In theory, if you're hoping to write that novel you've been thinking about for years, then you could just launch your favourite word processor and start typing.

In practice, it's not that simple. You'll need to prepare first, take notes and organise your ideas.

It takes time and effort to make sure your work is properly structured. And an editor you'll use to produce a letter, say, almost certainly isn't the best choice for a big writing project - opting for a more specialist tool could make a real difference to your productivity.

Don't give up just yet, though, this isn't as bad as it seems. There are plenty of excellent free tools to help simplify the mechanics of the writing process. And choosing the right ones will leave you free to focus on what really matters: bringing your ideas to life.

1. LibreOffice Writer

Download LibreOffice Writer

Every writer needs a good word processor for at least some tasks, and LibreOffice has one of the best free offerings around.

Auto-completion, auto-formatting and the spell checker work as you write, delivering great results with minimal hassle.

LibreOffice Writer

If you need a little more then it's easy to extend your document with embedded images, footnotes and endnotes, indexes, bibliographies and more. It's straightforward to export your work as a PDF file, ready to share with others.

And this is all presented in a familiar, Word 2007-style interface. You'll feel at home right away.

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2. TheSage

Download TheSage

TheSage is a very powerful dictionary and thesaurus and a stack of useful features.

For example, a one-click lookup in most applicatons will get you a definition, an example sentence, a pronuciation guide (with matching audio to hear it spoken out loud), and any synonyms, hypernyms, hyponyms and meronyms.

TheSage

You don't know how to spell a word? No problem, TheSage will offer Google-like alternatives if you get something wrong.

All your searches are stored in a history list for easy reference later. There's also an anagram solver. And the program can even run web searches on your term at Wikipedia, Wiktionary and Google.

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3. Sigil

Download Sigil

Ideal for e-book authors, Sigil is a capable EPUB editor with a stack of essential features.

If you're new to e-books then you'll appreciate the WSIWYG Book view, for instance, which works much like any other editor. But experienced users can fine tune their project by directly tweaking EPUB code.

Sigil

A powerful search tool helps you to update text and formatting; tools to create a table of contents and index give your project a professional touch; and the bundled FlightCrew EPUB validator checks that your book conforms to the EPUB standards.

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4. TreeSheets

Download TreeSheets

TreeSheets is an interesting note-taking program which takes an unusual approach to organising your ideas.

It works a little like a spreadsheet, but each cell can contain lots of data, images, formatted text and more.

So you might have a list of items, each of which contains contains further tables and images, creating something like an outliner tool with an extra dimension.

TreeSheets

The TreeSheets interface is a little unconventional, and that will put plenty of people off. If you like the basic idea, though, it's well worth persevering, as once you've mastered the basics the program is a great way to record and arrange your thoughts.

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5. Kiwix

Download Kiwix

You've busy on an important project, and need to look something up. You turn to the web, of course - but your internet connection is down. So now what?

If you've installed and set up Kiwix beforehand then this doesn't have to be a disaster. That's because the program allows you to download huge amounts of content - like all the text of Wikipedia pages (though no images) - for viewing offline.