Updated: Sep 20
[NOTE: This post was originally written in October 2016. Some features or functionalities of the reviewed program may have changed since then.]
Welcome to Part 2 of my “Free Writing Software Review” Series! If you are a writer looking for software to use during your planning/writing process, I hope these posts are helpful to you. This series is a complement to my post, “Free Scrivener Alternatives.”
(Note: These reviews are my opinion only, and are based on my personal experience trying out each of these software programs. The explanations of features are true to the best of my knowledge, as of the date this post was written.)
Today’s review subject: FreeWriter!
FreeWriter has both a free version and a Pro version, and gives the option to try out the Pro features for 10 days to compare the two. The Pro version is $19. In this review, I’ll provide information on the free version, but also let you know what would be available if you upgraded (I tried both versions).
First off, FreeWriter has a decent help section. It was fairly simple to read through their manual and figure out how to use the program. Here’s a screenshot of their help section:
FreeWriter’s basic setup is linear, allowing you to create a Chapter menu in the left panel, and then to organize sections of your book within this menu. The free version allows you to do basic composition using their blank text areas, to view notes and thoughts while you write, and to link “Thoughts” throughout the project. These “Thoughts” sections are basically a memo board that you can add different types of icons and items to.
You can also tag thoughts throughout the project, which could be useful for following a specific thread throughout your story.
FreeWriter also allows a split-screen Browser view, where you can access a live browser within the program window while still seeing your writing and notes.
This program allows you to export only as .txt or .rtf, but you can print directly from the program, so if you have a PDF printer installed, you can easily create a PDF. The Pro version, however, has a lot of additional features. Activating the Pro trial enabled me to try some of these out.
Once I upgraded to the Pro trial, an “Elements” section appeared on the left navigation menu.
This feature is actually pretty neat. It provides templates for characters, places, events, things (items), etc. With this feature enabled, not only can you create these “Elements” and save them for later reference, you can also tag them to different sections of the book.
The Character Element has an “Attribute Wizard” that walks you through entering information about your character, and will even provide name suggestions and other help, if you wish.
The “Attribute Wizard” will take you step-by-step through describing your character’s job, age, height, “shape,” even “how they smell to others” and a variety of other interesting details, including their preferences, beliefs, and goals and backstory elements such as “bad childhood experiences.” This could be really helpful if you were stuck and needed a jumpstart for your ideas. Once filled in, these attributes appear at the bottom of the screen for that character, with a text box above for you to type whatever you like.
FreeWriter also allows you to create color-coded index cards within the Thoughts panel of each chapter, and you can then sort them into “Card Decks” by topic or idea, if you wish.
You can add images to your Thought board, or link webpages and/or files and folders from your computer.
You can also create “Thoughts” and link those Thoughts into different chapters, scenes, etc., so that you can follow a specific thought throughout your project. This is available in both Pro and Free versions, except in Pro, when you click to make a Thought you are given a list of your Elements (characters, locations, etc.) as categories which the Thought can be about.
There is also a basic stat tracker that compares your word count to a target word count (which you can set). It’s hard to tell because I’ve written so few words, but this is a graph showing my “Actual” word count (the blue line down on the bottom) versus the Target word count I’ve set. It also lets you set a Due Date for your target, and the colored area on the graph indicates a general suggestion for progress in order to achieve the goal on time. (This feature is available in both Free and Pro.)
The Pro version also offers a Backup/Restore feature (not available in Free).
The Pro version provides multiple options for publishing, exporting, or printing your work. (The Free version offers only TXT and RTF options.)
Overall, I found this to be a useful program, though not hugely versatile. If you upgrade to the Pro version, it provides a decent array of options for a pretty good price ($19), as shown above. For those who primarily organize based on outlines, this program might work pretty well, as it’s easy to navigate the left menu to jump between chapters, and the ability to set word count goals is helpful. In order to be truly FREE, though, you will be limited to a pretty basic set of functions (as explained above).
You can access FreeWriter here: http://www.freewritersoftware.com.