Writing Tools You’ll Like Far Better Than Microsoft Word

by | Oct 30, 2013

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.

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!)