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The best writing software of 2021: Free and paid for Mac and Windows

MacBook Pro at an angle under a light
(Image credit: Shutterstock - )

We've hand-picked the very best free writing software which will make it easier to plan, write without distractions, and prepare your work for publication.

Google Docs or even Microsoft Word is the default tool for many writers, but a subscription to Microsoft 365 is pretty expensive if you only need the word processing element.

However, there's a bunch of free options that could make finishing that upcoming novel or college report that much easier, and cheaper.

Whether you're on Windows 11 or macOS, you'll be able to use the apps we've curated for you.

All of the apps here are specifically created with writing in mind, and are packed with useful features to make your life easier, particularly for creative tasks that require your full concentration.



The best writing software overall is: Scrivener
Scrivener is packed with all the features a novelist needs, helping you track plot threads, store notes on characters and locations, structure your work and (most importantly) get some serious work done. It's not free like the tools below, but it's well worth the investment if your budget will allow it.


(Image credit: Shutterstock; Graeme Gott)

1. FocusWriter

Keep your mind on your work with the best free writing software

Operating system: Windows, macOS, Linux
Reasons to buy
+Blocks all distractions+Timers and alarms+Auto-save function+All desktop operating systems

Available for Linux, Windows and macOS, FocusWriter is designed to eliminate distractions so you can actually get on with the job of writing. To that end, 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's not the right tool for going back through and editing your work – but it's a lovely little app with a very modest footprint that stops you keeping an eye on Twitter all day.

Read our full FocusWriter review



(Image credit: Shutterstock; pomarancha)

2. WriteMonkey

A text editor that cuts down on distractions, not features

Operating system: Windows, macOS, Linux
Reasons to buy
+Distraction-free interface+Supports markup+Handy keyboard shortcuts
Reasons to avoid
-Only works with TXT files

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 writing software 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.

Read our full WriteMonkey review


LibreOffice Writer

(Image credit: Shutterstock; The Document Foundation)

3. LibreOffice Writer

A fully-featured free alternative to Microsoft Word

Operating system: Windows, macOS, Linux
Reasons to buy
+Excellent format compatibility+Document template galleries+Support for plugins
Reasons to avoid
-No mobile app

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.

It's a great choice for writers, with a full set of editing tools, a thesaurus, dictionaries for pretty much any language you can think of, and an active community in the support forums ready to help with any questions you might have.

It's available for Windows, macOS and Linux, and receives regular updates with new features and bug fixes.

The only real drawback compared to Word is the lack of direct cloud support, although you can easily use this free writing software together with a service like Dropbox, and the absence of a mobile app for working on the move. If you're happy to stick with the desktop then this could be the only word processor you need.

Read our full LibreOffice review



(Image credit: Shutterstock; The Scribus Team)

4. Scribus

Create great-looking magazines and books without InDesign

Operating system: Windows, macOS, Linux
Reasons to buy
+Professional-level design tools+Supports layers+Cross-platform+Easy PDF export

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 suitable for producing entire magazines.

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. If you've ever used Adobe InDesign, you'll find the similarity striking. If you can use one, you'll pick up the other in seconds.

We wouldn't want to lay out a 400-page book in it (though that's quite possible), but for shorter works this free writing software is ideal.

Read our full Scribus review


Author app running on macOS 12

(Image credit: Author)

5. Author

Write your novel or college assignments with great ease

Operating system: macOS
Reasons to buy
+Fantastic design+Innovative export options+Powerful concept map features
Reasons to avoid
-Only on macOS

While the app is exclusive to macOS, it makes up for this in its fantastic design language and ease of use for anyone. It features a great way of mind-mapping, where you can join up certain key words in less than five clicks, and even add definitions to easily relate back to a certain section of a report or novel.

There's even a feature that can benefit students hugely where an automatic Glossary can be created, full with endnotes & references, alongside correctly formatted Citations that can fit a certain University/College standard.

Above all, this is freely available on macOS High Sierra and above, with the app's creator, Frode Alexander Hegland and his team, always listening and responding to feedback in regards to requested features or bug fixes. There is an in-app purchase for exporting, however everything else in the app is free to use.

Author is an app that shouldn't be missed on macOS, especially if you're about to start the new school year with upcoming assignments, wherever that may be.

You might also want to check out how to download and use Microsoft Word for free.

Daryl Baxter

Daryl had been freelancing for 3 years before joining TechRadar, now reporting on everything software-related. In his spare time he's written a book, 'The Making of Tomb Raider', alongside podcasting and usually found playing games old and new on his PC and MacBook Pro. If you have a story about an updated app or one that's about to launch, drop him a line.