The best free software for writers 2017

Writers tend to make a very big deal of their tools, whether those tools are delicate pens or ancient typewriters. Increasingly, though, they'll talk about their software. Even the most genteel literary event can soon devolve into a fist-fight between fans of Scrivener and Ulysses (both of which cost around £27, US$40, AU$50).

Word is the default tool for many writers, but the latest version – Microsoft Word 2016 – will set you back £109.99 (US$109.99, AU$149) for the non-commercial edition. That's almost as much as the full Microsoft Office 2016 suite, and a hefty price for cash-strapped wordsmiths.

There's often a better option for those of us starving in garrets: free apps. Come with us as we discover the best free apps to turn your talent into something tangible.

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Download FocusWriter free

1. FocusWriter

Block out all distractions with the best free Windows app for writers

Available for Linux, Windows and OS X, FocusWriter is designed to eliminate distractions so you can actually get on with the job of writing. To that effect it enables you to hide other apps, customize the way your text appears on screen and keep track of your progress. If you're feeling particularly old-school you can even add typewriter sound effects.

FocusWriter isn't for everyone – it looks pretty daft on a 27-inch monitor, for example – but it's a lovely little app with a very modest footprint that stops you keeping an eye on Twitter all day.

Review and where to download: FocusWriter

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Download WriteMonkey free

2. WriteMonkey

A text editor that cuts down on distractions, not features

We're big fans of Markdown, the text-editing language that enables you to format, annotate, classify and link as you type with the minimum of fuss, and the superb WriteMonkey makes good use of it.

This free program delivers an incredibly stripped-down user interface that's considerably more powerful than it looks. There's an excellent outliner, automatic syntax highlighting and file organisation, and although markdown takes a bit of getting used to, you'll be very glad you made the effort.

Once you've mastered WriteMonkey, you can use it to create blog posts, print publications and anything else that needs words in it.

Review and where to download: WriteMonkey

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Download LibreOffice Writer

3. LibreOffice

A fully-featured alternative to Microsoft Word that's completely free

LibreOffice is a free, open source alternative to Microsoft Office, and that means its word processing app, Writer, has many of the power features of Word without the accompanying price tag.

One of its most useful features is the LibreOffice Template Center, where you'll find templates for all kinds of content.

If you're interested in more full office suites, see our guide to the best free office software.

Review and where to download: LibreOffice

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Download Scribus free

4. Scribus

Write and design great-looking magazines and books without InDesign

If your words' appearance is as important as their meaning, give Scribus a go: it's a free, highly-rated desktop publishing application for Linux, OS X and Windows that's capable of producing entire magazines (a little like a cut-down version of Adobe InDesign).

It's been kicking around - and regularly updated – since 2001, and while it's a little tricky to use at first it offers professional-grade publishing with layered, multi-page documents and good colour management support.

We wouldn't want to make a 400-page book in it, but for shorter works it's very clever.

Review and where to download: Scribus

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Download Freemind free

10. Freemind

Organize your ideas and defeat writer's block before it can strike

Here's another app for writers that isn't strictly for putting your words on the screen: Freemind is all about mind mapping, and it enables you to record all the leaps and bounds your imagination makes whether you're plotting a potboiler or trying to organize complex threads of an investigation.

Freemind isn't something we'd necessarily recommend for mind mapping beginners – it looks a bit like a desktop publishing app having some kind of breakdown – but if you're an experienced intellectual explorer it's a lot tidier than a wall full of index cards and sticky notes.

Review and where to download: Freemind