I’m beginning to feel like the writing gods have cursed me in my quest for the perfect novel program. But when a fellow NaNoWriMo participant told me about LivingWriter, I was still optimistic enough to wonder: “Is this the program I’ve been waiting for?”
Like every program I’ve used and reviewed thus far (I think I’m up to 11!), there are some features I love. I don’t hate any part of this one, but there are several things I wish were there. I’m constantly looking for a one-stop-shop for my novel writing, and this isn’t it for me. Despite this, here’s my honest review of what I do think is one of the best programs I’ve tried.
An Overview of LivingWriter
If I had to sum up LivingWriter, I would say it’s a blend between Google Docs, Scrivener, and the now-defunct Storyshop. In fact, it’s the Google-esque word processor interface that appealed to me the most.
Like most novel-writing programs, you can drag and drop scenes and chapters. This happens in two places: on the left-hand sidebar and on the Board. The board looks just like the corkboards in Scrivener.
You can also create research and story elements in a sort of ongoing world-bible, and you can access these from the right-hand sidebar while you’re in writing mode. There are several plotting templates to build your story from, or you can freestyle your outline and structure.
LivingWriter allows you to import your manuscripts, and it will read heading sizes as chapter and scene breaks. As someone who has had to copy and paste multiple stories into other programs, I found this very appealing. There’s a mobile app for both Android and iPhone, it’s cloud-based, and you can set dark mode. The goal-setting feature is a selling point, too.
What I Love
The clean interface is familiar and easy-to-use. There are plenty of formatting options just like a normal word processor. It’s even easy to insert images.
I really enjoy the story elements. You can add elements for characters, objects, settings, and "other," so you’re not restricted. Within each element, you can add as many sections as you need to; for example, you can add physical descriptions, relationships, motivations, etc. These are free-form, so you can make it your own.
You can also add images! The story elements link inside your manuscript, so you can access them quickly while writing. You can even add character nicknames. For example, my main character’s name is Angélica, but she also appears as Hell and Miss Spencer. By adding these nicknames, the manuscript will link to her element each time those names appear.
There are also a total of eight plot structures you can use to plan and write your story. Five are fiction and four are non-fiction. They are:
- Dan Harmon’s Story Circle
- Hero’s Journey
- 27 Beat Chapter Plotting (a.k.a. Save the Cat)
- Dan Wells’ Seven-Point Story
- Three-Act Structure
- Book Proposal
Additionally, the mobile app is really great! It’s fantastic to be able to pick up where you left off on your computer when an idea hits you and you only have your phone to hand.
What I Don’t Love
I have only encountered two problems with LivingWriter, and customer service was more than willing to help me try to figure out what had gone wrong. Both of these involved uploading my manuscript.
LivingWriter recognized my chapter breaks, but half of my chapters uploaded out of order. It took a while to drag them back into order. Secondly, all my paragraph formatting is now left-aligned with no indents and no spacing.
While you can change formatting settings for new writing, it doesn’t let me select large chunks of text and apply new formatting. If I stick with LivingWriter, I’ll ask customer service to help me figure it out so I don’t have to manually indent every single paragraph.
There’s nothing else I strictly dislike, but there are some features I wish it had. I want to be able to create my own character templates, and I love a timeline feature. I also want to be able to use my own plotting template without building it from scratch each time.
LivingWriter is one of the best writing programs I have tried. I think it’s a great value at $9.99 a month, and there’s a discount if you pay for it yearly. There’s a two-week free trial to see if you enjoy it.
Am I completely sold on it? Not yet. I’m going to give one or two more programs a chance before I decide what to commit to for the rest of this project.
Have you used LivingWriter? What is your favorite novel-writing program? Let me know in the comment section.