old ClarisWorks. But Spotlight didn’t seem to be indexing my work and I was having a hard time finding stuff.

    I’m considering going back to TextEdit, despite the fact that will mean pasting things back into Word and fiddling with the damn formatting before sending to editors.

    Hope someone has found a better way!

  • Phillip Faulkner says:

    Let me tell you what I am interested in, I am interested in formatting a manuscript for a fiction novel the way publishers want it. And that is all I want, I do not want all the whistles and bells. I have already written my novel, and I wrote it on Wordpad, and of course, there were many misspelled words, because you can’t put a spellchecker on Wordpad. Wordpad would be perfect if it would do a number of things: set the margins, have a spellchecker and grammar checker, and stop writing when it reaches the bottom margin. If anyone knows of a set up like this please let me know. Keep on writing.